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.
The underlying creative theme for this car is based on the concept of potential energy inherent in a bow pulled to maximum tension just before the archer releases the bowstring to free his arrow. It’s a powerful image indeed, redolent of tensed predatory animal musculature just before a sudden pounce. There’s a link with car performance, as well. Design division general manager Ikuo “Speedy” Maeda, whose father, Matasaburo, was head of Mazda design when the first RX-7 was created, is a committed car guy and a racing driver, not just a casual enthusiast. He designed the current RX-8 and the Mazda 2 compact. Like his father, Maeda is devoted to Mazda, to performance, and to design, and he’s highly competent and motivated. His Shinari is good. I just wish there were a bit more formal innovation.
Front 3/4 view
1.This point on the grille base and the spoilerlike surface beneath it provide visual direction but absolutely inadequate ramp capability. Well, it is a show car.
2. There’s an awful lot of complex shaping and surfacing in the front bumper fascia-to little purpose.
3. LED lamp tucked under the upper surface of the lozenge-shaped hollow is a subtle touch.
4. Headlamps are elegantly small, the length of their cover glass adding to the horizontal linearity that makes the Shinari so dramatic. Chrome from the lower grille perimeter fades to nothing in the headlamp. Very nice.
5. Front fender peak drops on its way rearward to fade into the front door skin.
6. The chopped-top look is a bit too exaggerated. For a more harmonious, better-proportioned profile, the side glass should
7. Second parallel dropping crease line derives from the upper corner of the grille, then fades away in the rear door.
8. Parallel crease line leads to the exhaust tip at the base of the rear fenders.
REAR 3/4 VIEW
1. This sharp point on the side trim is dynamic, but carrying it so far back requires the silliest, tiniest,
and most useless rear quarter window ever.
2. Yet another crease line, this one tangent to the taillight tip, comes off the deck-lid spoiler and fades into the rear fender.
3. Sill line sweeping upward is emphasized by a very elegant, thin chrome strip that stops partway along the rear door.
4. All three door cuts are artfully placed to define the body-side section.
5. Exhaust outlets are nicely shaped and well integrated into the overly complex rear surfaces.
6. The lower part of the rear looks a bit like a drip tray, although we can be reasonably certain that there won’t be any leaks. The surface below the license plate recapitulates the front end, without the central point.
1. Navigation panel floats off the side of the instrument cluster, accessible to both front-seat occupants.
2. The central console translates into the instrument-
cluster shroud. Sculpture and textures are all first-rate in design and execution.
3. For elegance, the front-seat passenger gets the best treatment, with flowing shapes, ample room in front, and trim pieces that caress his or her fingers.
4. Steering wheel is good to touch but looks distressingly pudgy and seems more intended for an economy car’s interior than one as luxurious as this one in all other respects. A curiosity.
5. Who is ever going to look out of (or into) this ridiculous little window?
6. Glass roof feels safer when you’re sitting in the car and can see the nicely shaped structure.