Big concepts and little gems dominate at the Tokyo and LA motor shows

Two motor shows on opposite shores of the Pacific are vying for the limelight, but major new product is in short supply

Wed, Nov 27, 2013, 01:00

Two major motor shows on opposing sides of the Pacific ocean, with their big press reveal days on the same day? Someone in the international motor show planning office (that’s a thing, right?) clearly forgot either to carry the one or allow for the international dateline. Still, it gives us the chance to talk about lots of new production and concept cars, all of which have rather different flavours thanks to their appearances in two very different nations.

Not surprisingly, it is the Jaguar F-Type Coupe and Porsche Macan that have jointly been grabbing most of the headlines. Jaguar’s new sports car has been a runaway critical and commercial success since it was launched earlier this year, but the new hard-top version adds to it some rather new dimensions. For a start it’s significantly cheaper.

Much was spoken of what seemed an over-inflated price for the convertible Roadster version, which seemed to pitch it way above the level of its most natural rival, the Porsche Boxster S, and close to the mighty 911. The Coupe goes a long way to sorting that problem. The most affordable version, which uses Jaguar’s 340bhp supercharged V6 engine, costs £50,000 in the UK which puts it into direct contention with the Porsche Cayman S. Secondly, there’s now an even harder edged model using the 550bhp supercharged V8 engine from the XFR-S saloon. Considering how quickly that engine pushes the heavy, steel-bodied XF along, it should be close to unbearably fast in the lithe, aluminium F-Type R.

The Macan we’ve covered more extensively elsewhere but it’s worth mentioning again here that it’s a hugely significant car for Porsche. Its bigger brother, the Cayenne, has sold in such numbers that for a time it was effectively bankrolling Porsche. The Macan, which should come close to doubling Porsche’s annual sales volumes, could yet be the most successful car of all time to wear the Zuffenhausen badge.

Speaking of SUVs, Ford took the opportunity of the LA show to present a concept version of the next-generation Edge. Now, we haven’t had the current Edge on this side of the Atlantic but we will definitely get the second generation one this concept previews.

The Edge has been something of a major success for Ford, stateside, and while a big SUV seems hardly the sort of thing to be launching but Ford says that, increasingly, affluent European buyers are calmouring for just this sort of high-spec, high-utility car. So the new Edge will come to Europe, the UK and Ireland, with right hand drive. Ford isn’t talking about specific engine options yet, but it is demonstrating a clever new Active Radiator Flap system, which makes that big, brash grille a technical item as well as a design statement.

Bridging both events in a pretty impressive feat of marketing management is the global public unveiling of the latest generation Mini hatchback. The benchmark for the brand this evolutionary restyling heralds the onset of a revamp of its entire model line-up, from Countryman to Roadster and the like. Aside from the external changes, the big news is the car’s platform which will form the basis for future small car models from BMW. Given that it’s front wheel-drive it will also represent a major - if well-signalled - change in the firm’s devotion to the rear-wheel drive format.

Back in Tokyo it was down to Nissan, Toyota and Honda to fight it out for the honour of being the best, or at least the most exciting in show.

Toyota didn’t do itself by making its FCV concept as plain as it did, but it could well be the most significant car at the show. It’s a preview of Toyota’s first ever production hydrogen-powered fuel cell car, which it’s intending to put on sale in 2015. The FCV Concept incorporates the usual show car fluff, such as styling (and a colour scheme) that’s intended to evoke the watery emissions that are the only exhaust of a hydrogen car, but the more important information concerns the fuel. Filling the FCV with hydrogen takes, apparently, just three minutes and when you’ve done so, it can go for up to 500km on a tank (twin high-pressure tanks, actually). Those figures will make uncomfortable reading for all makers of pure battery electric cars (save, perhaps Tesla) but with a projected price tag well into six figures and a continuing lack of a hydrogen refuelling infrastructure, the FCV’s day of days could be a ways off yet.

