What Are the Mazda Chief Designer’s 10 Favorite Cars?


When we were at the 2016 Los Angeles Auto Show Mazda revealed a redesigned CX-5 crossover with a sleek new look and the promise of a new engine option in the US.

But let’s talk about the way it looks. With the latest unveiling, it’s clear that Mazda is looking to be a global leader when it comes to design. The new CX-5 has a bigger grille with a funky 3D mesh and sleeker headlights. The A-pillars have been swept back and the whole car has a premium look that’s similar to the CX-9.  The new car also has the same playful attitude that’s found in the rest of the automakers products.


In case you’ve forgotten, the automaker has been making the fun-to-drive MX-5 Miata for over 25 years, selling over a million examples of the rear-wheel drive roadster globally. We had the chance to talk to Shinichi Isayama, the Chief Designer of the Mazda CX-5 and ask him a few quick questions about his favourite cars and what inspires him.

His Car: Mazda Miata (NA)


Of course he drives an MX-5 and not just any version of the iconic roadster, but the first generation of the car. This actually says quite a bit about him, as most auto execs have company leases of new cars. The Miata he’s driving though, is old school and original, showing his true passion for one of the brand’s best products.

His Favorite Colleague’s Car: Last air-cooled Porsche 911 (993)


With little hesitation, he pointed out that one of his colleagues’ old 911 was the object of his desire in the company parking lot. He described it as the cool last model of the air-cooled Porsches, meaning it was a 993 model.

Favorite Designs

Lamborghini Miura Jota


He then dropped some really deep Lamborghini knowledge on us, pointing out the Lamborghini Jota as one of his favorite designs. What’s funny is that many designers will frequently call out the Lamborghini Miura as one of their favorite cars, but Isayama-san went one step further and singled out the exclusive Lamborghini Jota, a modified version of the Miura created by Lamborghini test driver Bob Wallace. It featured unique body work, aerodynamics, suspension along with a redone engine that made 440 horsepower. It’s a rare beast that no one ever seems to mention so it’s cool that the Mazda designer brought it up.

Lamborghini Countach

1985 Lamborghini Countach LP5000 S Quattrovalvole

The funky Countach is no huge surprise here. The sharp angles and unmistakable body is hard to ignore. One of the wildest cars ever built, the Countach featured a V12 engine placed midship, that powered the rear wheels. One of the true supercars due to its performance and designs, it’s practically every designer’s dream car.

Toyota 2000GT


Isayama-san brings in some love for the Japanese supercar, the Toyota 2000GT. Often described as a Japanese take on the Jaguar E-Type, this Toyota featured Yamaha-made straight-six engines that made about 150 horsepower, which was a lot for the ’60s. A simply beautiful and timeless design, only 351 of these cars were ever made, and some of them are fetching some insane prices at auction, even topping the million-dollar mark.

Ferrari 288 GTO


Now we’re talking Isayama-san! This Ferrari from the mid-eighties is a total bombshell with an awesome design. Packing a mid-engine 2.9-liter twin-turbo V8 that made 400 horsepower, this car hit 60 mph in about five seconds. But forget about numbers for a moment and take in that beautiful body, which turns heads everywhere it goes. Only 272 of these cars were ever made, making them quite rare as well.

Lancia Stratos


One more Italian beauty that Isayama-san pointed out was the Lancia Stratos, a car that was revered for its rally racing capability. It won the World Rally Championship three years in a row, from 1974 to 1976. This rear-wheel drive, mid-engined coupe was designed by Bertone, rather than Pininfarina, whom Lancia typically used for design. It used a Ferrari Dino V6 engine that made just under 200 horsepower, which was more than enough to power this car on rally circuits. A standard wedge-shape design, the Lancia Stratos makes a lot of sense as a designer’s favorite car.

Important Mazdas

On the topic of Mazda, we also had the chance to discuss the brand’s own history when it comes to design. Looking at the current crop of cars, it’s clear that appearance means quite a lot to the company, and there’s no mistaking anything in the lineup for something more mainstream. The brand uses the term “hand-crafted design” to describe their process, and when pressed, Isayama-san explained that much of the design process is with physical models rather than relying on digital designs. Even as other automakers look to design in a virtual reality setting, Mazda seems to limit its use of that technology.

We asked Isayama-san about his favorite Mazda designs over the years. Here’s what he said.

Mazda Cosmo Sport

A unique little sports car with a different type of engine, the Cosmo Sport helped launch the rotary revolution for Mazda. The rotary engine in this Cosmo is said to make about 110 horsepower, which was quite a bit for such a small car in the ’60s. But the real legacy of the Cosmo is its design. A sleek, low slung coupe that packed a lot of personality, you can see the heritage of the Mazda MX-5 Miata here with the Cosmo Sport.

RX-7 (FD)


An undisputed champion of good looks and performance is the third-generation Mazda RX-7. There’s almost no hard angles on this car, and its design flowed in such an elegant and natural way. Even if this thing didn’t move, it was a thing of beauty. Without a doubt, the third-generation RX-7 was the best-looking car in the Japanese sports-car shootout of the ’90s. It also could move, sporting a turbocharged rotary engine that is said to make 276 horsepower. That power gets sent to the rear wheels and helped Mazda set a benchmark in not just design but performance too.


Tokyo Auto Salon Mazda RX-Vision

There’s a lot of RX-7 in the last car Isayama-san mentioned: the new RX-Vision. A concept car that debuted at the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show and stunned the audience with its awesome bodywork, Isayama-san clearly is inspired by this gorgeous sports car concept. Although he wouldn’t discuss the potential of the car coming to fruition, Mazda has made it clear that there’s some elements of the concept that will hit production. For example, it’s said to be powered by a next generation rotary engine, but what car in Mazda’s lineup could use such a powerplant? Make no mistake, the RX-Vision is a gorgeous car with a lot of potential, and will clearly be seen as the beacon for future Mazda design.


augie says:

sadly, that is not a 993 pictured there. it’s a 964.

smartacus says:

quite an impressive list of models for favorite cars