Name: Mazda Ibuki
Debuted: 2003 Tokyo Motor Show
Specs: hybrid 1.6-liter engine with 180 horsepower, 133 pound-feet (180 Newton-meters) of torque, six-speed manual
gearbox, rear-wheel drive, 143.3 inches (3640 millimeters) long, 67.7 in (1720 mm) wide, 48.4 in (1229 mm) tall, 91.7-in (2329-mm) wheelbase, 18-inch wheels
Why We Remember It Now:
Developed to create a visual connection between the past, present, and the future of the MX-5, the oval-shaped Ibuki came out at a time when the roadster was getting ready to make the transition to its third generation (NC). Mazda shaved off the front and rear overhangs to make the Ibuki about 15 in (381 mm) shorter than the Miata NB while narrowing it a bit and bringing the body closer to the road.
Gallery: 2003 Mazda Ibuki concept
Those large magnesium alloy 18-inch wheels made it look as if it was glued to the road, while the front and rear designs were directly inspired by the Miata NA. Compared to the roadster that was on sale at the time, the engineers pushed the engine approximately 15.7 in (400 mm) towards the rear and 1.6 in (41 mm) lower. To get the extra space needed to accommodate the relocated engine, Mazda installed the air conditioning unit behind the seats, ahead of the rear axle.
At the heart of the Ibuki was a then-new four-cylinder 1.6-liter gasoline engine benefitting from direct injection and sequential valve timing. It worked together with an electric motor that aside from boosting acceleration, it also controlled the engine vibrations. This solution allowed Mazda to install a lighter flywheel, which in turn improved response.
See Another Forgotten Miata:
The concept was also equipped with a short-throw gearbox that was lighter than what the Miata NB had, and was developed to mimic the feeling provided by the first generation. LED headlights were somewhat of a novelty back then, much like the keyless entry. Another interesting feature was the audio system as its speakers were combined with the ducts for the seat air conditioning in one unit.
Interestingly, some of the body panels were made out of reinforced plastic to keep the weight low, combined with aluminum door inner panels and carbon fiber engine frame and propeller shaft. Even the trunk was a bit special thanks to a side-opening mechanism providing greater access for loading/unloading cargo.
The Ibuki was created by Mazda purely as a concept car, but some of its design traits can be seen in the Miata NC launched two years later.