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Future models - Mazda - Kusabi

First look: Kusabi a hint to Mazda’s future

Loud and proud: Kusabi presents a bold graphic statement with aggressively flared wheelarches and a low-slung stance.

Mazda’s baby sports coupe reveals innovative ideas

15 Sep 2003

By MARTON PETTENDY in FRANKFURT

NOT to be confused with the next generation MX-5 due to appear in concept form at the October Tokyo motor show (see story below), Mazda's Kusabi concept is instead a pointer to what a low-priced small Mazda sports coupe could look like.

Claiming star billing for Mazda at the Frankfurt motor show alongside the all-new Mazda3 sedan and hatch and based on the company's Mazda2 light car platform, the front-wheel drive Kusabi - which means "wedge", or "prizing the way forward" in Japanese – could reach production within just a few years if public response is positive.

Mazda product planning boss Joe Bakaj says Kusabi, which was revealed at the Frankfurt motor show, with a 1.6-litre turbo-diesel engine and six-speed sequential automatic transmission, is just one possibility the flexible Mazda2 underpinnings could realise, either relatively soon or beyond its next generation replacement.

"It's a concept car so we're looking for a reaction," he said. "Not necessarily to go into production straight off, it's just one possible derivative of Mazda2 - potentially, a low-priced small sports coupe.

"It's diesel but just as easily could be powered by any of Mazda2's (petrol) engines, and we could do similar things with the Mazda3, Mazda6 or RX-8 platforms." Chief Mazda designer Moray Callum is equally enthusiastic with his creation, which he describes as a pocket-rocket version of the RX-8 to sit below MX-5 and rival the European-market Opel Tigra.

"Kusabi hints at the future of compact Mazda sports cars and is also a look at how Mazda could look in the future," he said.

"No feasibility studies have been done but Mazda is extemely efficient at bringing cars to production quickly - certainly in less than five years." Kusabi is also a vehicle to preview Mazda's push further into diesel technology, which is offered in Mazda6 in Europe and will appear in the Mazda3 in Europe from early next year in the shape of a 1.6-litre oil-burner with high-tech particulant filter.

"We are going into the diesel market so we wanted to point out it can be exciting," said Mr Callum.

"If Mazda's going to build a diesel it needs to look exciting - just because it's a B-car doesn't mean it has to be boring." Presenting a bold graphic statement with aggressively flared wheelarches and a low-slung stance, Mr Callum said Kusabi revealed "a lot of RX-8 in its sculpting but with a strong signature of its own".

Kusabi features a novel "gullwing" rear glass hatch that opens both conventionally and is split longitudinally, allowing both sides to be independently opened via central hinges for external access.

Mazda is also looking to patent the unique "swing seats" that were also designed specifically for Kusabi and hinge laterally from inboard side, allowing easy entry/exit for rear seat passengers.

No detailed studies have been undertaken to ascertain the production feasibility of either the gullwing hatch, swing seats or doors that glow blue when opened, but Mazda says the hard points of the futuristic, flat-roofed coupe could easily be adapted to series production.

Mazda also showed a facelifted MPV in Frankfurt, which will go on sale in Australia in November, while the Washu people-mover concept made another appearance, hinting at the design direction of the next generation MPV.

NEW MX-5 FOR TOKYO SHOW

MAZDA officials have all but confirmed the company's replacement for the iconic MX-5 convertible will make its world premiere at the Tokyo motor show next month, but not in production form.

"Kusabi won't be the only concept we'll test the waters with this year," said Mazda product planning director Joe Bakaj, while head Mazda designer Moray Callum confirmed: "You might have more of an idea about the next MX-5 after Tokyo".

Senior Mazda executives remain tight-lipped about the successor to one of the world's most successful sports cars.

But it is known the all-new MX-5 will grow larger - in response to tighter safety standards since the original's 1989 release and to make way for a possible new MX-2 sports car previewed by the Kusabi concept - while remaining faithful to MX-5's successful lightweight, rear-drive two-seater formula.

And don't expect a new face as radical as that presented by Kusabi.

"MX5 will always keep its own character that is identifiable with current car," said Mr Callum.

Mr Bakaj would not be drawn on whether the new MX-5 will feature a folding metal roof - as is the "coupe-convertible" trend pioneered by Mercedes-Benz but since followed by the likes of Peugeot, Renault, Alfa and even Hyundai and Kia - offering only that "MX-5 won't change in philosophy".

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