Mazda Kai Concept: The Future of the 3

Mazda used its home-country advantage at this year’s Tokyo auto show to map out its upcoming plans for design direction, architectural advancement, and engine technology. Those organizational intentions are manifest in two concepts: the Vision Coupe (itself a four-door spinoff from the RX-Vision concept) and the Kai concept. The latter is likely a preview of the next-generation Mazda 3 hatchback.

The exterior shows an evolution of Mazda’s Kodo design language, which we’ve already seen developing on the latest CX-9 and CX-5. The compact hatchback shows a long front end with a slanted hood, an assertive overbite, and a U-shaped grille piece that cuts into the headlights. The body is free of creases or pinched panels; instead, there are smooth sides that flow into an egglike cabin. The rear looks wide and features angry-looking taillights and dual exhaust outlets. Concept elements including thin side mirrors, massive wheels, and retractable door handles are unlikely to go into production at the 3’s price point, but the Kai otherwise looks like it could roll off assembly lines without many changes.

The interior follows a similarly simple, straightforward design intended to keep the driver focusing on the road and connected with the car. Redesigned seats, Mazda said, are made to support a person’s natural spine position. There is a noticeable lack of a tablet-style screen inside, something that has become a staple in Mazda’s recent vehicles. In its place, the Kai has a massively wide digital screen embedded into the dash that stretches from the center stack into the area ahead of the passenger seat.

What cannot be seen is of greater import to the future of the company: The Kai rides on Mazda’s Skyactiv vehicle architecture and houses Mazda’s new Skyactiv-X gasoline engine. The unibody architecture includes designs built to evenly disperse impact energy in a crash to ensure occupant safety, as well as lightweight body elements to enhance driving dynamics.

Mazda considers its Skyactiv-X engine to be a major breakthrough. The inline-four uses spark-plug-controlled compression ignition, which combines traditional ignition of the fuel mixture via spark with diesel-style compression ignition. We’ve recently reported on how it works and drove a development mule with the engine.

Mazda has announced that it plans to launch a production vehicle with a Skyactiv-X powertrain in 2019; given this concept’s appearance in Tokyo, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Mazda 3 was chosen for the debut. The current model of the compact hatchback and sedan ranks among our favorites in the class, and the Kai seems to signal that it might get even better.

https://www.caranddriver.com/news/mazda-kai-concept-photos-and-info-news