Mazda Kai concept is food for thought
If there’s one thing everybody at Mazda is sure about, it’s that the Kai concept revealed last week at the Tokyo Motor Show is not the new Mazda3.
Except that it really is, of course. This ‘‘production concept’’ model is a five-door hatchback with broadly similar dimensions to the current Mazda3, and is built around the second-generation SkyActiv platform and SkyActiv-X engine that will make their showroom debuts underneath the 2019 Three.
True, the finished car probably won’t have 20-inch wheels and it probably will have proper mirrors and door handles. But in essence, this is surely the Japanese maker’s next family hatchback.
Why is Mazda so reluctant to acknowledge the obvious? Because it wants to emphasise its design efforts with both the Vision Coupe Concept and Kai ahead of all else at the moment.
Kai is a sister car to Vision Coupe: both were revealed at Tokyo and both showcase Mazda’s second-generation Kodo design philosophy, which has eschewed some of the intricate detail and prominent character lines of the current Mazda range in favour of elegance, simplicity and an obsession with the way light reflects on complex surfaces.
This is particularly evident in both cars along the side panels, which are concave and manipulate light depending on what angle you’re viewing them from.
This design signature was important enough for Mazda’s designers to relax their ruling on shaping new cars entirely by hand with clay models. For both Vision and Kai, computer simulation was used to establish how light would reflect on the cars in a variety of conditions.
Mazda global design and brand style boss Ikuo Maeda describes Vision and Kai and ‘‘bookends of next-generation design’’. Which means one is more ethereal, the other more practical.
Kai is a Japanese word meaning pioneer or vanguard.
‘‘The name means it’s spearheading the next generation and it’s also the driver to pull the next models forward,’’ says Kai chief designer Yasutake Tsuchida.
Tsuchida-san worked on the dramatic Furai concept car in 2009 and was lead designer for the previous Mazda3 in 2010.
Compared with the current Mazda3, the Kai concept is 50mm shorter, 60mm wider and 80mm lower. Don’t expect the differences to be quite as pronounced when the production Mazda3 is revealed, but don’t expect the basic proportions to change much either.
Compare Vision and Kai, two very different vehicles in terms of genre and shape, and it’s obvious how much work has gone into establishing a new signature ‘‘look’’.
A less-is-more approach applies equally inside. Kai’s cabin styling looks production-ready, but it’s also much cleaner and more elegant than the current Mazda3.
A key development for both Vision Coupe and Kai is the removal of the tablet-like information and entertainment screen that sits proud of the dashboard in most current Mazda models.
‘‘That screen makes a wall in the interior,’’ says Maeda-san. ‘‘That means we can’t create real space in the interior.
‘‘For the Vision model we do have a big screen, but it’s transparent. Right now we are working with an electronics company to develop a see-through screen. This will give us the advantage of a very simple interior space.’’
Kai is based around the nextgeneration SkyActiv platform and SkyActiv-X engine technology.
SkyActiv-X is so called because it’s a ‘‘cross’’ between petrol and diesel, resulting in a claimed 20-30 improvement in efficiency over conventional petrol engines.
Mazda also says the X-petrol powerplant is potentially better for the environment than some electric vehicles on a ‘‘well to wheel’’ basis – from extracting the fuel to burning it in the car. That’s if the electricity for the latter comes from a non-renewable source.
The breakthrough for SkyActiv-X is the use of the spark plug to control the switch between combustion types and broaden the operating region of compression-ignition.
The spark is used as an ‘‘expanding fireball’’ that becomes the right size to ensure optimum air-fuel mixture and ignition timing. Mazda calls it Spark Controlled Compression Ignition (SCCI).
Mazda says the new engine gives the flexibility and top-end power of a petrol, but with the fuel-efficiency and low-down throttle-response of a diesel.
We previewed the new platform and engine at a driveevent in Germany earlier this year. At that time, the technical package was underneath the current-generation Mazda3 body shape. But it’s very easy to imagine it in a set of Kai-clothes.
The Mazda3 SkyActiv-X will be just one element in a Mazda plan to offer a range of cleaner-looking, greener-vehicle options over the next few years.
In the 2019 the company will launch a new EV that will be available in both pure-electric and range-extender configurations – the latter with a rotary engine acting as generator.
Then, in 2020, we’ll see a plugin hybrid developed in a joint venture with Toyota. Whether this model will use the SkyActivX engine, Mazda wil not say. But the underpinnings will be shared between the two makers, with different styling for each.
Extravagant Vision Coupe is a concept-sister-car to Kai.