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Mazda absolutely must build the stunning Iconic SP concept

The Iconic SP concept has pop-up headlights and a rotary engine. Just build it already!

Published: 27 Mar 2024

Some concept cars require you to wear goggles and plug a data cable into your left eye socket. They take the ‘concept’ part of concept car far too literally. The Mazda Iconic SP is not that car. In some ways, it’s almost worse: it looks pseudo-real, in that ultra clean way that can’t possibly be recreated in a world of legislation. But the point stands, the best thing about this Mazda is that it requires no backstory, no decoding. You don’t have to understand it to appreciate it, it’s a classic two-seater with traditional proportions. A notion from the near future. Oh, and it’s possibly the new RX-7.

Or... possibly not. As ever with these things, the intent and potential is deliberately vague, even if you follow all the signs. The car was launched alongside a refreshed MX-5, and some of the details – especially at the front – suggested that this might be the next-generation Roadster. But, if it were real, it would be lower, wider and more powerful than any MX-5. Oh, and it has a rotary engine. Which means RX-7, right?

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Photography: John Wycherley 

8 minutes 4 seconds

All is not as it seems though – there’s a rotary in there, but it’s a small two-rotor tucked into the front for perfect 50:50 weight distribution, an engine whose job it is to power up the battery pack in the middle, which then drives the electric motor mounted in the rear. Power is quoted to be in the 365bhp range, with a targeted rear-wheel drive weight of 1,450kg, so it’ll be very fast, but not sickening, with the kind of weight that can be wrangled by normal suspension systems.

So it’s an electric car with a range extender engine, an engine that Mazda says could run on a variety of sustainable fuels. Which might sound very concepty, but that’s a system already operating in Mazda’s MX-30 R-EV SUV, so uprating it for something a little more spicy really isn’t that insane. And uprate it you could: the power system is essentially modular, you can scale it with bigger motors and batteries and a more powerful generator. Oh, and there’s a ‘vehicle to load’ function, so you’d be able to power your camp lights or possibly even your home in the event of a power outage. Which means you could have a rotary engined house.

It's the son of the RX-7... Mazda's legendary and mapped sports car brought up to date

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So it’s the son of RX-7 then, no matter what anyone says. Mazda’s legendary sports car brought up to date since the death of the FD in 2002. We’ll ignore the RX-8 and 2015’s RX Vision concept, and concentrate on the fact the Iconic SP has vestigial pop-up headlamps – more like pop-up LED flaps in this case – and the kind of taut surfacing that takes joy in simplicity. Honestly, there’s more thought gone into the lack of obvious aero than the addition of a dramatic rear wing could muster, more interest in the austere than the augmentation. It’s lovely.

And that sense continues on the inside, because again, this is a peaceful, simple interior that doesn’t require a PowerPoint presentation and three days of training to understand. There’s a modest central touchscreen, a driver’s display and a small, stout steering wheel. The centre console sports some sliders that on the concept are marked up like the gear selector, but feel more like they’d make good HVAC controls or window sliders. There’s a decent view out of it, and it’s not particularly bulky – the kinds of things you look for in a road car. Obviously the materials are sustainable and recycled, BioMaterial this and flax derived that, but the most important thing is that the surprisingly comfy seats employ blue corduroy. And we all know that corduroy is the preserve of the fashion forward. It doesn’t get more real than that.

 

But the real joy of the Iconic SP is the team behind it. Chief designer Masashi Nakayama – he of MX-5 fame – is convinced that the re-emergence of electric drivetrains is fine as long as we preserve the idea of joy. And he’s the kind of man you want in control of your dreams division – an absolute powerhouse of a mind wrapped up in a man whose passion bubbles out of him like champagne from a bottle. To Masashi-san the explicit connection between driving and happiness, the idea that the right car can offer more than just a transport solution, is innate, describes how he wants a car to appeal on an instinctive level, rather than a conscious one. He wants to design cars that become allies in adventures rather than just ways of moving. In a lot of ways, people like him are the reasons to be cheerful when it comes to the future of electric sports cars – he understands the need for beauty allied with driving fun, an enthusiastic connection rather than a marriage of convenience. And if the Iconic SP is the result, the future will be bright.

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