The Tokyo motor show provided a glimpse into future – from all directions.
There was a 360-degree view of the car of the future at this year’s Tokyo motor show. But while there were plenty of the usual array of weird and wacky minivans and mobility solutions designed specifically for the Japanese market, there wasn’t a single overriding thread that stitched through the headline acts this year.
There was everything ranging from Mazda’s promise to revive its iconic RX-series high-performance sports car to Lexus’ sneak peek at the next-generation LS limousine powered by a hydrogen fuel cell, from Mercedes-Benz’ self-driving minivan to Toyota extending its fun-to-drive factor with a baby brother for the affordable 86 coupe.
There really was a little bit of everything at the 2015 Tokyo show – including a few significant new arrivals that are ready to hit the road soon – but we’ve cherry-picked the highlights to bring you the eight cars you need to know about from this week’s show.
Mazda stole the limelight at the Tokyo motor show with just a promise.
The Japanese car maker headlined the expo with its stunning RX-Vision concept, claiming the sleek coupe is a statement of intent in reviving its radical rotary-powered sports car heritage as a precursor to what would be called the RX-9 when it eventually hits showrooms.
The RX-9, with its unique engine configuration, would become the first rotary-powered sports car since the demise of the RX-8 in 2012. Mazda has yet to put a date on when it will be put into production, but president Masamichi Kogai said during his opening presentation that, although there are still technical hurdles to overcome to ensure it meets ever tightening emission regulations, it is only a matter of time.
The Skyactiv-R engine is an extension of the 16X rotary concept power plant revealed two years ago with a larger 1.6-litre capacity and direct fuel injection.
The company’s research and development boss, Kiyoshi Fujiwara, confirmed to Drive it will also feature a turbocharger to improve performance and economy, and that the car’s low-slung body will utilise a dedicated sports car platform separate to the MX-5.
The cabin is as minimalistic as its classic exterior design, with a high-mounted centre tunnel cocooning the individual occupants and dominated by its anodised, billiard ball-style gear lever. In front of the driver, there’s a deep-dished three-spoke steering wheel and a three-gauge instrument pod with a centre mounted tacho that spins all the way to 10,000rpm.
Lexus LF-LC Concept
Lexus has given a glimpse at the next generation of its LS flagship sedan and underlined that its future is powered by hydrogen fuel cells.
The Toyota-owned luxury brand unveiled the LF-FC concept at the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show, which was a clear indication of its future beyond its current petrol and hybrid-powered range.
Unlike the hydrogen-powered Toyota Mirai, which has its fuel cell mounted under the bonnet in place of a conventional engine, the LF-FC has its fuel cell at the rear of the car sending power to the rear wheels. But it also sends electricity to a pair of electric motors mounted in the front of the car to power the front wheels.
Lexus claims this set-up not only makes the LF-FC all-wheel-drive, but also helps weight distribution to give the car “exceptional dynamic handling and superior stability”.
But the power train is only part of the story for the LF-FC. The car also showcases the brand’s future design direction, both externally and inside the cabin.
The stand-out feature is the vehicle’s interface, which uses a small holographic image on the centre console to interpret the occupants’ hand gestures; similar to the technology introduced on the new BMW 7-Series.
Suzuki Australia has asked for the new Ignis small hatchback as a more city-friendly offering to sit between the Celerio city car and Vitara SUV.
With bulging wheel arches and a chunky hatchback design, the Ignis is seen as an attractive sub-$20k offering to broaden Suzuki’s relatively narrow small car-focused lineup.
“It’s unconfirmed [as to whether we’ll get it],” says Suzuki Australia spokeswoman Ruth John.
“We’ve highlighted our interest [to Suzuki head office] but we don’t have any confirmation from Japan as to whether we’ll get it.”
The Ignis is powered by a 1.2-litre four-cylinder and is mated to a front-drive or four-wheel-drive system, the latter allowing mild off-road work and better traction in slippery conditions.
Suzuki used this year’s Tokyo motor show to reveal the Ignis Trail Concept, which features some additional wheel arch flares and bold colours to play up the SUV factor.
The previous Ignis also spawned the higher riding Holden Cruze SUV, a car that was relatively shortlived in Australia (and was unrelated to the Cruze small car that ended up being produced in Australia).
Meet the Toyota 86’s little brother.
The Japanese giant officially revealed the S-FR concept at the Tokyo motor show and Tetsuya Tada, chief engineer of Toyota’s sports car range, spoke to the Australian media about his plans for the car.
“I already tell you Toyota’s sports car goal must be three brothers – 86 is the middle [brother], top model is something like a Supra,” Tada said, confirming the S-FR sits at the bottom of the family tree.
Officially the company has released only limited technical details of the car, most notably the dimensions and the fact it is front-engined and rear-wheel drive, but hasn’t said what is under the bonnet.
