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.