Mazda Motor Corporation has staged the world debut of its newest ‘concept’ vehicle, the MX-Flexa. The six-seat ‘space wagon’, the fifth ‘concept’ Mazda has showed within six months, is claimed in the press bumpf to demonstrate “one possible direction Mazda could take for a future space wagon” but is widely regarded by industry pundits as a production-ready replacement for the MPV minivan, which has flopped in Europe, writes deputy editor Graeme Roberts.

Mazda has a habit of passing off production-ready cars as ‘concepts’ at European motor shows – there was virtually no difference between show concept versions of the Demio/2 small minivans and what soon thereafter rolled out of a Mazda plant in Japan and a Spanish Ford plant (where the European market versions are made). Certainly, from the press handout photos, the MX-Flexa looks production ready enough to be the next MPV.

While it’s a pleasant enough looking vehicle, inasmuch as a functional minivan can be, the MX-Flexa sets no new standards for innovation. It’s about the right size, seats six (and surely, once in production, seven) and has the sort of stylish cabin minivan buyers on both sides of the Atlantic (e.g. Nissan Quest; Peugeot 807 and its Sevel Nord-built siblings) have come to expect of late.

As shown at Geneva today, it’s 4,470 mm long; 1,745 mm wide, and 1,650mm high on a 2,750 mm wheelbase; in the same ballpark as many rivals built in Japan, the US, Europe and South Korea.

And the engine is nothing special either. You might have expected maybe Mazda’s first hybrid, or the world debut of a new fuel-cell package in a so-called ‘concept’. Nope. Just a ’cooking’ 2.3-litre MZR petrol four, as seen in the 6 car line and latest US-spec Ford Focus, developing 126 Kw at 6500 rpm and maximum torque of 214Nm at 4000 rpm.

The concept’s transmission is also routine: a four-speed (why not five or six speeds?) electronic automatic. McPherson-type struts at the front, multiple links at the rear, etc, etc. Any minivan engineer could write this spec in his sleep.

Now well on the way to recovery from being one of the Ford empire’s basket cases, Mazda could sure use a hit in both the US and European minivan sectors, along the lines of the acclaimed success of its 6 line and the recently launched 3 – though UK consumer press reviews of that latter new model range have been a bit mixed.

In the US, its original MPV, initially unique to North America (though Japanese built), came late to market and was too small to knock the established domestics, especially those made by Chrysler, off their perches. As the market has matured over two decades, respected imports like Honda’s Odyssey and Toyota’s Sienna have arrived to severely challenge the Big Three’s offerings, especially GM’s ageing models, but Mazda hasn’t even been on the US minivan buyer’s radar in recent years.

Ditto in Europe. The new(er) generation MPV is rarely seen here in the UK, or on continental European roads, and its smaller sibling, the Premacy, an apparent late-to-market attempt to challenge Renault’s dominant scenic and Citroen’s Picasso, is also a rare sight.

To build on the success of the new 6, RX-8 and 3, Mazda could use a hit in niche markets. To do that, it needs two new minivans – a US-size MPV successor for North America and a Scenic-size Renault basher for Europe. Both need to set new styling, practicality and technology standards in their segments, as achieved by the original Plymouth Voyager and Renault Scenic.

At first look, the MX-Flexa simply doesn’t cut the mustard.

Ironically, its senior marketing chief thinks it does.

“It’s not by chance we chose the Geneva show to launch this important concept,” said Mazda’s senior managing executive officer in charge of global sales, marketing and customer service, Stephen Odell, in a statement issued for Geneva show press day.

“The space wagon segment continues to be an important and growing segment in many markets around the world. In Europe, it has exploded in the past five years, growing in some estimations by more than 200% in the five largest markets.

“We think this is one segment where Mazda can definitely inject a little zoom-zoom.”

We beg to differ.