Kode 9 Exclusive First Drive
Ken Okuyama is Ready to Build and Sell His Work of Passion
This is not the Speed Racer Mach V come to life. It's a real-world sports car called the Kode 9. It's new, and we were given the chance to be the first to drive it on public roads.
For two decades, you have almost certainly seen the name Ken Okuyama in car magazines. Born and raised in Japan, this car designer heavyweight stacked up stints at Honda, General Motors, Porsche and Pininfarina – designing models such as the Ferrari Enzo and Maserati Quattroporte - before creating his own design studio in Japan in 2006.
In great demand at home and abroad, Okuyama designs boats, furniture, teapots, eyewear, motorcycles, tractors, and even the latest version of the 186-mph Shinkansen bullet train. But one of his greatest passions is cars, the latest of which is his Kode 9 (Ken Okuyama Design, 9th edition), which was first revealed at the Tokyo Motor Show late last year.
To Okuyama, the Kode 9 is more than a show car. It's a high-performance sports car that's ready for the road.
We'd seen this one-off (only one car exists at the moment) in a photo studio and then on stage at the Tokyo Motor Show. But when poised in front of us for the first time on a public road, it looked capable and ready to be challenged.
Part race car, part sports car, the Kode 9 is a coupe that employs stunning proportions. "Its lines are inspired by classics from the '60s and '70s like the Porsche 917 and 908, and the Dino 206," Okuyama says. Hang on, Okuyama-san, did you forget to mention the D-Type? Because the Kode 9's bulging flared fenders and that huge tailfin are more than reminiscent of a 1950s Jaguar D-Type race car.
Whatever his inspiration, Okuyama is making a statement. The coupe boasts significant road presence, and -- as we soon found out on the road -- demands attention from passersby. "This design is my message to today's car industry, which seems stuck in a rut of overly complicated lines and styling based on the lowest common denominator," he says with a grin. We can't argue with that.
What we see here is a bold car that cleverly marries the best of 20th century automotive design with 21st century technology.
This street-legal clubman coupe incorporates the central section of a hydro-aluminum chassis from a Lotus Elise, but with front and rear chassis sections unique to this car. Tipping the scales at just 1962 pounds, the Kode 9 incorporates fiber-reinforced plastic body panels and carbon-fiber components developed in-house, manufacturing technology using the latest 3-D printers, Yamazaki Mazak's precision CNC cutting technology, and the latest aerodynamic trends.
Squeezing into the tight cockpit, I notice that my 6-foot-2 frame is at the limit of the seat's proportions. With the wide side pontoons to climb over, the cockpit feels like a racecar's. I can just operate the clutch without smashing my knee on the steering wheel. And with the exposed carbon-fiber dashboard and polished aluminum switches and gear knob, combined with stitched red leather seats and an Alcantara upper dash, the cockpit smells and feels like a supercar like the Pagani Zonda. It's gorgeous in here, as if inspired by an expensive wristwatch, which it was. Okuyama has a soft spot for TAG Heuer watches and closer inspection of the instrument binnacle reveals some definite styling influences from the Swiss watchmaker.
Pushing the start button, I fire up the 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder V-TEC engine sourced from a Honda Integra. Its raspy, throaty exhaust note is addictive just a few inches behind my left ear. The Kode 9 packs a bolt-on HKS supercharger and an intercooler the size of a small suitcase, additions that boost power to 350 hp at 8000 rpm.
Flicking the notchy six-speed manual gearbox into first, we ease out in traffic, making a mental note that the rearview mirror is in fact a miniature TV screen displaying the view of a camera mounted in the tailfin.
Extending my right boot and pushing it up to 5000 rpm, the Kode 9 sprints off the line with an audible whoosh from the supercharger. This thing is quick and throttle response is instantaneous. It accelerates with almost no tail squat and brakes hard with minimal nosedive, thanks in part to four-piston Akebono brake calipers. Unfortunately, traffic conditions during our brief drive did not allow us to take it beyond 5000 rpm, although it redlines at 8400.
This coupe turns in superbly with plenty of weight in the steering, corners flat and fast with no body roll, and stops on a dime. We'd expect nothing less given its Lotus chassis. But with a pillow ball setup fitted to the four-wheel double-wishbone suspension, you'd be forgiven for thinking the ride quality might be twitchy and harsh. It's not. The Kode 9 corners like it's on rails and rides with the poise and subtlety of a Mazda Miata. Its refinement really stands out. The Kode 9 is a concept car that's just come straight off the Tokyo Motor Show stand, and yet it's ready for production.
Prices are not fixed yet but Okuyama says the entry-level 1.6 liter will cost around $120,000 (U.S.), the supercharged 1.8 liter roughly $190,000 and the flagship 350-hp supercharged 2.0 liter $240,000. In the world of exotic hand-built sports cars, that’s pretty much par for the course.
"The beauty of this car is that we can drop just about any powerplant we want into that engine bay," says Okuyama. "In addition to the Honda engine, we also plan to offer a supercharged Toyota 1.8-liter that currently powers the Lotus as well as a naturally aspirated Toyota 1.6-liter. We also have options to fit BMW and Ford Cosworth engines, but that will come a little later."
With buyers in the UK, Monaco, and Holland already showing interest, Okuyama plans to start taking orders in April for the 20 or so cars he plans to build in 2015.