Car Awards

2008 Mazda Kiyora – By Design

Make no mistake, the Mazda Kiyora is not a concept car. At least, not as the term is typically used these days, when what is presented as an idea about the future is in fact a hastily restyled upcoming production car, presented to prepare public opinion in advance: “Wow, the new Thingamajig came from the Chimera concept car.” No way will we see versions of the Kiyora on the streets anytime soon. Or ever.

No, the Kiyora is a full-out dream car, as far from production as the long-ago Cadillac Cyclone and just as wonderful in its own way. Created within the nagare-or flow-theme that has informed the last five Mazda concept cars, the Kiyora is quite small, a two-plus-two city car with enough convoluted surface detail to adorn three or four “flame-surfaced” BMWs. It takes the flow theme to the maximum, in that grooves are machined into the translucent plastic roof panel to channel rainwater into a sump at the rear containing an activated charcoal filter, whence it is directed forward to an elegant flask between the front seats.

The flask has a patented Lifesaver filtering system using tubular membranes with such fine perforations-fifteen nanometers-that viruses and bacteria can’t get through them. This is all part of a conscious effort to present the Kiyora as “the Eco-Friendly City Car.” The four principal designers, Belgian project manager Jo Stenuit, French lead exterior stylist Mickael Loyer, his compatriot and lead interior designer Gregory Vera, and Italian exterior stylist Luca Zollino, told us that they conceived of the car not only as a refuge against the outside world, but also as a space open to that world by way of extensive semitransparency, including that grooved polycarbonate roof. Their rap was engaging and amusing, if not particularly based in commercial reality, and it was clear that they had enormous enthusiasm for the project.

The front seats cantilever from the center, and the occasional-use rear seats are made of a stretchy vinyl fabric that allows a separation panel to deform into rear seats or be pushed forward by baggage to increase trunk space. Much of the interior is so complex that only stereolithography, in which parts are built as though from sheets of thin paper, could achieve the desired shapes. The right side of the instrument panel clearly shows this. Within that complex, layered sculpture is a large, single block of activated carbon, which captures toxins from incoming air with neither electric fan nor inorganic materials.

With water and its fluidity as the principal unifying idea, blue-green coloring both inside and out was chosen to express the visual nature of water, such as how it changes color with depth, temperature, and state; the floor is supposed to look like ice. Door panels are translucent, with the protective side-impact structure contained in the spar carrying the door handles and grips. Sitting in the Kiyora is quite agreeable, with the coloring and forms providing a sense of calm otherworldliness-a dream state, in fact.

1. Very short overhangs are highly desirable for a city car, making for easy parking.

2. The base of the windshield at the front-wheel centerline ensures that most of the length is given to the interior.

3. The structure inside the door is scarcely visible from outside. The surface is in waves, following the water theme.

4. A slight upturn at the end of the roof helps aerodynamics and provides a focal point for the upswept side glazing.

5. This sump collects rainwater (and dirt and bird droppings) and diverts flow down and forward to a water bottle.

6. Grooves machined into the roof meander like a stream.

7. The taillights repeat the flow theme, but with directionality that’s missing in the roof grooves.

8. The doors swing upward to compensate for their length, making entry in parking garages easier.

9. Turbine-blade wheels recall impellers in hydroelectric installations.

10. Blunt, high nose is good for pedestrian safety. Air flows around the sides more than over the top for good aerodynamic penetration.

11. The steering wheel’s complex forms were realized by stereolithography and feel very nice in the driver’s hands.

12. An organic web of shapes covers the activated carbon air filter.

13. The cantilevered front seats flow from the center, embracing the overall design theme while remaining extremely comfortable.

14. The recycled-water bottle lies beneath a floating, flowing center console.

15. The side-impact spar in the door also serves as an armrest.

16. A double-level woven vinyl membrane stretches under passenger weight to form a sling seat, or it can be pushed forward by luggage for extra trunk volume when there are no passengers.