More conventional excitement was provided by Honda. It wasn’t appearing at the show, but during last week Honda showed off a development version of its new 300hp Civic Type-R hot hatch, with which it’s chasing a Nurburgring lap record as well as the buyers of the likes of the Golf GTI and Focus ST. Definitely appearing at Tokyo was a close-to-final-production version of the new NSX supercar which has been confirmed to use a twin-turbo version of Honda’s 3.5-litre V6 engine, allied to a four-wheel-drive hybrid system which develops a reputed 500hp. And there’s a convertible version coming too.. Much more affordable, but sadly not yet confirmed for Europe, is the S660 concept, which revives a small, turbo-charged mid-engined sportscar concept last essayed by Honda as the Beat in the early nineties. Once again, this one uses a 660cc mid-mounted turbocharged petrol engine and keep your fingers crossed that it makes its way to this neck of the woods.

Nissan had already shown off its futuristic BladeGlider concept and the tweaked version of its mighty GT-R supercar, but no-one expected it to produce a pair of twinned concept cars that may well turn out to be the outright stars of the Tokyo show. The IDx concepts, one called Freestyle and one called Nismo, seem to be Nissan’s tilt in the direction of the Mini and Fiat 500 - clearly retro (although Nissan flatly denies any ‘legacy influences’) and drawing on the style of the classic Datsun Violet of the sixties and seventies. The Freestyle is a crisp-looking thing, with a gorgeously retro cabin and hip, urban looks while the Nismo uses the same basic shape to remind us all of the classic, boxy Nissan rally cars of yore. Both were a total surprise, but Nissan is making vague noises in the direction of production. A Figaro for the 21st century, perhaps?

Volkswagen rolled up to Tokyo with the Twin-Up hybrid, which transplants much of the tech seen in the futuristic XL1 two-seater to a more conventional production car. The upshot of the combined diesel and electric powertrains is a 50km electric-only range on a full charge and a claimed 257mpg fuel consumption figure.

Lexus was also busy at Tokyo, showing off its new IS-based RC coupe (with which it hopes to take on the BMW 4 Series) as well as its somewhat controversial LF-NX concept, which with its polarising jagged-edge styling previews Lexus’ 2015 competitor to the Range Rover Evoque. The styling may not be realistic but the 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo petrol engine nestling under that dramatic bonnet certainly is.

Speaking of BMW, over in LA, the Munich firm was showing off the new 4 Series convertible for the first time. Once again it uses a folding steel hardtop and will be offered in versions as diverse as basic 418i and 302hp twin-turbo 435i.

Suzuki showed off several concepts, including a hulking X-Lander concept, a Crosshiker concept which elicited unwelcome memories of the dreadful old X90 and desperately cute Hustler mini crossover which sadly probably won’t make it to Europe.

Subaru was probably the busiest brand, simultaneously showing off a concept version of a new Legacy saloon in LA, while also debuting a concept in Tokyo called the Cross Sport Concept which looks more than a little like a shooting brake, off-road version of the BRZ coupe. Odd, but rather appealing.

Finally, there was the Yamaha Motiv. Now, Yamaha is much better known for its bikes and hasn’t attempted a road car since an ill-advised early nineties flirtation with the supercar market. The Motiv though, is somewhat different. Rear-engined, with seats for three gathered around a central driving position, it seems to be a clever potential rival for the Smart ForTwo and Toyota iQ. But there’s more to it than that.

The Motiv is the first almost-production (the Yamaha board hasn’t yet signed off on it) version of Gordon Murray’s much-publicised T25 city car. Murray, the man who designed Formula One cars for Niki Lauda, Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna and was the single-minded visionary behind the legendary McLaren F1 supercar, began work on a small, efficient three-seater city car almost a decade ago. Designed to be efficient to drive, it’s also designed to be efficient to build.

Murray patented a process called i-Stream, which strips away the heavy metal pressing and sprawling factory space of conventional car building and reduces investment and environmental impact down to a much more palatable level. It’s potentially revolutionary and Yamaha is the first company to ‘go public’ on its use of Murray’s input. In amongst all the supercars, hybrids, fuel cells and retro projects, the little Motiv, so conventional on the outside, could actually represent more of the future of the car industry than anything else in Tokyo or LA.