Tuesday, August 31, 2010
When Mazda invited us to Milan to see its new concept car, we knew it must be something important. Normally concept cars get their 15 minutes of fame at an auto show, and then it's off to the next press conference to see what the following automaker will introduce. Not so with Mazda's latest styling endeavor. The Japanese automaker wanted our full and undivided attention, with the center of international design and fashion in Italy as a fitting backdrop.
The Shinari concept, which roughly translates to "resistance to being bent," will serve as a the basis for Mazda's new design language, and many of the styling cues will make it to future production vehicles. That means that the Shinari will essentially affect the design of every vehicle coming from the Japanese automaker for the next several years. An important car for Mazda? You bet.
The Shinari was officially unveiled earlier today, and we spent several hours talking with Mazda's artists about the design and how it will affect the automaker's forthcoming vehicles.
The creation of the Shinari Concept starts with Ikuo Maeda, Mazda's global head of design. Maeda was the chief designer of the RX-8 and the Mazda2 and has been with the company for nearly 30 years, but his connection with the brand goes back even further than that. His father, Matasaburo Maeda, headed the design of the first generation RX-7 back in the 1970s. Mazda runs in the Maeda family's blood and there's no one more qualified to define the look of Mazda's next generation vehicles.
While Maeda has had an influence on Mazda design in the past, 2010 is the first year in which he's had full control. The Shinari Concept represents the first styling concept under his new design theme, KODO, which replaces the controversial Nagare them from the past several years. While the Nagare-styled cars were represented by wavy, flowing lines, a trait that looked great on concepts but was tough to implement on production cars (see Mazda3), KODO is more of an organic style that still takes cues from the natural world, but in a much more solidified and powerful sense. Maeda describes KODO as form with a soul, or bringing form to life, with the three key terms defining the theme being speed, tension and alluring. "There are few products of industrial design that can be compared to living entities which convey energetic motion and which invite affection," he says. "It is this intrinsically emotional appeal of the car that I wish to express when creating Mazda cars."
While Maeda created the theme for the new stylistic direction, the development of the Shinari Concept was actually a collaboration between three of Mazda's design centers in Japan, Germany and the United States. The goal was to make the exterior a product of Japan, while the interior was left to the automaker's Irvine studio. However, each team had input on the final product.
Looking at the exterior, it's easy to tell that the Shinari shares little in common with Mazda's recent designs, although like almost every sedan built today, it has similarities to vehicles from other brands. It's almost as if the Aston Martin Rapide and a Mazda RX-8 cued up some Barry White, enjoyed a romantic evening and the Shinari came out nine months later. That's obviously a compliment, as the Rapide is a stunningly beautiful car and the RX-8 – even this far into its lifecycle – is still a looker. However, the Shinari has a much more complicated design, with more intersecting lines and a surface area that's constantly moving and changing depending on the lighting.
Those who dislike the smiling face of the current Mazda lineup will be glad to know it won't be a feature in future models (Huzzah! – Ed.). The Shinari front end features a "signature wing" that will become a new styling cue for the brand. The wing is formed by a thin aluminum band that starts from the bottom of the grille and goes out and up through the headlamps and continues with a bold fender line moving out onto the sides.
The most impressive aspect of the exterior design was the devotion to the theme in nearly every inch of the concept. The various aluminum pieces found on the exterior have a "twisted tension", and even the slots in the disc brakes follow the same theme. In addition, items like the headlights were designed to have a more natural look and fashioned to mimic the iris of an animal's eye. We're also big fans of the stylish rear view cameras in place of the standard mirrors as well as the trick door handles (although "button" might be a more appropriate description) that require only a simple press to open.
While the exterior is certainly a departure from previous designs, the interior is perhaps the most surprising aspect of the Shinari. Easily the most attractive and stylish interior we've seen in a Mazda (concept or not), it's swathed in authentic aluminum trim, leather-covered surfaces and double stitching at nearly every turn and twist. We're again drawn to the Aston Martin Rapide comparison, especially with the design of the deep rear bucket seats. The gauges, modeled after popular watch designs, up the class quotient and the massive glass roof helps make the interior feel open and airy.
