Tokyo Motor Show: Mazda’s concepts are simply stunning

In a largely disappointing Tokyo Motor Show, the stars of the Toyota, Nissan, Honda, and Mitsubishi booths were autonomous or electric or overstyled crossovers — sometimes all three. Only Mazda bucked the trend with a couple of concepts that went old school. We don’t mean old school as in retro styling, but old school as in what golden era concept cars, like the ones from the 60s and 70s, were meant to do — get your heart revving with drop dead sexy looks give a glimpse of what’s to come.

From the teasers, it looked as if the Vision Coupe concept would be the show stealer. Long, low, and sleek, it was stunning to behold.

It appeared to be a four-door interpretation of the RX-Vision’s design from the last Tokyo Motor Show. Mazda says it’s “a more mature expression of Kodo,” the design language that means “soul of motion.”

CEO Masamichi Kogai said that it was designed with the traditional Japanese philosophy of minimalism, stripping everything that’s not needed away to leave what remains with the purest form. Japanese art, craftsmanship and nearly every other aspect of industrial design adhere to this; it’s a mystery why Nissan and Toyota can’t do the same.

Mazda also said that “the exterior features a ‘one motion’ form that exudes a sense of speed.” We agree with that. It was stretched tight like it was about to release all the tension bound up in its sheetmetal and launch across the convention hall.

It’s supposed to herald the design direction of future Mazdas, including the upcoming Mazda 6. What’s promising is that it looks rear wheel drive and that the hood is long enough to contain a bigger engine than a four-cylinder.

The only annoying aspect of the Vision Coupe is its name. For some reason, Mazda has adopted the modern trend of calling a four-door car a coupe. We can ignore that though, because it was just jaw-droppingly beautiful.

As gorgeous as the Vision Coupe was, we think the Kai concept is an even greater achievement. Likely previewing the next-generation Mazda3 hatchback, it does something we don’t remember ever seeing — making a hatchback sexy.

We’re not hatchback haters. Far from it. There have been hatchbacks we thought have been cute, quirky or cool, and many that we think have been superbly designed, but this thing just oozes hotness.

It’s easy to make a no-holds-barred concept like the Vision Coupe beautiful, but a two-box hatchback has to conform to certain rules, and rules create constraints. Instead, it matches the taut lines of the long-legged RX-Vision and Vision Coupe and successfully translates them into a much smaller package.

Even the side contours make the transition, as do the RX-7-esque afterburner taillights. Amazingly, aside from the lack of gap between the tires and wheel arches there really isn’t anything that can’t make it into a production car (please, Mazda, make it into a production car). If this doesn’t make America rethink its aversion to hatchbacks, nothing will.

There is not a single automaker right now doing design as well as Mazda. Even the old standard Europeans are becoming overwrought and busy. And if a marque does have a standout design, it doesn’t apply across the board. Mazda is keeping alive the things that make cars objects of desire, and in a world that’s forcing other automakers to turn their cars into iGadgets, that counts for a lot.

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17 Responses to Tokyo Motor Show: Mazda’s concepts are simply stunning

  1. Enrico says:

    That’s why I love Mazda..
    They are always doing thinks differently, no SUV, and no eletric/Hybrid powered vehicles.
    The only reason this is not perfect is the fact it isn’t a Rotary engine… and the fact that mazda does not sell in Brasil and I’ll not be able to buy one anytime soon.

  2. Iwakuni91 says:

    “it’s a mystery why Nissan and Toyota can’t do the same.”

    Mazda has managed to infuse its entire company with a love of racing that I believe, carries over into its product line unlike any other Japanese car company. They love and stick to racing despite their inability to sell cars. But what is even more impressive with the Kodo design language is their ability to adapt a distinctly Asian design aesthetic into western taste. That doesn’t always translate well (I’m looking at you Kia Amanti, Toyota Echo and Mitsubishi Vehicross). Mazda’ lineup of vehicles is the best looking mass marketed cars on the planet. Only Volvo gives them a run for the money.

  3. BlitzPig says:

    I’ve been a Honda guy for a LONG time, but if that is what a future 3 is going to look like, I will jump ship and buy a Mazda.

    I still ask myself why I have never owned a Miata…

  4. Ant says:

    Both of Mazda’s concepts were definitely highlights, and it’s significant that all Mazda’s current production models are already very attractive vehicles.

    That said, taking era into context, I’d say there have been plenty of beautifully-styled hatchbacks in the past. It’s obviously a taste thing, but Mazda already has previous form – the old Mazda Lantis and current Mazda 3 are both fantastic-looking cars for a start (the Lantis particularly so considering other options available at the time). The EG-generation Civic is rather pretty too.

    Peugeot had a bit of a knack too in the 1980s and 1990s – the 205, 106 and 306 were all genuinely attractive, the latter pair particularly so in their post-facelift forms (I’ll admit to some bias here as I own a 106 Rallye alongside my Eunos Roadster…). I’d throw the Alfa Romeo 147 into the ring too, and going back further, the BMW 2002 Touring.

