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2015 Tokyo Auto Show Hits, Misses and Revelations

Excitement over a rotary Mazda and plenty of weird Japanese concepts.

Tokyo, Japan – It’s unanimous among our four intrepid correspondents reporting from Tokyo Big Sight: the Skyactiv Wankel rotary-powered Mazda RX-Vision is the hit, and perhaps for the entire auto show season so far.

Of course, the season to-date consists only of Tokyo and September’s Frankfurt IAA, with the Los Angeles show coming up in November. Tokyo trumped this year’s uninspiring Frankfurt largely because the manufacturers managed a bit more surprise coming here; even with myriad “teaser” images, the Japanese automakers, plus Mercedes-Benz, managed to maintain intrigue right up to the press preview.

And with that, we lead off our compilation of likes, dislikes and thumbsuckers from Tokyo ’15 with that unanimous choice for best in show.

Hit: Mazda RX-Vision

Cutting right to the chase: build it, Mazda. Okay, the long and low proportions likely won’t make it to production, but the automaker’s Kodo design language has translated with style on other layouts and we suspect it will here too. Having two doors likely means it will be called an RX-7, which makes having a rotary engine all the more appropriate. Those of us who were around for the launch of the first RX-7 nearly 40 years ago can’t wait to feel what the Wankel engine will rev like today. Hope it has a turbo. Stand back, Porsche Cayman; bet you have a challenger on the horizon. — John Lamm

Hit: Mazda RX-Vision

You’d have a very hard time finding anyone here who wasn’t immediately smitten with the RX-Vision concept, Mazda’s likely future super sports car. The big shocker was the Skyactive-R Wankel engine revealed by the “RX” part of the name. But that’s where the hints end; Mazda wouldn’t say anything at all about the car, just rolled it out there and let us ooooh and ahhhh. The RX’s long hood is curious given the relative compact packaging of the rotary engine, but it looks sleek and sexy. Big time hit. — Michael Floyd

Hit: Mazda RX-Vision

If Mazda can put together the resources to build a dedicated rotary-powered sports car – “there are still many issues to overcome,” says CEO Masamichi Kogai – it’s several years off. Mazda must take the easiest way out and start with the MX-5 Miata’s backbone RWD chassis. Make the SkyActive Wankel a turbo, don’t attach it to any kind of electric assist, and engineer it for the best-possible fuel economy numbers. And please, Mazda, don’t succumb to the DCT crutch – a proper three-pedal six-speed manual will work just fine, thank you. — Todd Lassa

Hit: Mazda RX-Vision

Low slung, long, and lean, the Mazda RX-Vision is visually faster than anything else in Tokyo this year. With the magic of Mazda’s chassis design and tuning, I’m sure it’ll be blast to drive. Never mind the man behind the rotary curtain. –Nelson Ireson

Miss: Toyota S-FR

Is it the yawning mouth or the body color kickup aft of the side windows that makes it look like it got a wedgie? Hard to say, but this is one unappealing little sports car. We offer the gen-one Daihatsu Copen, the Suzuki Cappuccino and the Ford StreetKa as examples of cute little sportsters. And then there’s the Mazda MX-5 Miata. Looks like this one was shuffled off to the interns.– J.L.

Hit: Yamaha Sports Ride Concept

Looking like a love child between an NSX and an Alfa Romeo 4C, the mid-engine Sports Ride concept, roughly the size of the 4C, is another toe in the water for Yamaha to determine if it should build cars. The Sports Ride also uses legendary designer Gordon Murray’s iStream carbon fiber tub, so it should be on a solid foundation. No word yet on the powertrain, but Yamaha has plenty of that on its shelves. The world needs more sports cars, so go ahead and build it, Yamaha — we dare you. –M.F.

Hit: Honda S660 Motor Show Special Collection

Argh! You’re a tease; so light weight and fun-to-drive, though I couldn’t say very much after two laps on a high-speed oval in a “test” prior to the show, where I topped out at 84 mph. You’re the spirit of the original CRX, but with rear-wheel-drive, a mid-engine turbo three and open roof, and you’re a kei car, which means that like the old CRX, you’re too light and too small for the U.S. market and current crash standards. And here you are, two years after your debut, tempting us even further with a special auto show model featuring metal and suede interior accents and a black racing stripe on gunmetal gray paint. Wonder if Automobile could use a Tokyo correspondent. It’s an easy language to learn, right? –T.L.

