DETROIT – Mazda Motor Corp. zoom zooms into the North American International Auto Show here with the world debut of its Kabura concept, a 3+1 sports car aimed at reinvigorating driving excitement among the auto maker's younger customers.

Kabura is taken from the Japanese term “kabura-ya,” meaning an arrow that makes a howling sound, which, historically, was used to signify the start of a battle.

The use of the name here is to signify the beginning of Mazda's latest salvo into the North American market with exciting new vehicles specifically designed for its enthusiastic followers.

“With Kabura, we set out to use innovative design to rekindle the passion for driving,” says Franz von Holzhausen, who penned the concept as the first project of his tenure as director of design for Mazda North American Operations (MNAO).

“Our intention is to rouse the segment with some intravenous creativity,” he adds.

Franz von Holzhausen helps unveil Mazda Kabura Concept.

Based on a chassis sharing components with Mazda's MX-5 roadster, the Kabura falls in between the dimensions of the pint-sized MX-5 and the larger RX-8 4-seat sports car, the auto maker says.

Suspension is a double wishbone setup up front, with an independent multi-link arrangement in the rear. Power comes from a 2L DOHC 4-cyl. gasoline engine mated to close-ratio 6-speed manual transmission.

Created for the North American market at MNAO's Irvine, CA-based design center, the Kabura takes a strikingly modern stance, yet remains true to the aggressive design direction Mazda pioneered with the MX-5 and RX-8.

The effect is a minimalist sports car with a very athletic character. The Kabura has no excess flub, and Holzhausen describes its taught sheet metal as “drawn tight over the wheel arches the way a spider's web stretches between anchor points.”

The futuristic design also showcases some innovative features, such as a glass roof with adjustable tinting.

A 2-piece glass hatch also is incorporated into the structure. The main panel is used for cargo compartment access.

The smaller, upper panel pivots up with help from an electric motor to serve several functions: It acts as a roof spoiler; vents air from the passenger compartment while also improving rear seat headroom; and, with the help of a top-mounted photovoltaic solar cell, controls ambient interior temperature as well as recharges the battery, Mazda says.

Despite all of its outward exuberance, the Kabura's most innovative elements lie in its interior.

“While examining the habits and tastes of our youthful customers, we found that the majority have a need to carry one or at most two passengers in comfort,” Holzhausen says.

The demand led to the Kabura's creative 3+1 seating arrangement. A single left-side door operates in a normal fashion and allows access to the driver's seat and the rear jump seat.

The passenger side of the car is different, as the lack of a glovebox allowed Mazda designers to move the front passenger seat forward about 6 ins. (15 cm) and make room for a generous rear seat directly behind.

Access to the passenger side is similar to the main front door and mini-rear suicide door arrangement found on the RX-8. However, in place of the RX-8's hinged rear door, the Kabura's “bonus door” slides rearward into a notched cavity in the rear-quarter panel at the touch of a button.

“Kabura may be the first compact coupe where no passenger has to call 'shotgun' to avoid the second-class citizen treatment,” Holzhausen says.

The Kabura's futuristic interior also serves as a lesson in recycling due to Mazda's partnering with Sustainable Solutions Inc. (SSI).

The concept's interior is made from SSI's recycled leather substrate, which, itself, is 100% composed of post-industrial waste, mainly the excess material from the manufacturing of Nike brand athletic shoes, Mazda says.

Although the Kabura is not intended for production, Holzhausen says several of its design elements could be integrated into a future production sports coupe.

The other highlight of Mazda's NAIAS presentation is the new '07 CX-7 cross/utility vehicle, which debuted last week at the Greater Los Angeles Auto Show. (See related story: Mazda CX-7 Leads Parade of North American Products)

Arriving at North American dealers this spring, the 5-seat CX-7 blends the practicality of an SUV with the soul of a sports car, Mazda says.

The CUV will be offered with front- or all-wheel drive in Sport, Touring and Grand Touring models.

All versions will feature a turbocharged, 2.3L gasoline engine making 244 hp, 6-speed automatic transmission, six airbags, 4-wheel antilock brakes and Dynamic Stability Control and Traction Control systems.

Touring models add heated leather seats and upscale trim, while the Grand Touring edition adds high-intensity discharge headlights, fog lamps, automatic climate control and upgraded exterior trim.

The manufacturer's suggested retail prices for the CX-7 will range from $24,310 (including $560 for destination) for a FWD Sport model to $28,560 for an AWD Grand Touring model.

In addition to the Kabura and the CX-7, Mazda also shows the enhanced '06 RX-8 sports car.

For '06, the RX-8's main improvement is an optional 6-speed automatic transmission with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. Automatic models also receive a 15-hp boost, bringing output to 212 hp, up from 197 hp.

Manual transmission models retain their 6-speed gearbox and 232-hp rating, the auto maker says.

Additionally for '06 is the RX-8's Shinka special edition package.

Set to be produced in a limited run of 1,500 units, the Shinka (Japanese for “evolution” or “transformation”) adds upgraded suspension tuning; Alcantara leather seating and trim; revised 18-in. alloy wheels; and standard Sirius satellite radio.

Shinka RX-8 models should be available in spring, with pricing to be released closer to the on-sale date, the auto maker says.

msutton@primediabusiness.com