Tokyo motor show’s weird and wacky cars
Few cities marry technology with tradition the way Tokyo does. Japan's biennial motor show represents a vision for the future and a celebration of innovation with a nod to its rich past.
On the eve of the show, we watched the ancient ritual enthronement ceremony of Japan's Emperor Naruhito on television inside a self-driving Nissan Skyline hybrid that rode silently through the remnants of a typhoon that shook the city.
The road ahead will be bumpy for makers around the world preparing for an autonomous, electrified future. But car makers in the forward-looking nation responsible for Nintendo, android waiters, singing toilets and manga robots are ready to transform.
The five-door city hatchback, known as the Fit in Japan, is likely to retain the Jazz badge it uses in Australia, although Honda says "it is too early to confirm any details for the new Jazz in Australia at this stage".
There's no word on the engine - minders were quick to slam the bonnet shut when someone dared peek inside - other than the availability of a new dual-motor hybrid set-up. A petrol-only model is also expected.
There's also no word on whether the car has shrunk, or if the "magic seats" that were such a big part of the previous three generations have continued with the new model.
What has changed is the look. The Jazz has taken on a more playful demeanour with large headlights and a less top-heavy look.
There are also five styling themes, including crossover-inspired Crosstar and the (Fit) Ness, with contrasting colours and detailing.
If none of those electro-futurist models tickle your fancy, consider the new Isuzu D-Max.
Heavily revised for 2020, the Thai-built ute will tackle the likes of the Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger with crisp new looks, a more powerful engine and, likely to be confirmed soon, modern safety kit.
Few cars on the Tokyo stands could be more relevant to Australia today
The brand long renowned for hybrids showed the eye-catching LF-30 concept, which dramatically illustrated Lexus's EV future.
Next month the brand will unveil its first full electric production vehicle, probably based on an existing model, followed by new EV, plug-in hybrid and fuel cell vehicles.
A sharp city coupe, the five-metre-long LF-30 is full-futuristic with a comically large and gaping front end but some design cues may appear on soon-to-arrive EVs.
In-wheel electric motors endow "Posture Control", so that each corner gets control, and steer-by-wire technology allows wheels to be positioned at extremities for maximum passenger space.
Combined outputs of 400kW and 700Nm propel the concept from 0-100km/h in 3.8 seconds. Lexus claims 500km of range.
Other notable features include autonomous driving assistance, fighter jet-style steering wheel, gesture control for the driver interface and a glass roof above passengers.
It even uses drone technology to collect or drop off luggage or groceries to and from the car.
SUVs tend to stick to a well-trodden formula of high-riding four-door spaciousness but Mazda's new MX-30 breaks the mould with a coupe-like silhouette and rear-hinged back doors reminiscent of those on the RX-8 sports car.
Even the MX moniker is better associated with Mazda's two-seater MX-5 sports car than anything SUV.
Mazda talks of the "human modern" design and a car that "offers a creative time and space that will allow them to live true to themselves". On the mundane level, think comfortable and welcoming.
Inside, the theme is minimalist but there are innovative finishes, including cork. Seat trim is made from recycled drink bottles.
The lack of a combustion engine defines the MX-30 - Mazda's first electric car hopes to crash the EV party.
Developed in-house, the electrical architecture uses tech called Motor Pedal, which adjusts the rate of acceleration to match how fast the driver presses the pedal.
It may look far removed from a production model yet the Mi-TECH concept answers an interesting question: What would an electric off-roader look like?
Mitsubishi says outdoorsy types will be attracted to vehicles with "excellent environmental performance and quietness" allowing them to get closer to nature.
High-torque electric motors enable more precise control than a diesel engine with four-wheel drive, enabling a unique off-road experience.
The Mi-TECH is all about better access to the bush, with plug-in hybrid power and a Jeep-like approach that does away with the doors and roof to envelop drivers in the environment.
Without giving away too much, Mitsu says its future off-roader would also have "superb driving performance" on the road.
This suggests the maker will exploit the tricks learned through its Lancer Evolution line of all-wheel drive performance cars.
Its looks may also carry over to next-gen Pajero and Outlander models.
Having built the world's most popular electric car in the awkward-looking Leaf hatchback, Nissan is preparing to build an electric car many more people will want to buy.
Touted as "a near-future midsize crossover," the electric Ariya concept points to a family-friendly electric SUV with twin electric motors - one on each axle - enabling all-wheel drive.
Nissan says the Ariya is optimised to take advantage of its semi-autonomous ProPilot driver assistance suite. Its clean design and open, airy cabin represent "timeless Japanese futurism". It also looks much closer to roadgoing readiness than recent concepts from Nissan and its Infiniti luxury arm.
Far from being a pie-in-the-sky vision for decades to come, Nissan says, the car is close to reality. The brand arranged test drives of a twin-motor prototype, using leaf underpinnings, that points to the production version.
Subaru officially calls it a "prototype" but it's clear the Levorg that took centre stage is very close to what will appear in showrooms.
The show car also gives the best clues yet as to the look of the next WRX, Subaru's ageing pocket rocket that shares its front half with the Levorg.
Sharp angles and a hexagonal grille dominate the nose while more muscular wheel arches build on the Impreza DNA.
Powered by a new 1.8-litre horizontally opposed turbo, the Levorg continues with a top-mounted intercooler that calls for the trademark WRX bonnet scoop.
Subaru has also packed in more tech, part of the goal to allow occupants to "go further with more comfort, safety and enjoyment that makes them feel like time is flying".
The EyeSight twin cameras step up the active safety capability, as do new high-definition maps and enhanced connectivity.
The small car specialist keeps things micro but ups electrification. Its standout concept, the Waku SPO plug-in hybrid, gets retro circular headlights and digital grille - and transforms from small coupe to small wagon, the extended rear end electrically emerging from within.
The Hanare autonomous electric micro bus is a lounge on wheels with widescreen TV.
The hybrid Hustler Concept, an urban SUV/people-mover, looks production ready. The 4WD's wheels are at the extremities, enabling impressive cabin space despite the modest 3.4m length. Most parent-friendly? A go-anywhere baby room called Every Combi: a nappy-changing and nursing station on wheels, with change tables built into the boot.
Designers, sent back to the drawing board to come up with a pretty hydrogen-powered car, dropped the dorky look of the original Mirai in favour of a sleek four-door coupe. Toyota's next-gen fuel cell concept claims 650km of driving range and space for five people in its chic asymmetric cabin.
Toyota Australia has not confirmed whether it will take the car after it launches in late 2020 - but Melbourne's Toyota Hydrogen Centre isn't being built for nothing.
A second Toyota concept, the "LQ" electric vehicle, promises a "futuristic beloved vehicle experience" as artificial intelligence gets to know its driver.
They are meant to form a meaningful, loving relationship. Really.
The brand also unveiled a completely new Yaris, due to go on sale mid-next year and to be available as a hybrid.
A handful of Japan-only curiosities included an ultra-compact 2.5m-long two-seat EV with 60km/h max speed and 100km range, the three-wheel motorbike-like i-ROAD, and a trio of battery-powered scooters.