We know many of these elements won't make it into a production car, but Mazda's North American director of design, Derek Jenkins, who oversaw the development of the Shinari's interior, says it's Mazda's goal to add sophistication to future models. "Mazda is really an aspirational type of brand," he says. "Even though we are a mainstream brand we have a customer that wants a little bit more. We monitor premium segments, we monitor premium trends, and the question is ultimately how can get some of that feeling into a more affordable vehicle. We think our customer wants a little bit more sophistication."
One thing that can definitely be seen in future Mazda interiors is a driver-focused cockpit. A close look at the Shinari's interior reveals an asymmetric design that snugly surrounds the driver's seat while leaving the passenger seat more open and relaxed. Jenkins says this will be theme of upcoming Mazda vehicles and help set the brand apart.
Finally, the Shinari also features quite a bit of technology that looks forward to the new applications of driver-automobile interactions. The Human Machine Interface (HMI) is split up into three modes: Business, Pleasure and Sport. Potential uses range from looking up bios of a business contact before a meeting to a rally-style co-pilot feature that could alert the driver of the characteristics of upcoming turns. It's nothing too far-fetched given the current levels of technology, and we wouldn't be surprised to see some of it implemented in the near future.
But more than the tech and the attention to detail, it's the Shinari's overall cohesion that impresses the most. Unlike other pie-in-the-sky concepts, the Sinari is a smart, well executed styling exercise that should be a solid design platform for future models. The muscular lines should translate well into a production car, and customers will always appreciate a more sophisticated interior. And what about the potential of a four-door sports coupe like the Shinari making it to production? Mazda wouldn't tell us whether one is in the works, but they did mention that the "business side of it" was considered when the Shinari was under development. That definitely means there's a chance, and we sure like the sound of a Mazda RX-9.
Okay, so the 2011 Honda CR-Z isn't exactly the modern-day CRX redux that we were all hoping for. Mildly upsetting, yes, but perhaps this disappointment tarnished our initial impression of this newest hybrid offering from Honda. We still have many questions about its form and function, but need to accept the fact that times have changed, Honda's product strategies have been realigned to the times and the CRX shall remain a modern classic – especially the Si. Besides, this little two-seat hybrid isn't really all that bad. Really.
What we have here is an inherently good vehicle that doesn't make a whole lot of sense. It only has two seats and its EPA fuel economy numbers are underwhelming. A Ford Fiesta, for example, is more functional, less expensive and gets nearly the same combined fuel economy – at least compared to a manual-equipped CR-Z like our tester.
But don't write off the CR-Z completely. It may be a tough sell when looked at from a big picture perspective, but on its own, it's a pretty good little whip.
After spending a week with our North Shore Blue EX test car, we grew to rather like the CR-Z's design, though it is a bit awkward at first take. The oversized front maw doesn't really match up with the short, wedgy proportions of the rest of the car. What's more, the side profile highlights the fact that the front overhang is noticeably longer than the rear, and from most front three-quarter views, the CR-Z looks rather nose-heavy.
Out back, however, things are a little more put together. The split glass rear hatch and triangular taillamps are reminiscent of the original CRX, but we can see a bit of its larger brother, the Insight (both the original and new one), as well. Interestingly, though, the rear view seems to be the most polarizing among the general public. Within the span of 30 minutes, we had one passer-by make mention of the CR-Z's "butt-ugly butt" and another commented on how modern and high-tech it looked. To each their own, but we're quite fond of the rear design, even though the split in the glass cuts right through the middle of your rear-view mirror sight-lines. Even so, it's no worse than trying to look out the back of a properly winged Subaru STI.
Visually, the only difference between our loaded-up EX tester and the base CR-Z are the addition of front foglamps. All models get the same set of 16-inch alloy wheels you see here, though Honda does offer an attractive set of 17-inchers as a dealer-installed accessory. The larger wheels would better fill out the relatively large wheel wells, not to mention add an extra dose of sportiness, since Honda is, after all, trying to convince us that the CR-Z is a sports car... of a kind.
Looking inside, the whole "hybrid sports car" theme is nicely presented. The futuristic dash display speaks to the eco-mindedness of the CR-Z, and the nicely bolstered, supportive seats and short, nubby six-speed manual shifter are sporty visual cues. Furthermore, all of the car's controls are canted toward the driver, and we're big fans of the smaller-diameter steering wheel. Especially with the navigation screen in place, the interior looks great when lit up at night, though Honda is long overdue for an upgrade to its infotainment display technology – things are starting to look a bit pixelated onscreen.
