Mazda's gorgeous Iconic SP rotary-EV sports concept transcends time
Major Japanese automakers and brands will definitely try, but we're not sure anyone will be able to surpass the level of neck-snapping attention-grabbing sure to go on at Mazda's 2023 Japan Mobility Show booth, especially not if we're talking positive attention only. Just like past Mazda Tokyo showstoppers, such as the RX-Vision and Kai concepts, the all-new Iconic SP rolls out with voluptuous curves absolutely dripping in deep-red paint. The dramatic 365-hp two-door looks ahead to the future and also honors the past with a rotary-extended EV powertrain and hidden headlights for a new millennium.
Mazda bills the Iconic SP as a first look at a compact sports car designed for a new era of pure, passionate driving. It puts the company's "Zoom Zoom" roots front and center with a few key features that recall beloved Mazdas of the past.
The first of those features is the two-rotor rotary engine that helps Mazda ease its sporty side into the decarbonized electric future by boosting the electric drive with range-extending battery charging. Mazda sidesteps the issue of engine emissions by saying the rotary is meant to run on carbon-neutral fuels like hydrogen.
The next-gen rotary system follows Mazda's launch of the MX-30 e-Skyactive R-EV model in the European market this past (Northern Hemisphere) summer. Mazda's first rotary-equipped mass production vehicle in over a decade, this MX-30 spec features a plug-in hybrid layout with a 17.8-kWh battery offering just over 52 miles (85 km) of pure-electric range before the rotary-engine-driven generator kicks in to keep the car motoring forward. The system can also export electrical power for the likes of outdoor camping gear or emergency backup, says Mazda.
Rotary power isn't the only piece of Mazda heritage the Iconic SP looks to carry into the future – it also wears a set of hidden headlamps. If we had to quickly name off cars of the past with pop-up headlights, two Mazdas – the RX-7 and 1st-generation MX-5 Miata – would be lining up at the very tip of our tongue, beaten out only, maybe, by the C4/C5 Corvettes.
Rather than going fully old-school, Mazda modernizes the hidden headlamp concept with switchable body-color panels that cover over the slim headlamps like eyelids. This leaves the voluminous "Viola Red" fenders free to flow uninterrupted into the bumper. Unlike the old pop-up wedges, the Iconic SP headlamp design appears plenty modern enough for 2023 and well beyond, looking every bit as sleek with the lights exposed as with them covered.
Behind those concept lamps, the flowing, seamless curves continue, creating an hourglass figure carved out via concave sides between the wheel arches. Also concave, the rear fascia is styled similarly to the modern gen-4 MX-5 but pared back to a minimalist design with backlit center lettering and overlapping dual-round tail lamps.
The Iconic SP concept measures in at 164.5 inches (4,180 mm) long, landing quite comfortably between the 154.1-in (3,914-mm) 2023 MX-5 and the 175.6-in (4,460-mm) 2012 RX-8 that last carried a Mazda rotary. Mazda says it's worked to keep the car's 3,197 lb (1,450 kg) centered low in a near-perfect 50:50 front-rear split for improved driving dynamics.
"Mazda will always deliver vehicles that remind people that cars are pure joy and an indispensable part of their lives," promised Masahiro Moro, Mazda's representative director, president and CEO. "As a car-loving company that mass-produces the inspiring mobility experience, we are committed to shaping the future with our partners sharing the same goal, as well as our fans, where everyone can proudly say, 'we love cars.'"
We certainly hope that means an Iconic SP-based production sports car with minimal design changes will show up in its lineup in the not-so-far future.
After hosting its press preview day on Wednesday, the inaugural Japan Mobility Show (which replaces the biennial Tokyo Motor Show) opens to the public on Thursday. We'll cover more of the show's highlights in the coming days.