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Tokyo Closeup: Tough Business Case for the Mazda RX-Vision Concept

What's that long hood about, anyway?

TOKYO — Even though Mazda led off the biennial auto extravaganza with the first press conference of the morning, its RX-Vision concept earned immediate “best-in-show” status. Really, we’re all clamoring for a next-generation Wankel-powered sports car, are we not? It doesn’t hurt that the profile is as sensuous as the teaser pictures had promised.

The big questions now are 1.) would designers and engineers begin with some variation of Mazda’s only rear-wheel-drive platform, the backbone chassis under the ND MX-5 Miata? and, 2.) why is that hood so damn long?

Let’s start with the second question, and use that to work our way back to the first.

Mazda RX-7s always had long hoods and short decks, but this is extreme; the Wankel Rotary is compact enough to easily fit behind the front wheels with a normal RWD dash-to-axle proportion. This long front deck looks like it could fit a battery pack ahead of the rotary to create the world’s first plug-in electric Wankel hybrid. Styling is reminiscent of a front-engine Ferrari, with a hood (not side surfacing) reminiscent of the F12 Berlinetta and a short rear deck with dual round taillamps that recall the 365 Daytona’s.

The official answer is that it is, of course, only a concept, and that Mazda president and CEO Masamachi Kogai desperately wants to bring back a rotary-powered sports car, but he isn’t ready to announce any plans.

“There are still many issues to overcome,” Kogai said in the press conference.

A company insider claims no insights for the RX’s future, though one well-connected outsider figures the sports car is no more than three years away.

The impossibly long hood could be no more than auto show eyewash. Mazda is a small car company with limited resources and growing pains from its half-decade old separation from former controlling stakeholder Ford Motor Company. It would need either a partner on a RWD unibody platform (maybe Fiat Chrysler, in trade for using the new Miata as a basis for its Fiat 124 Spider premiering at the Los Angeles Auto Show), or it would have to start with the MX-5’s backbone chassis.

One similarity between the RX-Vision concept and the new Miata is that both are “cabin-rearward,” with the passenger compartment pushed as far back to the rear wheels as possible.

Then there’s the question of re-introducing the rotary in a world of more restrictive CO2 emissions and fuel economy standards. Perhaps the Skyactiv Rotary “under the hood” of the concept is some sort of hybrid — Mazda gave no more details about the engine than it did about the platform — but this seems unlikely. What Mazda needs is electrification in higher-volume, mainstream products like the 3 and the CX-5. It’s more likely that Skyactiv technologies applied to a new-millennium rotary provides acceptable fuel economy and emissions for a car that would have very low volume, anyway.

So here’s one prognostication for a 2018, 2019 or more likely, a 2020 Mazda RX-7/9: build it on a Miata backbone platform, longer than the MX-5, but with the concept’s front deck reduced almost by half; a new, more efficient conventional Wankel rotary, perhaps turbocharged, but with no electrification.

This is all speculation, but for now, it’s all we’ve got.

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2017 Mazda CX-3

2017 Mazda CX-3

MSRP $26,240 Grand Touring AWD

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