The CR-Z's hatchback design would lead you to believe that it's relatively functional, and we don't have any complaints about the 25.1 cubic feet of cargo space. Instead of fitting a second row of seats, Honda has opted for clever storage compartments and a divider that can be folded flat to accommodate larger haulables. Would we prefer a two-plus-two seating arrangement? No. We can't imagine that those rear seats would be used for anything except shopping bags and the original CRX didn't have rear seats, anyway.
But while the phrase "hybrid sports car" works for the interior design, it's not as well played out when it comes to the CR-Z's on-road manners. Power comes from Honda's Integrated Motor Assist technology, pairing a 1.5-liter i-VTEC four-cylinder engine with a small electric motor. The gas-powered mill is good for 122 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque and the electric motor churns out 13 hp and 58 lb-ft, though unlike most parallel hybrids, the CR-Z is a mild hybrid and can't be powered by its electric motor alone. Honda says that maximum torque thrust is available as low as 1,750 rpm, but these i-VTEC four-pots aren't known for their low-end twist – it's all about the high-revving power here, which goes against the point of a hybrid powertrain.
Because of this, fuel economy is meager for a hybrid – our six-speed manual-equipped tester is only rated at 31/37 miles per gallon city/highway (CVT-equipped models hit a more respectable 35/39 mpg). A larger Ford Fusion Hybrid will net you 41 mpg in the city, and even a standard gas-sipping Hyundai Sonata will get you 35 mpg. This proves to be the CR-Z's biggest selling hurdle, as consumers expect cars with a hybrid badge to be substantially more fuel efficient than similarly equipped cars powered solely by an internal combustion engine, and mild hybrids like the CR-Z don't meet that expectation. We wish we could report that real-world fuel economy is better than expected, but we only averaged about 33 mpg during our test.
We drove the CR-Z in all three of its driving modes (Eco, Normal and Sport), though left the car in Normal mode for the majority of the week. Sport mode is nice, as it tightens the steering and improves throttle response, but fuel economy will suffer under these conditions. Eco mode isn't a total bore, though – Honda's light, involving steering rack still keeps things interesting, though the reduction in power delivery makes the CR-Z feel extremely sluggish off the line. There's really no perfect blend of sport and efficiency, though the CR-Z still has enough moves to keep things entertaining on the road.
The CR-Z isn't quite a canyon carver, but its firm suspension and adequate steering feedback are enough to provide an engaging experience for the driver. It's certainly more engaging than your run-of-the-mill Prius, but a Volkswagen Golf TDI will is more enthusiastic, not to mention more fuel efficient. The do-it-yourself gearbox is super smooth, allowing you to fire off quick, slick shifts while still keeping the revs planted in the CR-Z's powerband. Honda's start-stop system works well with this application, with the engine firing up instantaneously when you click the shifter into first gear. Having six cogs to work with means plenty of shifting is required to keep the car hustling, but good throttle feedback and a linear clutch action make for happy cogswapping all day long. As mentioned earlier, the CR-Z can be had with a continuously variable transmission, though we've yet to find a CVT that's preferable to a manual if given the choice. If you just want the CR-Z with the best fuel economy, however, the CVT is the clear winner.
Overall, the CR-Z isn't worthy of a sports car badge, but it is by far the best-driving low-cost compact hybrid we've come across. It feels less like an appliance (Prius) and more like a focused driver's car, even though you won't have much to show for in terms of sheer performance or mileage numbers. And this is where the CR-Z starts to lose its appeal. As soon as you consider the larger scope of what the Honda hybrid is trying to accomplish, your disappointment will start to outweigh any of the good vibes felt from behind the wheel.
