The 2011 Tokyo Auto Show has lived up to its reputation for delivering concept cars that push the limits of style and technology. The best of this year's show blend fuel-conscious engineering with a twist of performance bravado, or unbridled wackiness with regard to packaging. While we don't expect to see something as otherworldly looking as the Suzuki Q mini-car driving down Main street anytime soon, it's nice to see Tokyo regain its auto show mojo. The next generation of smarter vehicles doesn't have to be dull. This year's 10 Best at Tokyo proves it.
BMW Active5 Hybrid
BMW is on a green offensive as the company expands its lineup of hybrid models with the new Active5 Hybrid 5-Series sedan. The car's twin-turbocharged inline-6 cylinder gasoline engine and electric motor generate a combined 340 hp. The driver can summon short bursts of power—provided by the electric motor and lithium-ion battery pack—via a boost function. Yet the Active5 Hybrid has plenty of eco-friendly features too. It can drive in electric mode at speeds up to 37 mph, and tailor the power output based on road conditions and satellite navigation inputs.
Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ
These rear-wheel-drive performance cars were developed in tandem and differ only in styling details. Under the hood is a flat-4 engine that delivers 197 bhp and comes equipped with either a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission. A long wheelbase should provide decent amounts legroom for rear passengers. Subaru has already hinted that hotter models are on the way, with a teaser being the BRZ STI Concept recently shown during the 2011 L.A. Auto Show. There is no official word whether turbocharged engines and all-wheel drive might join the 86/BRZ lineup. When it arrives in the U.S. next year, the Toyota 86 will actually be sold as the Scion FR-S.
Mazda Takeri Concept
The Mazda Takeri Concept employs the company's Kodo design philosophy, which means "Soul of Motion." What we like most is that it translates to an improved front fascia, swoopy fenders and taut rear end. This is a great-looking car, which is good news because it foreshadows the design of the 2013 Mazda6 sedan. Also making its debut here in Tokyo on the Takeri is i-ELOOP. No, this isn't something you do late at night at a Las Vegas chapel. It stands for "Intelligent Energy Loop," a name given to a regenerative braking system that uses a capacitor instead of a battery. Capacitors are able to charge and discharge more quickly than a conventional battery. The technology is said to offer a 10-percent boost to fuel economy.
Honda AC-X Concept
The Honda AC-X Concept has something for everyone: production car potential, along with show-car craziness. Under the skin of this sleek sedan is a plug-in hybrid system similar to what you'll find next year on the Accord hybrid. Using a lithium-ion battery and electric motor, the AC-X can be driven up to 31 miles in pure electric mode. A gasoline engine fires up once speeds exceed 62 mph. Things get wilder in the cabin, where the AC-X features a dual joystick control system, rather than a conventional steering wheel. An auto drive mode even lets the car take over, with the joystick controls stowing away and the front seat reclining.
Suzuki Q Concept
Suzuki has one of the strangest offerings here in Tokyo, courtesy of its Q Concept. The electric-powered is a tandem-seat mini car that stretches only 98 in. long. Frankly, it looks like Marvin the Martian's commuter car. According to Suzuki, the Q straddles the line between motorcycle and car. Easier to park than a larger car, the Q offers more weather protection and comfort than a motorcycle. The seating arrangement can be configured for hauling people or parcels; the 1+1 layout can be changed to a single seat up front with cargo space behind.
Subaru BRZ Super GT
Don't look for the at your local Subaru dealership anytime soon. This track-only machine is headed directly to Japan's Super GT 300 race series next year. Based on the company's new rear-wheel-drive sport coupe, the BRZ Super GT is festooned with a carbon-fiber front splitter, chunky side sills, larger wheels and tires, along with an enormous rear wing and diffuser. As the name implies, the Super GT will boast a 300-bhp version of the 2.0-liter flat-4 cylinder engine found in the standard car. That's roughly 100 bhp more than stock, yet somehow the BRZ Super GT looks like it could handle (much!) more.
Honda EV-STER Concept
This wedge-shaped little Honda brings to mind the legendary Honda Beat, a pint-sized mid-engine roadster that sadly never made it to our shores. The rear-wheel-drive (the name combines "EV" and "Roadster") minimizes curb weight by using carbon fiber in its construction. That should help provide the EV-STER with a driving range of approximately 100 miles. Like Honda's other concept cars here in Tokyo, the AC-X and Micro Commuter Concept, the EV-STER opts for twin joystick controls versus a steering wheel. Apparently steering wheels are kind of passé. Honda says the car can accelerate from 0 to 60 km/h (37 mph) in 5 seconds and has a top speed of 100 mph. The EV-STER's lithium-ion battery pack can be recharged in 3 hours at 200 volts.
Mitsubishi PX-MiEV II Concept
Expect much of the technology and exterior design of the to appear on the production version of the Outlander Hybrid, due in 2013. ThePX-MiEV II is capable of driving solely on electric power for distances of approximately 30 miles. At that point, a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder gas-powered engine powers up to provide additional range and serve as a generator to the lithium-ion battery pack. Depending on battery charge and driving conditions, the engine sends power to the electric motors or directly drives the wheels while helping recharge the batteries. The electric motors are located in the front and rear of the vehicle, where they provide power to each axle respectively.
Nissan Pivo 3
Compared to past generations of , this latest iteration seems downright normal. That's saying a lot, since its tiny dimensions, three-across seat placement and electric motors mounted in each wheel hub aren't exactly standard issue city car gear. The party trick here is the Pivo 3's 4-wheel steering system, which provides a turning circle of only 13 feet and unparalleled (pun intended) parking maneuvers. For navigating the crowded streets of Tokyo this nimble little machine would be our top choice.
The Mirage lacks the over-the-top design and high-tech powertrain of many other cars here in Tokyo. However, this subcompact will play a huge role for Mitsubishi in emerging automotive markets. The Mirage is a budget-friendly 5-door hatchback, powered by a 1.0-liter 3-cylinder engine and CVT transmission. A low entry-level price and excellent fuel economy are set to be the main selling points when the Mirage goes on sale next year. There is no official word whether this bargain Mitsubishi will make it to our shores.