EXCLUSIVE FIRST LOOK Mazda Vision Coupe and Kai Concepts

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Two years ago, Mazda stole the Tokyo auto show with the RX-Vision concept, and Japan’s lithest automaker is back for a repeat with the stunning Vision Coupe and Kai concepts.

The Vision Coupe is sure to draw the most attention; it’s a classically proportioned four-door coupe concept Mazda says is a statement on the future of its Kodo design language. Much of the look is inspired by the RX-Vision, including the long hood, rear-drive dash-to-axle ratio, fastback roofline, deconstructed grille, and small, round taillights. Mazda says a “less is more” philosophy drove the design, leading sculptors to emphasize curves and minimize hard lines. Particularly striking features include the low hood, quad exhaust, all-glass roof, and restrained use of polished metal accents.

Mazda has given no indication as to what powers the Vision Coupe, what platform it might ride on if it were produced, or whether either even exists. Based on early teases of a concept inspired by the RX-Vision, many enthusiasts hoped for an RX-9 concept or production car or something rotary-powered. Rather, the Vision Coupe suggests either a radical redesign of the Mazda6 sedan or a larger, more premium sedan in the vein of the old Millenia.Mazda’s future cars will be more “elegant” and premium, if not a bit Italian in style.

The Kai concept makes far more than a suggestion. Built on Mazda’s next-gen Skyactiv vehicle architecture, the Kai is powered by the Skyactiv-X Spark Controlled Compression Ignition (SpCCI) engine. Destined for production in the near future, this engine is able to operate like either like a traditional gasoline engine or as a diesel, as the driver’s needs change—which Mazda says improves efficiency 20 to 30 percent and torque 10 to 30 percent while improving responsiveness.

Ostensibly a design concept, the Kai is a preview of the next Mazda3 hatchback. The Kai is 1.6 inches shorter in length, 3.2 inches shorter in height, and 2.3 inches wider than the current Mazda3, and it rides on a wheelbase stretched 2.0 inches—entailing a more-squat look with the wheels pushed farther to the corners. The new platform is said to improve both the driver’s comfort and connection to the car, delivering a jinba-ittai experience—or “horse and rider as one.”

The Kai eschews hard lines for graceful curves and minimal accent pieces. Inside,Mazda has tried to emphasize both open space and a focus on the driver. There’s a strong hint of the Alfa Romeo Giulietta hatchback, no bad thing. Mazda says its intent was to design the ideal hatchback.Shrink the wheels, add real door mirrors and handles, make space for license plates, and make the dashboard more practical, and you’re looking at the next Mazda3. We expect to see a production car make its debut within the next year and a late 2018 or early 2019 on-sale date as a 2019 model.