Big in Japan: Highlights from the Tokyo Motor Show

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Mazda Kai Concept and Mazda Vision Coupe
Image via Mazda8/10

Mazda Kai Concept and Mazda Vision Coupe

If Mazda suffers from any challenges in the U.S., it’s simply that they don’t have enough dealers in enough places for buyers to see that their cars are visually distinctive. And by that, lately, we mean gorgeous. The Vision Coupe is an example of where Mazda might go with its larger cars; the current Mazda 6 isn’t nearly this large, so it also potentially signals that Mazda could make bigger sedans, especially now that Toyota has a bigger stake in the company, which should enable the kind of investment that would take. Still, we know Mazda for making smaller cars, and smaller Mazdas have been more cute than pretty.

So the Kai Concept aims at shifting that perception. Mazda officials want to get beyond the prior notion of their cars mimicking the shape of animals, moving toward a swifter, more sculptural form, which is why this Kai Concept (a nakedly obvious next-gen Mazda3 concept), lacks almost any visual cuts or surface interruptions. It looks utterly fluid, and so even this relatively small car looks very long and fast. In a world where small cars mostly don’t look beautiful, it breaks important new design ground.

What you don’t see is that the next Mazda3 also likely heralds the debut of the next generation of Mazda’s gas direct injection engine. While Mazda (and other brands) have done a good job using D.I. to eek more energy out of gasoline cars, the holy grail is to gain the efficiency of a diesel, as well as the excellent low-end torque of diesel, but in a gasoline-powered car. The problem is that getting gasoline to ignite at the same compression ratio (basically, pressure) and fuel-to-air mixture of diesel just hasn’t worked. So Mazda’s SKYACTIV-X gasoline engines don’t just use higher compression—they cleverly use spark plugs to force the ignition to happen. This workaround, Mazda says, would result in 10-30 percent better torque while also delivering 20–30 percent better efficiency vs. their present technology. Mazda says they start selling these engines in 2019, and we certainly hope the sexy shapes will come, too.

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