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Tokyo show: Mazda ‘needs’ hi-po sportscar

Rotary return: The Mazda RX-Vision concept would be a perfect halo car in Australia if it gets the green light for production, according to Mazda Australia MD Martin Benders.

Mazda Australia hopes to add sexy rotary sportscar to its roster

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Mazda logo2 Nov 2015

By TIM NICHOLSON in Tokyo

MAZDA Australia has its hands high in the air for a hi-po rotary-powered sportscar to appeal to die-hard enthusiasts and to provide a standout halo model for the brand Down Under.

The Japanese car-maker lifted the covers off its RX-Vision sportscar concept at the Tokyo motor show, and while the company has not officially confirmed a production model, it is widely believed that it previews a future rotary performance hero that should surface in about 2020.

The striking concept, which was arguably one of the biggest draw cards of the show, uses a 1.6-litre rotary engine – dubbed Skyactiv-R – resurrecting the Wankel engine tech that died along with the RX-8, when it was killed off in 2012.

Speaking with GoAuto in the company’s home base of Hiroshima, Mazda Australia managing director Martin Benders said while rotary power had a significant following, he would welcome any form of halo sportscar.

“If you’re asking me is it specifically rotary that everybody is screaming out for, I’d have to say probably not, but there are hardcore rotary fanatics in amongst what we’d call the enthusiast customer group,” he said.

Mr Benders acknowledged that while the company has a strong line-up, a hero sportscar would lift the brand further in Australia.

“We have built our brand in the last 10 years on the back of nice styling, nice chassis dynamics and reasonable powertrains, but if I see any sort of lacking in terms of pillars under the brand, it is that technology stream and the Skyactiv is part of that.

“But if you really want to have a share of mind of those enthusiasts, you’d have something that is a little bit different, and the rotary always gave us that. And I think having another rotary back in there or a halo sportscar is an important component to that end.

“If they (Mazda Motor Corp) gave us a high-powered car in the same body-shell, I wouldn’t be saying no to that either. But rotary is quintessentially Mazda, so it has a bit of extra oomph.”

Rotary was undoubtedly the theme of the Tokyo show for Mazda, highlighted by a drive event held at its Mine proving ground of classic rotary powered models including the first-ever rotary Mazda – the Cosmo – as well as the three generations of RX-7, and the hydrogen-rotary RX-8 prototype.

Mr Benders said that the MX-5 convertible gives Mazda a sporty option, but added that the company would benefit from something with even more performance capabilities.

“I think we do need to have a halo car of some sort, and that one (RX) is it,” he said. “I mean, MX-5 does give us some presence there because it is such a great car, but if you read the commentary on it – ‘love the drive, doesn’t need any more power but I’d like to have a bit more power’.

“Something like this car (RX) with performance and style and road presence is just that other one that toughens up that technology pillar alongside the chassis dynamics and styling and that sort of thing.”

Mr Benders pointed out the appeal of premium brands in Australia, and said a performance-focused, visually appealing sportscar could mean Mazda is seen in a similar light to more high-end brands.

“If I look at premiums, the things they sell on are good styling, good chassis dynamics and good technology,” he said. “And I think that’s what we want to be.

We want to be better than your average run-of-the-mill car. We’re not trying to be top-of-the-tree premium, but I think we can be sort of in that mix somewhere.”

In terms of performance variants of Mazda passenger cars, such as the MPS versions of past models, Mr Benders said they had a “small following”, and added that those sorts of vehicles attract higher-end buyers.

“We have had turbo all-wheel drive cars way back, I guess our problem has been is we haven’t had it there consistently like a (VW Golf) GTI or a (Subaru) WRX or something. So we are a little bit behind the eight-ball.

“You could argue we are doing very well without it, but if I look at the people we are appealing to, they love the look of the car and they love the quality and the design and the driving and all that.

“What we are looking for is that higher-end customer that is a bit more emotionally involved in the brand, and something like performance models of our main variants or something like the RX-Vision are the cars that get them in.”

Reports have suggested that Mazda is looking to re-introduce its MPS sporty sub-brand in the future, likely on models such as the Mazda 3 and 6 however, there has been no official confirmation from the car-maker.

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