Hit: Nissan Concept 2020 Vision Gran Turismo

Yes, we know this one is way out there, but I love the direction it points for the GT-R. Could you imagine trying to maintain those side sculptures in production? Hate to be the engineer who would have to create the doors. Doubt those jet exhaust taillights could make it to the assembly line. Still, like the Mazda RX-Vision, the 2020 Vision Gran Turismo is damn exciting and points a direction I hope its creator is headed.–J.L.

Hit: Subaru Impreza 5-Door Concept

Come on, Subaru, you can do it. Yes, you showed the WRX Concept a couple of New Yorks ago and failed to deliver anything even remotely like it, but I believe in you. You can – finally — dodge the ugly stick. You can build this Impreza (and bring the hatch back to America). Right? — N.I.

Hit: Subaru Viziv

I can’t pronounce the name, but do admire the styling. There is a legion of Subaru fans out there with great stories to tell about their car’s reliability, robustness, go-anywhere abilities and simple utility. But you won’t find many telling you about the beauty of their Subaru. No argument the WRX STI looks very, very cool, but that’s not necessarily beauty. Now with the Viziv we see some movement toward greatly improved design. It still has a sense of plaid shirt and hiking boots, but that’s the beauty of Subaru, so to speak. –J.L.

Hit: Subaru Viziv

It looks about the size of a Forester. Or, it could be the next Outback, but both these models are years away from a redesign. So what is it? Imagine the Viziv concept stretched to accommodate three rows of seats, and you have the Tribeca replacement, which has not been long awaited because … Tribeca. This design ought to erase any memory of that ill-conceived model.–T.L.

Miss: Honda FCV Clarity

Technologically, it’s a hit, with a 700-plus kilometer range on the European cycle, efficiently packaged fuel stack and motor producing 130 killowatts (up 30 percent) tucked neatly under the hood. But while the last Clarity was blandly pleasant-looking, the new car is an origami nightmare. I got a short test-drive in the car [about one-kilometer, most of it straight-line – the car is smooth, with good acceleration], but auto shows are chiefly for interior and exterior styling impressions. Honda plans its next dedicated plug-in hybrid off the Clarity’s new platform, so we’ll see a lot more of this in both fuel cell and PHEV form.— T.L.

Revelation: Money for What?

In response to a question about how much Toyota has been investing in advanced materials technologies, Toyota senior Vice President Mitsuhisa Kato acknowledged that Ford got a big jump on the Japanese automaker. “With Ford introducing their F-150 with an all-aluminum body, that was a big shock and impact to carmakers around the world,” Kato said. “Toyota of course is looking into various materials as well in terms of lightening weight, but with Ford’s introduction our understanding is we are behind Ford, and in order to recover we are doing a lot of research, including carbon fiber.”–M.F.

Hit: Lexus LF-FC

Must admit to a bit of trepidation when it came to the LF-FC. Despite the concept’s fuel cell powertrain, we know this is a close look at the next LS. Because Lexus leads the long luxury car concept with its signature spindle grille, of which some of us aren’t too fond, I had to see it in the metal myself. Well, it works very nicely indeed. This time the grille makes sense, both in its size and texture. Aft of that, the sheetmetal looks like a combination of a sculpture and extrusion as it flows rearward. Nice the way the side glass tapers down at the back. The taillights are a touch over the top, but aren’t a big distraction in the overall shape. Hope they can stick with no door handles.–J.L.

Miss: Lexus LF-LC

Yes, it ticks every box of modern Asian carmaker design, but it fails to take those parts and sum them into anything even approaching unique. Looking at the LF-FC in the metal is an exercise in focus, the predictable surfaces and proportions yielding only to the all-consuming expanse of spindle grille at the nose, requiring a force of will to keep your attention from sliding back to the Mazda RX-Vision stationed a few dozen feet away. Or at that curiously tufted bit of carpet at your feet. –N.I.

