When I was thinking about an iconic Japanese design from the semi-recent past, it was difficult to do so without arriving at the likely fact most were technical achievements rather than a styling ones. During the 80’s and 90’s, Japan was more concerned with the mainstream – ie profitable types, and even when they did branch out into the margins, they were exercises in technology, not design. So in avoiding the clichéd NSX (especially in the spotlight of late) and boy racer wet dream Toyota Supras and Nissan Skylines I thought of one that likely you have never heard of, the 1990 Eunos Cosmo.
From a financial perspective, this car was a fledgling attempt from Mazda to push their premium brand ‘Eunos’ with a technology filled 4-seater coupe. In reality, it was a model too far even for the Japanese (of which was the only market the Cosmo was launched in) with success alluding the Cosmo and indeed Eunos entirely. Upon first acquaintance, the elegant lines don’t seem to challenge convention, but the Comso does inhabit my favourite 90’s interior. Aside from the steering wheel, it presented such a sound aesthetic that even today the Cosmo appears impressively contemporary; something I don’t think I could say about anything else released in 1990. It’s not the integrated technology that impresses me, but the way Mazda used design and material in an interesting way to really capture the essence of a luxurious and sporty coupe. Look at the back seats and the way they have been so elegantly integrated into the rear portion of the cabin, there is more than a bit of Lexus LF-A in the aesthetic; it’s very contemporary yet still utterly luxurious. The minimalist dashboard architecture, with its complete symmetry and hidden instruments and HVAC outlets, still look bang up to date and was clearly designed with a clear and uncompromising notion of contemporary luxury. Although not devoid of unattractive timber veneer, it’s subtle use on the trailing edge atop the colour coded dash was in stark contrast to the heavy slabs seen in German and British luxury cars.
The reason the Cosmo is so important was due to an unwavering focus that Mazda had during its design and development. They did not have a heritage to look back on as a starting point on their interpretation of a luxury coupe. Unlike Lexus and Infiniti, which took the idea of Europe’s luxury saloon and just built it properly, the Cosmo was a new Japanese notion of luxury. The technology on board, like world first Sat Nav and tri-rotor 20B engine gave the Cosmo it’s ammunition, the clear and elegant design gave it focus, yet it was not enough to draw the success it needed to prosper. Mazda’s engineering-led product of today is one of the strongest portfolios of its mainstream rivals, despite Mazda’s relative lack of cash to pump into new research and development. I would love to see Mazda be given the opportunity to once again flex its design and engineering muscle and believe that they have always been Japan’s most innovative and interesting marque, a sentiment exemplified by the Cosmo.