This looks like a debadged Mazda RX-8, but of course the four-door coupé has been around for more than a decade and ceased production since 2012. So surely something is up when a tatty example appears to be making the rounds at the Nürburgring Nordschleife.

This, therefore, is quite likely the test mule for the powertrain propelling Mazda’s upcoming rotary-engined sports car replacement, possibly called the RX-9. As you can see, the front end is fitted with an aftermarket bumper with larger air intakes and some additional piping, which should feed more air to what is likely to be a significantly more powerful engine.

What’s more, the car is wearing number plates from the district of Hochtaunuskreis (denoted by the ‘HG’ prefix), something that has been seen on a number of Mazda development mules. That’s not surprising, given that it’s where the town of Oberursel, in which sits Mazda’s European R&D centre, is located.

Contrary to earlier reports of the rotary engine consigned to range-extender duties in a hybrid powertrain, the upcoming sports car is said to put the novel-but-problematic mill in a rather more centrestage role in its propulsion. Rumour has it that a 1.6 litre twin-rotor turbo unit will be utilised, developing in the region of 400 hp, and there are also reports of electrification that is set to bring total system output up to 450 hp.

Despite it being early days with technical details consequently scarce at this stage, lightweight construction can be expected to be part of the RX-9’s development programme. The car will likely also feature styling inspired by the RX-Vision Concept shown at the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show, meant to presage such a model.

The sighting of this mule should bring enthusiasts relief, as the likelihood of a next-generation rotary sports car has been rather suspect in recent times. This time last year, Mazda president and CEO Masamichi Kogai said that there were no plans for a sports car larger than the MX-5 as yet, something that was repeated by the company’s North American engineers Jay Chen and Yoshiaki Yamane just recently.