It's a tough sell, this CR-Z, but with prices starting below $20,000 and topping out just above $23,000 with a CVT and navigation, Honda will attract a few buyers who are sold on the car's appearance and unique positioning within the marketplace. It's a relatively pleasant car to drive, the interior looks and feels great and its forward-facing design should easily stand the test of time, but we'd be fools not to consider a raft of other options before deciding upon a CR-Z. Your $20-23K may be better spent on a base Mini Cooper, Ford Fiesta or Honda Fit – all three cars are just as good if not better to drive as the CR-Z, and their similar fuel economy and far more practical shapes far outweigh our desire to break the mold of the traditional subcompact set. So take off your rose-colored glasses, CRX fans. This is the future, though it really isn't so bad.
We've all but assumed Maybach was a goner. With the economic downturn and sales hovering around the 300-unit mark annually, Mercedes-Benz' rebadged uber-lux brand makes a hard business case for itself. However, Automobile reports that Maybach may be down, but it's not out, and a range of new products are on the way.
With the S-Class due to be replaced in 2012, the range-topping Benz will offer up its revised platform for five new Maybach models. The standard 57 and 62 will benefit from upgraded sheet metal, interiors and electronics, while a CLS-like four-door "coupe" will be added to the line-up along with the oft-rumored long-wheelbase convertible – a sort of mash-up between the 62 Laundaulet and Mercedes' Ocean Drive concept from 2007.
Despite M-B's ongoing issues with CAFE standards, motivation will continue to be provided by the same 6.0-liter V12 powering current Maybachs, although horsepower is expected to rise, torque output could crest 850 pound-feet and Mercedes' seven-speed automatic will be part of the package.
More intriguingly, Automobile says that with the new transmission, an electric motor could be fitted, boosting output by 20 hp and allowing the massive sled to drive in full electric mode for up to 10 miles. There's also talk of a new nine-speed automatic transmission being fitted and fuel economy rising by around 25% – so figure around a 2-3 mpg improvement for both the 545-hp and 630-hp versions.
In order for Maybach to survive, it has to be more than just a reworked S-Class and to that end, an insider told Automobile that future models will be "jewels on wheels and at last worthy of the brand." We shall see...
The new 2010 Jaguar XJ Luxury Sports Saloon Platinum Concept Car celebrates Jaguar's 75th Anniversary, and highlights the uniqueness of the XJ. Jaguar design team has created the Jaguar Luxury Sports Saloon XJ75 Platinum Concept, a one-of-a-kind design project on display at the 2010 Pebble Beach Concours D’Elegance Concept Car Lawn.
2010 Jaguar Cars XJ75 Platinum Concept Car Luxury Sports SalonThe XJ75 Platinum Concept Car is the company's first demonstration of the design customisation potential of the striking new XJ luxury salon, emphasising the Jaguar's dramatic interior and exterior styling themes. "The XJ Luxury Sports Saloon is thoroughly modern, and captures the innovative and daring character that our founder Sir William Lyons built into every Jaguar. And the design team clearly had some fun making their first one-of-a-kind XJ design concept car in that spirit."
The XJ75 Luxury Sports Saloon Platinum Concept centre console houses a bespoke clock developed and designed in partnership with the Bremont Watch Company.
An independent British company, Bremont creates beautifully engineered and designed mechanical watches hand assembled in Switzerland.
2010 Jaguar Cars XJ75 Platinum Concept Car Luxury Sports Salon"From a pure design perspective, the XJ75 Luxury Sports Saloon Platinum Concept is foremost about emphasising the striking proportion and presence of the new XJ, with a distilled black and white theme, which conjures up the sense of precious platinum," said Jaguar XJ Chief Designer Giles Taylor. "At the same time, the pure sporting character of XJ is brought to the fore by keeping the car's clean graphic approach and further lowering its stance."
Dominated by striking white and black contrast precious metals platinum theme suggests, the Jaguar XJ75 Platinum Concept is a high-performance 470-hp supercharged engine 2011 Jaguar XJL with new ground-hugging front, rear and rocker panel is fitted.
Performance on the XJ75 Platinum Concept is derived from its 5.0-litre Supercharged direct-injection V8 with 470 horsepower and 424 lb.-ft of torque. Entertainment is provided by a 1,200-watt Bowers & Wilkins surround sound system with 20 speakers powered through 15 channels and state-of-the-art sound processing technology.
This XJ75 Platinum Concept Car was designed to both celebrate the marque’s past and acknowledge the increasingly personal nature of today’s luxury cars.