Unofficial reports claimed the car was powered by a 95kW 1.5-litre non-turbo petrol engine but Tada didn’t confirm. When asked what powers the S-FR, Tada revealed he was considering three choices.
“When you see the S-FR concept, I suppose you imagine it is a 1.5-litre car, but nowadays I can choose many kind of engines,” he explained.
“Downsized turbo, 1.5-litre naturally aspirated and something additional as well. Now we are thinking which one is the best engine for a small sports car.”
Tada wouldn’t be drawn into when the car is likely to see production but said it was an important car for the brand, in keeping with company president Akio Toyoda’s vision for fun-to-drive cars.
Subaru Impreza and Viziv concepts
Subaru has given its first glimpse at its next-generation Impreza hatch and Forester SUV with a pair of stylish concept cars.
While both show cars are still characters of the showroom cars they preview – the Impreza hatch riding on huge 19-inch wheels, with sleek headlights and more aggressive details – they give a crucial clue to the look of the new fifth-generation small hatchback and SUV that are expected to break cover within the next two years.
In a statement, Subaru said the Impreza Concept “represents a bold expression of Subaru’s dynamic and solid design elements and a quality feel beyond its class”. Translation: we’re ramping up the design appeal and paying more attention to the details.
At the same time, the third concept car to wear the Viziv badge shows an equally stylish evolution for the Forester.
Subaru says the new car is “indicative of near-future Subarus”.
Subaru design general manager Mamoru Ishii claims the Viziv is more about the design vision for all Subaru SUVs, including the Outback, XV and Forester.
“It is not yet decided the next Forester’s design, so this is an advanced study of the next SUV … from Subaru,” Ishii said of the Viziv.
Beneath the skin, the Viziv concept features an evolution of Subaru’s EyeSight crash avoidance technology, which allows it partially drive autonomously on motorways and even overtake by monitoring traffic ahead.
Set to reach Australian showrooms next March, the new larger and more comprehensively equipped drop-top (now called Convertible rather than Cabrio, as was its predecessor) will be available from the outset with the choice of three engines: a 100kW turbocharged 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol in the Cooper, 141kW turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol in the Cooper S and 85kW turbocharged 1.5-litre three-cylinder diesel in the Cooper D.
The new sun-seeking Mini also receives fresh new exterior styling, giving it a familiar but more mature appearance. Included is a more distinctive front end featuring a larger single frame grille and altered headlamps, added structure within the front wheel arches and lower section of the doors, a more heavily raked windscreen, larger tail lamps and a wider boot.
The new car receives a heavily revised automatic cloth hood that is claimed to open and close in 18 seconds at the press of button at speeds up to 30km/h. As before, the multi-layer structure folds and stows in an exposed position above the boot. Safety enhancements include a single-piece roll bar that extends from behind the rear seats when sensors detect a possible roll.
Among the standard equipment on models bound for Australia will be a 6.5-inch infotainment monitor, bluetooth connectivity, a USB audio connection, rear parking distance control and a reversing camera.
Yamaha Sports Ride concept
One of the surprise stars of this year’s Tokyo Motor Show was a small, sexy two-seater from – wait for it – Yamaha.
The Sports Ride Concept is a mid-engined coupe that could also be built as an open-top roadster, according to Yamaha’s general manager of design, Nagaya Akihiro.
Details were scant, suggesting the vehicle may never make production, but in other ways – such as the overall finish – it looks very resolved and ripe for the production line. That said, the hand-tooled leather trim would be an unlikely starter for a production car.
With rear-wheel-drive and a kerb weight of just 750kg, the Sports Ride Concept would not need a huge engine to propel it effectively, giving rise to speculation that it could be powered by an engine borrowed from one of Yamaha’s large-capacity road bikes.
As it was, however, neither the motor show unveiling nor Akihiro himself was forthcoming on what power plant or driveline would or could be fitted to the car.
“I cannot discuss engines,” he told Drive.
The basis of the concept is a carbon-fibre tub designed for Yamaha by McLaren F1 designer Gordon Murray years ago to form the platform for a previous Yamaha four-wheeled concept car.
The real buzz in the air was a rumour that the concept could form the basis, or at least the inspiration, for the next Toyota MR2, but Akihiro was quick to pour cold water on that.
“I don’t think so,” he said when asked by Drive if the long-standing Toyota-Yamaha relationship had anything to do with the concept.
But it’s worth remembering that Toyota and Yamaha have enjoyed a successful technology-sharing relationship going back decades. It has resulted in Formula 1 technology and road-car development including the twin-cam cylinder head Toyota used on its sporty small cars for years.
At 3900mm long, 1720mm wide and just 1170mm high, the car is tiny by any standards. But in a world where downsizing is the new black, it could simply be a car whose time has come.