Revelation: ‘Wacky Concept Cars’ With Purpose

My fellow Grizzled Veterans and I lament the loss of a time, at least a decade ago, when Toyota, Nissan, Suzuki, Isuzu and especially, Honda, each rolled out wild concepts never meant to see production. Remember the Toyota Pod? The Honda Unibox? The Isuzu Begin Funkybox? (Okay, that last one was best known for its name.) They’re never coming back in numbers in such wonderfully useless form, but they are starting to reappear at this show when the manufacturer can ascribe a practical use: They’re fuel-cell vehicles, battery electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles, and/or vehicles for special mobility needs. Consider the Honda Wander Stand concept, which at 78.7-inches long by 49.2-inches wide by 72.8-inches tall, looks like a two-seat version of the Honda Unibox from the ’01 show. Its Honda Omni Traction Drive allows it to navigate tight spaces where those huge kei cars would jam up. HOTD allows forward, backward, lateral and dynamic movement, either operator-driven or autonomously. It even has its own Wander Walker motor scooter companion; at just 540mm wide, it’s narrow enough to pass through Japan’s automatic turnstyles.–T.L.

Hit: Toyota Kikai concept

This snappy little runabout is a return to what used to make the Tokyo show special; concepts designed to get tongues wagging and jaws dropping. From its exposed suspension bits and rear mid-engine hanging out back with artfully exposed pipes, to its center driving position and artfully done instrumentation, the Kikai quite simply kicks some chrome-plated ass. It stands zero chance of being built, but maybe Toyota will let us get behind the wheel someday, just for Kikais, of course. — M.F.

Miss: Toyota Kikai concept

It looks like the spawn of a megacity apocalypse survivor’s trans-Asia trek to find some sign of continued human civilization — if that survivor only had access to a junkyard filled exclusively with Toyota iQs.–N.I.

Miss: Toyota FCV Plus Concept

It looks like a four-wheel vacuum cleaner designed by Apple’s Jonathan Ive. In the late 1990s. All this proves is that while fuel cell technology may some day become key to controlling global warming, it’s not very pretty.–T.L.

Ichiro Suzuki

Revelation: The perils of product endorsement

Star baseball player Ichiro Suzuki told everyone at the Toyota press conference, twice, that he really loves cars, but he’s a bad driver. Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda is clearly a huge fan of Ichiro, going so far to say that he wants Toyota’s car-making to be more like the baseball star. We’re not entirely sure what that means (should Toyota be a speedy slap hitter with a good glove?), but we got it when he said he wanted his company to step up to the plate, presumably like Ichiro.– M.F.

Miss: Mercedes Vision Tokyo Concept

While I’m behind what Mercedes is trying to do with its Vision series of concepts, which are designed to push the limits of the future of automobility, the Tokyo version was a stretch, and a cliche. Running with the tagline “progressive, interactive, cool,” the concept was a thinly veiled attempt to reach hip, young, mega city denizens, presumably those with Visionloads of cash. It has a couch (doesn’t every future cool car?), a hologram display in the middle to control stuff, and a single driver seat with a steering wheel, but yeah, they don’t really need that. Outside, everything glows because of course it does, and its single-box, one door design is best described as a bloated, limo wagon. They will probably have more luck pushing a future vision of Smart, which is attempting to gain a bigger foothold in Japan.–M.F.

Hit: Mercedes-Benz Vision Tokyo Concept

A shoulder-high silver bullet with surprising personality for a one-box design promising all of the autonomy and technology of the F 015 concept, plus a horseshoe-shaped lounge couch in the passenger compartment, the Mercedes-Benz Vision Tokyo concept is perhaps the coolest minivan in history. –N.I.

Miss: Mercedes-Benz Vision Tokyo Concept

Need a stainless steel autonomous breadvan that matches your kitchen appliances? Neither do I. If this is the future of autonomous travel, then here’s my argument for spending more public money on high speed- and light-rail. — T.L.

Hit: Mitsubishi Fuso Super Great V Spider
It’s a giant truck with robot arms from Hell all over it, painted demonic black and red, named the Super Great V Spider. Savor the sweet, sweet terror of the masses as you patrol your kingdom. –N.I.

Revelation: Nissan IDS as the Latest Sign of the Automotive Apocalypse

Considered a hint of the next Nissan Leaf electric car, the IDS concept offers both manual and piloted drive modes. But it doesn’t have a conventional steering wheel – instead, it’s a touchscreen tablet.–T.L.

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