First out of the box, and stealing the show on the first morning of the Tokyo Motor Show, was Mazda with its RX-Vision concept.
A long-body, firmly analogue 2-seat sports car, the RX-Vision picks up Mazda's "RX" lineage of sports cars with a rotary engine and sling-shots it firmly into today, while keeping an eye on history and authenticity.
Bet you want to know if this is going to get real, right? While the RX is a concept for now, there are few who'll deny its appealing looks. Although we can't make any promises, and Mazda was keeping schtum, let's say this: Mazda's known to be working on the old wankel rotary engine, to see if it can get it up to modern emissions standards, while keeping the oil-thirsty, piston-free, super-compact footprint benefits that the technology offers.
And Mazda's got a rich sports-car history. Not least the FD RX-7 of the 1990s which this car reference, and the RX-8 of the noughties which sold so well. It's also got an impressive range currently, and is trying to become more premium in its image. It's punching above its weight for an independent. All that is our way of saying that we reckon we'll see a production version RX before 2020.
Mazda's stand in Tokyo was dimly lit, swamped by people with step-ladders (all in the pursuit of taking a better picture) and the company wouldn't let us look inside the car. But what we can tell you about RX design is that it appears impressive – that body side is beautifully sculpted, the details are fine and the colour bang-on for a sports car with a foot in the past.
See some Ferrari, Jaguar or Maserati in the looks? Well, we suspect Mazda won't mind. Although given how distinctive the RX-8 was, and how perfect the RX-7 was from a design perspective, considered objectively the RX, while nice, isn't as unique as those cars in its looks.
The engine is a key component of this car and Mazda seems keen to keep its rotary heritage going. The motor will drive the rear wheels, and maybe – just maybe – you'll be able to have a manual gearbox if the RX makes production. But the real deal with the rotary unit is that it'll be turbine smooth, rev to nearly 10,000rpm, and its benefits are that it's super compact in its physical size – which is how Mazda might manage to get the super-low bonnet line into production, too. And that's one factor which gives the RX concept such radical looks and which a production version needs to keep. Its stunningly low, and hugely wide this car.
While good design always begins from good proportions – and we know car designers love that phallic reference of a long bonnet – we couldn't help but wonder why, given the compact rotary engine contained within, the bonnet is quite so long. If we've a criticism of the concept, it's that to us it seems a shame Mazda's going back to a pure 2-seater, and ditching the 4-seats and suicide doors of the RX-8 which made it so appealing, so unique and helped that model sell so well.
The Tokyo Motor Show is full of tech-laden, autonomous driving and future leaning concepts. In that context, it's fascinating to see Mazda doing something that's ultimately so classical. But if the RX-Vision does signal the return of a halo Mazda – i.e. a rotary engine sports car – then we (and we suspect many enthusiasts) will be more than happy with that. Even if you do still need to tip a litre of oil into the engine every time you fill up.