Last night at the 2023 Japan Mobility Show, Mazda unveiled a concept car that looks like the son of the FD RX-7, and everyone’s frothing at the gash. The Mazda Iconic SP Concept is drop-dead gorgeous and equipped with a two-rotor engine, but temper your expectations — it might not actually preview any production model.
Fundamentally, the Iconic SP Concept picks up where the RX-Vision concept of 2015 left off — a curvaceous red coupe with a rotary engine under the hood. However, we live in a vastly different time than we did eight years ago, so the Iconic SP gets a vastly different implementation of the rotary engine. Instead of a beastly quad-rotor hitched to a six-speed manual gearbox and driving the wheels directly, it uses a two-rotor engine as a range-extender with electricity actually providing propulsion. If that sounds a bit like David’s BMW i3 on steroids, you aren’t wrong.
Mazda claims a stout 365 horsepower from the Iconic SP Concept, along with a feathery-by-EV-standards curb weight of 3,196 pounds. In theory, both of those numbers should place it in 2025 Porsche 718 EV territory, a fascinating look into an alternate universe of electrified sports car wars. However, while some automaker’s sports car concepts run solely on electricity, the Iconic SP Concept should run on just about anything. Not only can the batteries be recharged plugged in, the two-rotor range extender can run on multiple different fuels including hydrogen. Presumably, good ol’ refined petroleum products also do the trick, and you might even be able to run it on ethanol. In any case, use of the rotary engine as a generator should sidestep longevity and efficiency concerns, as apex seals require engine speed to maintain pressure, and rotary engines are most efficient at fixed speeds. We’re already seeing rotary generators in practice in the Mazda MX-30 EV, so it’s neat to see Mazda scaling that up.
On the outside, the Iconic SP Concept radiates beauty through simplicity, with touches such as hidden headlamps, pleasantly-curved glass, and Aston Martin-style swan doors. Designers used hard creases in the same sparing manner as lawyers use exclamation marks, and the result is a fresh air high of unbridled nostalgia. When every crossover has enough creases for three or four cars, compound curves stand out. There’s definitely a strong third-generation RX-7 influence to the styling, but as that’s one of the most beautiful cars of all time, that’s no bad thing.
Inside, the Iconic SP Concept ditches a modern Mazda signature. There’s no rotary infotainment command knob here, just a single screen tucked below a flat, suede-wrapped dashboard. The only physical controls on the console are vintage typewriter-like keys for gear selection, as if this thing’s driver will write the Great American Novel by firing its low-slung nose at the horizon. Overall, the cabin feels like a stitched-blue and painted-red celebration of minimalism, a deep ingrained knowledge of what a sports car means and feels like. Other marques ought to take note.
There’s a lot of buzz about the Iconic SP Concept previewing the next MX-5, but I don’t think that’s the case. For one, the MX-5 has always been a lightweight, affordable roadster, not a flex of absolute technical innovation. Secondly, Mazda’s rotary-powered cars have largely used the model prefix “RX,” and this new concept certainly has third-generation RX-7 DNA in its styling. Thirdly, Mazda reportedly isn’t ready for a rotary-powered sports car at this point in time. Yoshiaki Noguchi, the assistant manager of Mazda’s powertrain development division, told Autocar back in January:
It’s a dream of engineers at Mazda to have a sports car with rotary. Now is not the time for that. When the company situation is a lot better [in regards to completing its roll-out of electrified models], we can think about that dream another time.
The Mazda Iconic SP Concept is a dream, pure and simple. It’s a concept car in the purest sense of the term; with hopes and aspirations draped over futuristic technology to show what an automaker can do. A sculpture of desire, a product of letting designers off the leash. It’s a love letter to cars, to the thrill of the open road, the desire for mechanical knowledge, the iconoclastic viewpoint of tearing down the concept of mere transportation. It might never make production, but that doesn’t matter. It’s a statement of intent, and one we can all get behind.
In the press release for the Iconic SP Concept, Mazda CEO Masahiro Moro laid out a mission statement: “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.'” Sure, it contains some shareholder-pleasing buzzwords, but it also contains an equal amount of love. At the end of the day, isn’t that why we’re all here?
(Photo credits: Mazda)
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