Mazda Shinari

Mazda, recently liberated from Ford Motor Company control but continuing to collaborate with the American giant, recently organized a global forum in Berlin to show its technology intentions and then another in Milan for design. We eagerly anticipated both events, because Mazda has always embraced a slightly skewed approach to the automobile industry. Mazda gave us an excellent cheap sports car twenty years ago, when everyone else had given up on the idea, and the company stayed with it, making each succeeding MX-5 Miata roadster a better product. Mazda also refused to abandon Felix Wankel's trochoidal engine, maintaining rotaries in production for decades, thereby pleasing those who prize unorthodox but valid engineering solutions.

With its Nagare ("flow") themed concept cars, Mazda had something really good going in styling. Losing Nagare's instigator, Laurens van den Acker, to Renault seems to have put an end to that promising potential. So I was more than a little disappointed by the Shinari concept car revealed prior to its public launch at the Paris auto show. It's yet another quite pretty but not particularly imaginative design, as good as -- but not really any better than -- the best "international" designs coming from Japan or Korea. That said, it has some appealing surface features, including dynamic parallel plunging lateral crease lines, one deriving from the front fender peak, the other from the upper corner of the Audi-inspired -- in size, not shape -- slightly-too-big grille. But it remains a derivative design, with its Fisker Karma lozenges at the lower front corners, coupelike upper structure, and tortured sill surfacing à la BMW and some of its imitators

The Shinari's interior is warm and welcoming, with admirably thin seats for four, but again it follows typical German "cockpit" practice, centering the instruments in front of the driver. The space before the front passenger is nicely clear. The multipurpose navigation and data screen hangs off the inboard side of the cluster shroud, making it visible and accessible to the passenger as well. The overall impression is positive, more than any other accessible entry-luxury models other than the ones from Audi, which is still the class act in the market segment.

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