    The show wasn’t *that* bad, either, even if it was a little disappointing not to see a new Supra, Z, or S2000. Daihatsu’s stand was universally wonderful, Toyota had the hybrid GT86 and the new Century, Honda the Sports EV, and the Subaru Viziv looked fantastic too. And while I’m not quite there with the styling, I admit I’m actually quite excited by the Leaf Nismo…

  5. daniel says:

    why toyoda san don’t cross the street and talk with daihatsu and mazda designers? (one is owned and the other a partner of toyota)

  6. ahja says:

    The latest Miata looks rather ridiculous, because the body (beltline, fenders) is so tall, and the lights only accentuate its odd proportions. The Fiat cousin is much better looking. The FR-S is certainly better looking than the mx5. The LC500 is definitely the best looking and most exciting Japanese car to come to market in a few years. So Toyota design is quite strong. I even find their crossovers to be relatively appealing for their category. Nissan has always had poor design for the American-centric models (which is almost all of them after the Renault “alliance”). Even in the 90s Sentra, Altima, Mexima, Quest… all hideous. Honda is the one who has really dropped the ball. All their stuff is an overstyled mess. Its impossible the believe that the company currently selling the ridiculous folded-plastic looking Civic and NSX and everything in between is the same one that sold the simple and beautiful S2000 less than 10 years ago.

    • Ant says:

      I love that people keep blaming Renault for Nissan’s decline in certain segments over the last few decades.

      Nissan design is Nissan’s business, not Renault’s. The vast majority of the Nissans sold in the US don’t even sit on platforms related to any Renault – it still acts as an autonomous company, not a subsidiary of someone else. And Nissan is perfectly capable of designing great cars, even after the Alliance – the 350Z was penned by Nissan Design America three years after the partnership and green-lit by Ghosn.

      People need to get into their heads that Nissan’s problems aren’t Renault’s fault, no more than Lamborghini having issues would be VW’s fault or Jaguar having problems would be the fault of Tata Steel.

      I’m not sure I agree on a couple of the other points either. I do on the Lexus LC500, which is probably one of the best-looking cars on sale, but the Fiat 124 Spider isn’t a patch on the MX-5 – poor proportions, fairly dull details and featureless flat sides.

      • ahja says:

        I didnt say that Renault is responsible for Nissans design, but that Nissan has ALWAYS done shitty jobs on their American-targeted vehicles, and since Renault turned Nissan into its vassal, Nissan has focused on purveying their shitty American-targeted cars. Because Renault is much stronger in Europe, and has no footprint in the US. So Nissan is responsible for working that market. Which means Nissan has more crossovers and suvs and dullard FWD sedans than ever to serve the American market, most of which are fugly and always have been. The JDM rear drive sedans have been condensed into 2 models, whereas there used to be 5 or 6. Nissan only ever did design well with their Japan market sedans, their sportscars, and arguably their euro hatches like Pulsar GTi. Renault dominion has pushed them away from all of those things to focus more on Altimas and Maximas and their beyond-hideous trucks.

        • Ant says:

          Thanks for the clarification, but that still isn’t Renault’s fault. Aside from some platform sharing in their smaller models, the two basically operate independently, with their own business plans, own budgets and relevant to this conversation, own designers. Nissan failing to make models that you or I might buy is Nissan’s fault alone.

          The only difference by Renault being there is that Nissan is still in business in the first place – when Renault originally bought Nissan stock in 1999, Nissan was almost bankrupt.

  7. Negishi no Keibajo says:

    It’s been a LONG time that a maker got me excited with design. I can’t figure out what Mazda does to be so different from the other design houses, but wow…

  8. M1abrams says:

    It really is no mystery why Toyota/Nissan/Honda have such boring, homogenous styling. The bigger corporations fear losing any of their market share so they focus on customer lifestyle studies, design trends, etc., resulting in designs that are all about details rather than the whole. (Poor Nissan.)

    I’m sure some of the dramatic shapes of thsee Mazda concepts will be watered downed in the production versions. Regardless, these will be cars people will feel excited/proud to own. Bravo.

  9. Dave says:

    toyota = automotive whitegoods,

  10. Lasse J. Nordvik says:

    Mazda’s design department is really on a roll these days!

  11. SaveTheDragons says:

    Such great designs. I’m sure the others are watching on in envy – in particular Toyota and Nissan.

    Although the hatch has a really bad blind spot in the rear quarter wrap around.
    I’m guessing the rear window is super tiny to look out of too, but looks great.

    Toyota have great local cars that are rear wheel drive but they don’t sell them elsewhere.

    The new generation really aren’t that interested in cars I’ve noticed.
    So maybe the car companies don’t really need to try as they will sell alot of average cars to the average consumer.

  12. Randy says:

    Agreed about how these are reminiscent of the ’60s and ’70s concepts, and those were the ones that STILL make me smile!

    I guess my only design question – being the practical guy I am – would be about the bumpers… I’d really hate to have my $2,000(?) hood get wrinkled up by something as minor as a misjudged parking attempt.

    Guessing the rear door windows on the sedan would be shortened to allow them to roll down.

    Been a Mazda fan for a long time, so yeah, I like ’em, and definitely looking forward to how they translate to production models.

  13. Chris A says:

    The delineation line between coupe and sedan isn’t just because of door count. Similar to a 5-door hatchback even though that’s normally considered a wagon, there exists the genre of 4-door coupe. Mainly it comes from luxurious cars that maintain the general shape and style of a coupe (take a look at the roofline and side profile of the Vision and you would be hard-pressed to imagine it has 4 doors), despite in reality having 4 doors. The concept had its starts in the late 60s and early 70s, but still continues to this day. I personally love them, as it adds a bit of character to a car like that, but that’s obviously subjective.

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