Mazda says its Kabura concept car explores several fresh ideas that could appear in its future production sports coupes.
To deliver what Mazda calls the true soul of a sports car, the Kabura uses the front-engine, rear-drive layout favoured by keen drivers, but it stretches radically the bounds of interior versatility.
Replacing the typical two-plus-two layout is a three-plus-one seating arrangement which Mazda says gives greater passenger comfort without increasing weight or size. And all passenger seats fold flat to make way for snowboards, shopping bags or other "tools of an active life."
The Kabura is not only the first Mazda compact coupe for the 21st century, it's also the first project guided by Mazda North American Operations' (MNAO) design director Franz von Holzhausen. The 37-year-old studied industrial design at Syracuse University and graduated from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California.
"With Kabura, we set out to use innovative design to rekindle the passion for driving," he says. "Our intention is to rouse the segment with some intravenous creativity. While we have no plans at the moment to build a production version of Kabura, it isn't a complete flight of fancy. It embodies several innovations Mazda could implement when a compact sports coupe, steeped in Zoom-Zoom, is ready for production."
von Holzhausen says a recent survey showed Mazda's new-car customers are the second youngest in North America, at an average age of 41.
He says Generation-Y buyers are several steps ahead of the latest trends and constantly on the lookout for affordable possessions that satisfy their hunger for stylish, insightful and spirited designs. "One of Kabura's roles is exposing a likely future design direction to today's demanding customers."
A 2.0-litre version of Mazda's MZR DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder engine drives the Kabura's rear wheels. The concept cars was built over several MX5 chassis components, and its basic dimensions fall between the MX5 and RX8.
But von Holzhausen says that were the Kabura to achieve production status, it would likely be a stand-alone product rather than an extension of any existing model line.
Nimble and taut exterior look
Kabura design chief Franz von Holzhausen describes its exterior as "a nimble-looking fuselage with a powerful stance, pronounced wheelarches and taut surfaces."
"Every line flows into another with no open ends. Surfaces are drawn tight over the wheelarches, the way a spider's web stretches between anchor points."
Though its profile is reminiscent of classic coupes', the windscreen and forward part of the roof are integrated into one seamless glass surface that extends from the cowl to the B-pillar. Admitting extra light enhances the interior's feeling of airy space. Overhead portions of the glass have adjustable tinting so that the driver can twist a knob on bright days to change the roof's opacity from clear to completely opaque.
Behind the B-pillar, the Kabura has a two-piece glass hatch. The uppermost glass panel normally lies flush. When pivoted-up by an electric motor, the way ailerons rise out of an aircraft wing, this panel acts as a roof spoiler, vents air from the interior and greatly augments rear passengers' headroom.
In addition, a photovoltaic solar cell in the panel helps to control ambient temperature as well as recharge the battery. The larger glass hatch panel has side-mounted hinges to provide ready access to Kabura's spacious cargo compartment.
"While examining the habits and tastes of our youthful customers, we found that (most) have a need to carry one or at most two passengers in comfort," von Holzhausen says. "A very small percentage actually use the fourth seat on limited occasions. "Clearly, the standard two-plus-two compact coupe configuration with restricted rear access and limited seating space doesn't work in this context, so we created a three-plus-one layout that resolves those shortcomings."
A standard left-side door provides access to the driver's cockpit and the rear jump seat. The right side is a wholly different and purposely asymmetrical arrangement.
Removing the glovebox and minimising the instrument panel allowed designers to shift the front passenger 150mm ahead of the driver's seating position. In turn, the second passenger, sitting in tandem behind the right-front passenger, enjoys approximately the same leg, shoulder, and headroom.
Developed on the RX-Evolv and RX-01 show cars, Mazda designers invented the rear-hinged freestyle doors to improve the RX8's rear-seat access.
To maintain a sleek roofline while offering rear access that's vastly superior to what's available in current compact coupes, von Holzhausen's team designed the Kabura with an extra right-side door.
After the front door is opened, touching a button slides the bonus door straight back and out of the way.
Instead of swinging on hinges as in the RX8, the additional door glides neatly into a cavity notched into the rear-quarter panel area the way a pocket door disappears into a house wall.
The Kabura's design team decided that introducing a level of sustainability and recyclability was a critical part of the concept.
Mazda worked on that aspect of the Kabura's design with with Sustainable Solutions Inc (SSI), a leader in re-engineering post-industrial waste material into quality consumer products.
The Kabura's interior is produced from SSI's regenerated leather substrate. Itself produced from 100-per cent post-industrial waste - in this case, much of the waste was material recovered from the manufacturing of Nike brand sports shoes - SSI's leather-grind can be dyed and printed in any colour or pattern and appears in the Kabura as a technical yet inviting material.
What's in a name
Kabura is a Japanese word evolved from Kabura-ya - an arrow that makes a howling sound when fired and was historically used to signal the start of a battle.
Mazda says the "first arrow into battle" depicts its spirit of pursuing unique and exciting ventures - such as the rotary engine.
Mazda Kabura specifications
Engine. MZR 2.0-litre DOHC. Four valves per cylinder.
Transmission. Rear-wheel drive. Six-speed manual gearbox.
Suspension. Front, double wishbone. Rear, multi-link.
Wheels. Front, 19-inch alloy. Rear, 20-inch alloy.
Tyres. Bridgestone Potenza. Front, 245/35 R19. Rear, 245/35 R20.
Dimensions. Length, 4050mm. Width, 1780mm. Height, 1280mm. Wheelbase, 2550mm.