There they are, beavering away to make cars, and SUVs in particular, that will make us happy little Vegemites and yet, when you actually visit Japan, you realise that they can't actually own the cars they're building, vehicles like the new Mazda CX-60 we just went there to drive, because they just wouldn't fit.
To own a car in Japan, you first have to prove that you have somewhere to park it. Yes, that's how tight space is there; they have 338 people per square kilometre, while we have... 3.3 per kilometre.
It should come as little surprise, then, that the properly big CX-60, built on Mazda's new 'Large Architecture Platform', is not expected to have a large domestic market in Japan.
They're making it for us, Australians and other westerners. And in this case, they're making it to really impress us, because the CX-60 is Mazda's attempt to go premium, taking on the Germans, and Lexus.
So how have they done?
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Price and features – Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?
When it comes to pricing, the CX-60 is setting new dizzy heights in what Mazda thinks it can get away with charging for one of its vehicles.
The PHEV version - which I was lucky enough to drive at the car’s global launch in Portugal last year - will set you back more than $87,000, if you go for the one with all the fruit, and that is a lot, particularly for a Mazda. Throw in some options and some taxes and you’re looking at north of $95,000, before on-road costs.
The CX-60 Diesel has a starting price of $61,800.
The CX-60 range does start somewhat lower, however, at $59,800 for the entry-level six-cylinder petrol.
The version we drove in Japan was the diesel, which has a starting price just $2000 above the entry petrol, but rises to $75,000 if you opt for the top-spec Azami model.
Design – Is there anything interesting about its design?
Here's the thing - making a sports car, like the Mazda MX-5, isn't that hard, but making an SUV sexy is almost impossible. Few have mastered it, Alfa Romeo's Stelvio is a rare exemption, but the CX-60 is a hell of an effort.
The car's chief designer, Akira Tamatani, admitted to us that the size of the challenge was basically the size of the car, and that he worked tirelessly to come up with a front and rear end that would look good on such a grand scale (a normal Mazda face would be "too sharp", he said), and to make light play along the sides pleasantly.
The CX-60's chief designer says he designed the rear light cluster to look like the pupil of an eye.
I can see a lot of BMW DNA in the CX-60, and I mean that in a nice way. It’s not a direct copy, but it’s definitely an influence, and nowhere more clearly so than the rear light cluster, which Tamatani says he designed to look like the pupil of an eye.
It's an interesting idea, but whatever he was thinking, it looks good. If you're going to take on the Germans, looking a bit like them isn’t a bad place to start.
The feeling of classy premium continues on the inside, which feels broad and wide and spacious and has some quality touches as well.
Practicality – How practical is its space and tech inside?
The CX-60 is a properly big old bus, so big that there’s no way it would fit into a Japanese garage, it barely fits on Japanese streets, so it’s not surprising to hear hopes are not high for huge local sales.
The driver gets plenty of head and shoulder room, it’s a long way to reach over to the passenger door, and it’s genuinely quite comfortable in the rear as well, with significantly more legroom than a CX-5.
The CX-60 is 4745mm long, 1890mm wide, 1680mm high, and has a 2870mm wheelbase.
The driver gets plenty of head and shoulder room.
The CX-60 has significantly more legroom in the rear than a CX-5.
The boot also feels large, with a 570-litre capacity, increasing to 1148 litres with the rear seats folded flat.
One cool selling point is the new 'Driver Personalisation System', which is a mighty fine idea, because far too many people don’t seem to know how to set up a proper driving position. This Mazda does it for you.
The very first time you drive your CX60 it measures your eyeline with a camera (and asks you to input your height so it knows how long your legs are) and then adjusts the seat height, how far you are from the wheel, the mirrors, the steering wheel position and the height of the head-up display, all at once.
The CX-60 is 4745mm long and 1680mm high.
This information is then stored and every time you get in the car it will use face-recognition tech, just like your iPhone, to work out who’s driving and restore your settings.
It also stores 250 'personalisation values', everything from your preferred air con temperature to your favourite radio station.
If is sounds like a large engine, it is, but Mazda, counterintuitively, claims that making it so big allows it to produce more torque - it makes 550 Newtons, alongside 187 kW - and that means it’s more economical, and more environmentally friendly, than smaller diesel engines.
The diesel CX-60 delivers plenty of torque despite weighing almost two tonnes.
But aren’t all diesel engines an environmental black smoke spot, you ask? Well, they are about to be banned in some big cities by 2025, and across all of Europe by 2035, but Mazda remains unconcerned, pointing out that people in Japan still love diesel, and that some Australians might, hopefully, still love them too.
The diesel CX-60 certainly delivers plenty of torque, making overtaking a thrusty, grunting breeze, despite the car weighing almost two tonnes.
At cruising speeds, it’s also pleasantly quiet, smooth and refined, but at low throttle openings, or when the start/stop system kicks in at traffic lights, there’s no disguising the fact that you’re driving a diesel. The old familiar rattle is there but it's well hidden, most of the time.
Japan is a wonderful place to visit, and to eat, but it is one very strange place to drive. I’m talking 60km/h limits on freeways, which some people seem to joyfully ignore, but others follow rigidly. It’s hard to know what’s going on.
There’s also a slight sense - very politely delivered, of course - that our Japanese hosts don’t think we foreigners could possibly be very good at driving, so much of our experience in the CX-60 was either tightly controlled, to put it nicely, or, to be more blunt, a bit dull.
I can report that the diesel engine does what you would want from one - delivering torquey, low-down acceleration, and no doubt towing ability, but it does not have the boom pow excitement of the PHEV we previously drove.
The CX-60 Diesel has a rear-biased all-wheel drive system.
Smooth, dependable, it’s more the family car engine of choice, perhaps, or for those people who like to drive a long distance between visits to a service station.
Fortunately, I had driven the car fast around corners before and I can thus report that its rear-biased all-wheel drive system (Mazda has gone to the trouble of setting the car up to be rear-wheel drive only and those versions are coming - an executive described that variant as being for “car crazy people, sorry, enthusiasts”) does give it a slightly rear-driven sense of adventure.
The steering is communicative, if a little light, and the weighting does change significantly for the better when you opt for Sport mode.
The CX-60's diesel engine provides a smooth drive.
The ride is also excellent, with very little pitching, thanks to the trouble Mazda has gone to to get the front to rear weight balance as close to 50-50, or as close to BMW, as possible.
It’s a big ol' SUV, of course, but it feels like it could still be a lot of fun on the right, open and winding section of road.
The impressive thing about our drive in the CX-60 is that it didn't feel too big on Japanese streets, even though it was.
The CX-60's steering is communicative, if a little light.
Parking in Japanese-sized parking spaces was a challenge, however, as it only just fit, on a width basis.
Fortunately the CX-60 comes with a new trick called 'See-Through View', described as a “next-generation 360-degree view monitor”.
Basically, the front and rear of the car become slightly opaque on the screen and you can see through them to make close parking moves easier.
Safety – What safety equipment is fitted? What is its safety rating?
The CX-60 received the maximum five stars in Euro NCAP crash testing, but is yet to be assessed by ANCAP.
It gets a suite of 'i-Activsense' driver-supporting safety technologies including 'Turn Across Traffic Assist', 'SBS-R' pedestrian detection, 'Emergency Lane Keeping', 'i-Adaptive Cruise Control' (i-ACC), and 'BSM Vehicle Exit Warning'.
The CX-60 received the maximum five stars in Euro NCAP crash testing.
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