By Steve Laser reporting from Tokyo, Japan
I’m always amazed at the incredible diversity of vehicles on the streets of Japan. On an average day in Tokyo, I can spot a wide array of mini-vehicles, also called “Kei cars,” moving right along in traffic with larger cars, vans of all shapes and sizes, crossovers and SUVs, buses, trucks, and of course, motorcycles. Let’s continue our series of reports from the 2017 Tokyo Auto Salon with a look at small-car makers Daihatsu and Suzuki, and also visit the Mazda and Subaru displays.
Daihatsu introduced a series of “Sporza” concept cars at the show. In this video, we take a closer look at the Thor Sporza, a compact van based on the new production model Thor.
It’s been a long time since Daihatsu left the U.S. market, yet it’s still going strong in Japan as a maker of small vehicles. Last year Daihatsu became a wholly owned subsidiary of Toyota, seen as a great move for both brands.
The new compact Thor van went on sale in Japan last November as a Daihatsu. It’s also being sold (with mild restyling) as the Toyota Tank and Roomy. This trio tugs at our heartstrings since they remind us of the first-generation Scion xB (from the Americanized Toyota brand that sadly is no more).
With all the mods, this Thor look hot, especially with the red and black paint scheme and gold wheels. It sports goodies like custom front and rear aero bumpers, carbon-style grille, LED lighting, lowered suspension and custom interior trim.
Regular production Thor models offer a newly developed 1.0-liter turbocharged engine that’s said to generate torque equivalent to the 1.5-liter class. Teamed with a CVT, it offers front or all-wheel drive.
Speaking of cool, this Daihatsu Move Canbus customized with a Beach Cruisin’ style would look right at home in the beach cities in L.A.
In its materials provided to the press, Daihatsu said that the Beach Cruisin’ customized versions of the Move Canbus (above and below) and Boon (a separate model) are “proposing a new form of cars applying a more feminine taste with special body colors and original wrappings,” and “expressing a car that allows for a slow, relaxing, laid-back lifestyle.”
We just call it cool, especially with the surfboard mounted on the chrome roof rack. This concept is based on a current production model, in this case the Move Canbus. Yet the Beach Cruisin’ mods make me feel homesick for L.A. I wish there was a way to bring this retro-mobile back to my hometown. (It’s one of my favorite “affordable” concepts at this year’s show; one that could easily be built from a production car.)
Daihatsu took the Copen, a tiny roadster it sells in Japan, and gave it the Sporza treatment. Check it out in my video.
Before Honda introduced the S660 roadster, the Daihatsu Copen was at the top of our wish list for “Cars We’d Love to Have in the U.S. but Alas They’re Too Small.” In addition to its pocket roadster appeal, it features a D-Frame design with interchangeable body panels, allowing for easy customization, plus a nifty “Active Top.”
The Copen Sporza concept presents a sporty racing look with retro-style interior treatment. Meanwhile, Daihatsu offers production Copen models with a selection of flavors, ranging from Robe, XPLAY (looks like the basis for the show car) and Cero editions. “Dress Formation” gives customers in Japan the choice of selecting different styles and colors of body panels and applying them to a virtual car before buying.
Daihatsu Wake is one of our favorite small vans in Japan. Take a look at this customized Cross Field version in our video from the show.
Daihatsu Wake is a small van that delivers max headroom and space for gear. It’s also the subject of a clever ad campaign that makes us LOL. Daihatsu says the Cross Field concept is “adding a feeling of activeness with matte finish special body colors and original D Wrapping.” It also targets hobbyists who like outdoor activities.
Our video takes a look at a home market right-hand-drive version of the new Mazda CX-5.
Mazda’s display featured the new CX-5 crossover. The automaker started accepting reservations for the new model in December, with sales slated to begin in early February in Japan. We saw the CX-5 first at the Los Angeles Auto Show last November. Yet this was a chance to see a Japanese market version up close.
The CX-5 is a very important model for Mazda, representing about a quarter of the automaker’s global sales. An evolution of the Kodo Soul of Motion theme, the CX-5 design team adopted “Refined Toughness” as the key for the new premium exterior.
Powertrain choices include Skyactive-G 2.0 and 2.5 direct-injection gas engines and a 2.2-liter Skyactiv diesel. The standard transmission for Japan is a 6-speed Skyactive-Drive automatic with front- or all-wheel drive. Base MSRPs in Japan start at ¥2,462,400 (about $22,000) for the 20S and top out at ¥3,526,200 (about $31,500) for the XDL Package with AWD.
Another new model that continues to capture our hearts is the Mazda Roadster RF. Called the MX-5 Miata RF in the U.S. market, the fastback-style retractable power top is claimed to have the “world’s shortest” opening or closing time of just 13 seconds.
The Roadster RF is powered by the Skyactiv-G 2.0 gas engine. With greater displacement than the engine in the soft-top Roadster in Japan, Mazda says it “realizes lithe and refined driving performance that matches the model’s design.” The RS model offers even more driving fun with a manufacturer-installed option set that includes exclusive seats and Brembo brakes.
Our video takes a slow walk through the Mazda display at the Tokyo Auto Salon and highlights models including the new Roadster RF.
