Emotional design action from Tokyo motor show
The undercurrent was electric but the emphasis was more about future design direction than technical details at this year's Tokyo motor show. Electric or fuel-cell vehicles adorned most stands but the wrapper was more instructive than the contents.
Honda, Subaru and Lexus showed off sports cars and Nissan, Suzuki and Mitsubishi previewed SUVs.
Toyota's six-seater was a pointer to the extra cabin space freed up by electrification. Mazda's hatch concept had the most relevance for Australian buyers, as it is widely regarded as a nod to the next Mazda3.
"We all know that design is the main driver for a lot of people to buy a vehicle. It cannot be underestimated,” says Mazda Australia marketing head Alastair Doak of Tokyo '17.
"We're making a real statement about Mazda's future design direction.”
Concept car talk is cheap but Toyota is claiming its fuel-cell powered Fine-Comfort Ride concept will crack 100km/h in a sports car-like 5.4 secs while still delivering 1000km of range.
The party trick is you can drive it facing backwards, as the six-seater concept will do the driving for you when you swivel your seat to face your passengers.
There are no dates for a production-ready version but the concept shows Toyota remains committed to hydrogen-powered cars as a long-term solution to the world's energy needs.
Don't get too excited about a production version - Toyota says the current car builds on a concept initially displayed almost 15 years ago in Detroit.
The maker also showed the latest in vehicle artificial intelligence with a concept car that can read drivers' emotions and take steps to either calm them or wake them up.
The Concept-i monitors facial expressions, voice tone and body language and Toyota claims it can tell whether a driver is happy, neutral, irritated, confused or tired.
It then uses sensory inputs, including scents, sounds, lights and massage to change the driver's mood.
Design is the top priority again for Mazda, which is avoiding the obvious opportunity to present a born-again RX sports car.
Instead, its two show cars are the Kai Concept and the Vision Coupe.
The swoopy Vision is the looker but it's more of a dream machine than a future production model.
That job falls to the Kai, which is a compact hatchback that probably previews the design direction of the next Mazda3. Kai means "pioneer” and the car's taut design pushes the boundaries for a hatchback while improving the versatility of the cabin package.
The Kai also comes with the latest version of the maker's SkyActiv technology. This includes an engine using diesel principles that Mazda believes can revolutionise the efficiency and emissions of petrol examples.
The future for Mitsubishi is all about SUVs and utes, so it's no surprise that its Tokyo hero is the e-Evolution Concept.
There is a tenuous link to the Lancer Evo rally rocket in the name but the show car is an electric crossover for the SUV world.
The stying is aggressive, with giant wheels and a low roof that make it more car-like than many SUVs but there is no promise of any production future.
There are three electric motors in the vehicle, with artificial intelligence in control. and the big difference is that there are twin motors at the rear and a single one at the front. Other electric speed machines have two front motors to improve traction and balance. Mitsubishi says its set-up gives "crisp and nimble handling” in all road conditions.
Squint a just a little and it's easy to see how the next Qashqai could be reflected in the Nissan IMx crossover concept.
The electric IMx also provides a pointer to the style direction of Nissan's next-generation SUVs, from X-Trail to Patrol.
Its special trick at the show is Canto, a synthetic sound that announces the arrival of the IMx and will be used as a pedestrian warning on all future Nissan EVs.
The IMx claims all-electric driving range of 600km and packs 320kW to power all-wheel drive. And it is planned to be fully autonomous.
Nissan says the IMx is about "changing the way people and cars communicate”.
Nissan also focuses on the present in the form of a Nismo-tweaked Leaf EV, although it is not confirmed for Australia.
It also used the show to announce it will join the Formula E motorsport championship next year, when new rules will allow more innovation by car brands. Rivals include Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Audi and Jaguar.
All the world sees the VIziv Performance Concept as a clear and present pointer to the next WRX. Subaru says this isn't so but the size and shape of the latest member of the VIziv crew is totally on-target for a WRX.
This VIziv concept is the first with a four-door sedan body and Subaru says "this next-generation sports sedan encapsulates driving enjoyment”.
Predictably, it is wired for all sorts of future technologies - including the start of autonomous driving - with a new iteration of Subaru's EyeSight driver assistance package.
Less predictably, it has a conventional boxer four-cylinder engine, not an electric motor, and all-wheel drive.
Undeterred by the failure of its CR-Z hybrid sports coupe, Honda unveiled an electric sports car that promises to build on the recent hype surrounding the new Civic Type-R.
The Honda Sports EV is powered by a "highly responsive electric power unit” and uses artificial intelligence to "create communication that unites the car and driver”. Compact and with a low centre of gravity, the EV hints at Honda's "next generation of sports car design”.
Honda's stand combined sexy with cute, in the form of the tiny two-seat commuter EV, the NeuV. The autonomous city car can pick up on its driver's stress levels by analysing facial expressions and voice tones and provide suggestions for coping. It can also work as a loan car, with its owner's permission, when it's not being used.
Lexus is not backing away from its controversial design language, unveiling a concept limousine that is every bit as bold as the current look.
The LS+, which Lexus says points to its future design language, is dominated by a silver honeycomb "spindle” grille with shutters to improve aerodynamic performance or assist cooling.
Lexus claims the LS+ can enter a freeway, cruise in traffic, overtake cars and change lanes autonomously. The brand predicts the technology will be available on a production car by 2020.
It is also working on technology to enable autonomous driving in urban areas.