We love the Tokyo show – it has all the craziest stuff.
Here are our six favourite cars from the most bonkers motor show of them all – there's something for everyone here, ranging from the sporty option to the luxurious choice.
The sports car – Honda Sports EV Concept
Honda set the tone of the Tokyo motor show with a trio of electrified vehicles taking centre stage. Hot on the heels of the Honda Urban EV Concept previewed at the Frankfurt motor show was the lower, wider and prettier Sports EV Concept.
Rumours have it that it was rushed from concept to show car in a matter of months, but it didn’t show in the execution. This thing looks resolved, shrunk-in-the-wash compact like a modern CR-X and has helped inject some much-needed charisma and emotion into Japanese electric vehicles that are otherwise dominated by origami lines and angles.
Honda has confirmed its Urban EV will go on sale in 2020, first in Europe and then Japan, but Honda CEO Takahiro Hachigo has yet to say this will follow. With an incredibly warm reception in Tokyo and two-thirds of Honda’s European car sales said to be electrified by 2025, you’d think it would make a lovely two-Honda garage.
The SUV – Toyota TJ Cruiser
Everything that’s fashionable now – shrunken engines with hybrid powertrains, a focus on cheap taxation and cleaner emissions – was all being discussed on this very Toyota stage 20 years ago. That’s when the company released its first generation Prius, now a brand in itself and a key part of the modern automotive vernacular.
Today, pretty much every Toyota model on sale in the UK is available as a hybrid, and that theme permeates into the most unlikely of new recipients. The Toyota TJ Cruiser is a right Yorkie bar of an SUV: ruggedly handsome, four-wheel drive, yet featuring a 2-litre hybrid-petrol powertrain.
Drawing on Toyota’s global design kudos from the now discontinued FJ Cruiser, the ‘T’ in Tj Cruiser stands for toolbox, while the ‘j’ stands for joy. It’s the perfect modern SUV for conflicted, hirsute urbanites who pine for a life in the countryside making wooden furniture, yet can’t be without 4G and checking their Instagram feed every five minutes. The interior is fully configurable, letting you carry people or transit mountain bikes, while the bonnet, roof, and bumpers have all been painted in a special coating that resist scratches. It’s rugged with Toyota reassurance and, we hope, destined for production.
The small family car – Mazda Kai Concept
The Mazda design language, known as Kodo, has shown this Japanese brand has the aesthetic attributes to go head on with even Italy’s coach built best. Indeed, the Vision Coupe collected many resounding ‘star of the show’ plaudits for its sleek elegance and shark-like profile.
However, our attention was drawn to the similarly striking Mazda Kai Concept. Kai, which translates as ‘the pioneer’, is a glimpse into what the next generation Mazda 3 will look like and has therefore been more restricted in its approach by the imminent reality of becoming a compact, five-seat family hatchback in 2019. If it can maintain thise sense of proportion and exquisite details like the twin-circular tail-lights, we could have a new class leader on looks alone.
The hot hatch – Nissan Leaf Nismo
While rival carmakers are still only wheeling out prototypes of their first electric family vehicle, it’s difficult to comprehend that the Leaf is already into its second generation.
The electric car for the masses now offers improved packaging, less divisive styling and uses a 40kWh battery, compared with the previous model’s 30kWh unit. Second time round, and conveniently following its recent announcement to enter Formula E in 2018, Nissan feels there is scope to inject further performance fizz into its future electric cars range.
This Nissan Leaf Nismo is the work of Nissan’s in-house motorsport division, and features retuned suspension, a carbonfibre body kit with improved aero plus some powertrain upgrades to the inverter and cooling systems. On this evidence, an electric hot hatch looks entirely plausible.
The Sunday plaything – Yamaha MWC-4
A stone’s throw from the Honda stand, Yamaha was also on home turf strutting its stuff like it had been making cars for decades. The MWC-4 is a four-wheeled, stripped back buggy-cum-dirt-bike that tackles the real issues of personal urban mobility in a unique, mad and magical way. The MWC-4 may look like a concept car that’s taken a wrong turn to the Baja 500, but it has serious promise.
Firstly, remember Yamaha has plenty of form with pioneering tri-wheeled motorcycles such as the Tricity. A four-wheeled version with further fairing and safety protection is a logical step for the company to extend its reach beyond fans of two wheels.
Secondly, not only does the MWC-4 lean and perform like a motorcycle, it’s only marginally bigger than a motorcycle. That means it will be super-light, compact to park and, thanks to a petrol-electric powertrain, boast an impressive zero emissions range.
The stately limo – Toyota Century
Not every vehicle at the Toyota motor show was looking into the distant future. The Toyota Century bucked the trend, much like a Land Rover Defender, it's just always been around. The first Century model was introduced in 1967, named after the 100th birthday anniversary of Toyota founder Sakichi Toyoda, and was on sale for 30 years. The outgoing model was a comparatively spritely 21 years.
Third time round, there have been a few concessions made in the name of progress. Customers that include senior politicians and members of the Imperial Family, will now be whisked around in a 5-litre V8 and electric motor, replacing the more traditional V12 petrol engine. It will also use bespoke adaptive air suspension and borrow key bits of active safety technology from the Lexus cupboard.
The good news is that all of this remains wrapped in a deeply conservative, cosseted cocoon full of hand-carved emblems, wood, wool (leather seats are the only option) and net curtains, all produced by hand at a rate of about 50 units per month. Sometimes, like books and vinyl records and magazines that cherish proper writing, old school really is the best school. Want one? We do, too. Unfortunately, the Century is only on sale in Japan...unless Toyota decides otherwise.