Also on display at the Mazda exhibit were “Custom Style” versions of the CX-5, Roadster RF, CX-3 and Demio (also known as Mazda2). A traditional Mazda Roadster was shown with bright Classic Red Paint.
The Mazda Roadster Global MX-5 Cup that has already raced in the U.S. received “provisional regulation announcement” in Japan in December. It’s planned to hold five rounds this year; at sports land SUGO, Twin Ring Motegi, Fuji Speedway, Suzuka Circuit, and Okayama International Circuit.
The Global MX-5 Cup series, held in North America, Asia and Europe, features identically prepared cars. All are equipped with the North American specification 2.0L Skyactiv-G 4-cylinder engine, left-hand drive and are sold “ready to race” from a single supplier, Long Road Racing Corp.
Roadsters are built from Club trim level new cars and are completely disassembled. After roll cage installation and paint, Long Road says cars are assembled with more than 250 race car-specific parts to provide handling, endurance, safety and power enhancement specifically designed for the car.
Take a look at the concept and racing vehicles on the Subaru STi stand in our video. On the stage is the WRX STi NBR Challenge car and the BRZ GT300.
While the Tokyo Auto Salon achieves great success in attracting enthusiasts to the three-day show, the Subaru exhibit was a top-flight crowd pleaser. When I arrived at the exhibit (the Auto Salon was open to the public), a Motorsports talk show was about to start. It was standing-room-only with hundreds of folks waiting to listen to the coach and drivers speak.
This is a WRX STi All Japan Rally car. It’s fitted with a Subaru CBA-VAB 2.0-liter Boxer 4-cylinder engine that puts out 227kw (308ps) at 6,400 rpm and 422 Nm (43 kg-m) of torque at 4,400 rpm. Tuning parts are designed to comply with All Japan Rally regs. The spec sheet says it has Recaro seats, a Cusco gearbox, Ogura clutch, WORK wheels, Ohlins shocks, Endless brakes and Yokohama tires.
This video shows about half of the Motorsports Ignition Talk presentation that was held at the Subaru STi display with the coach and BRZ drivers (in Japanese).
I found the Motorsports Ignition Talk panel discussion simply fascinating. Motorsports reporter Eriko Hamada served as the moderator with panelists including Eiji Tatsumi, STi team coach, plus three BRZ drivers. The coach and drivers were passionate about the sport, yet they sounded humble and modest while answering questions.
After the presentation I took a look at this Levorg STi Sport – STi Performance model. The Levorg, which is sort of a wagon version of the WRX, is not sold in the U.S. This car is customized with STi performance parts including an exhaust kit, Brembo four-pot brakes, 19-inch STi wheels with Dunlop SP Sport Maxx tires, an aero body kit and Recaro seats.
Other cars on display at the Subaru STi stand included a BRZ STi Sport concept, WRX S4 STi Sport concept, Impreza G4 STI Performance, and CG Robot Racing BRZ.
This video of the Suzuki Display shows a sampling of the production and concept vehicles from the car and bike manufacturer.
Like Daihatsu, Suzuki is another player that left the U.S. car market, although its other products like bikes and ATVs continue to be available there. In Tokyo, I had a chance to see what’s new from Suzuki for Japan.
The Suzuki Ignis concept featured in our video (the bright yellow car) is based on the production model hatchback trimmed with off-road style accessories and flashy body wrap. The latest generation Ignis from Japan is a global car. It’s sold in Europe and also built in India.
A model (above) presents the dynamic duo Suzuki Team Ecstar Swift Racer RS (the car) and Road Racing World Championship (MOTOGP) GSX-RR racing bike. The Swift is a concept based on the latest car model featuring racing livery Triton Blue paint with yellow accents.
Suzuki’s auto lineup for the Japanese market on display in Tokyo included the new Swift, Solio Hybrid, Solio Bandit, Hustler, Lapin and Spacia van.
The Suzuki Spacia Custom Z Premium (above) enhances the production model of the small van with a special black paint treatment featuring large particle metallic flakes, a white roof and white-trimmed seats. Riding on custom wheels, it’s a great looking version of Suzuki’s popular Kei car.
In a late development following the show, we learned that Suzuki and Toyota are talking about forming a new partnership. We’re not sure if that means Suzuki could become another Toyota brand, like Daihatsu, or it will simply be an arrangement limited to sharing technology and perhaps products for emerging markets.
Click on the links below for our additional 2017 Tokyo Auto Salon stories:
CarNichiWa.com thanks the Tokyo Auto Salon for providing us with media passes to the show. We also thank Daihatsu Motor Co. Ltd., Mazda Motor Corp., Fuji Heavy Industries, Subaru Technica International Ltd. (STi), and Suzuki Motor Corp. for access to display vehicles for this news report.
Additional news sources: B-Sports Global MX-5 Cup Japan, Mazda Motorsports, Long Road Racing Corp.
Note: Production vehicles, racing schedules, launch dates, prices, features and specifications for Japanese market models in this story are subject to change without notice by the automakers.
Story, photos and videos © 2017 CarNichiWa.com