When you think of Toyota’s current lineup, the first word that comes to mind is “excitement,” right? No? Well, you’d be forgiven for missing any sign of life it its current offerings (though if there’s a pulse anywhere, it’s probably in its truck lineup). The Prius still has the hybrid segment locked down, and the Rav4, Corolla, and Camry are consistently among the 10 best-selling vehicles in America from month to month. But the brand’s safe, unobtrusive image is beginning to turn off some potential buyers, and competitive offerings from Mazda and Honda make the Toyota’s offerings seem that much dowdier.
Try as it might with its new, more aggressive styling, the company can’t hide the fact that it wants to be all things to as many people as possible, and at the end of the day, performance and excitement don’t shift near as many cars as practicality and reliability. Barring some massive sea change, that alone will always keep Toyota near the top of the sales list. But it presents a spiritual problem for the company too. Every automaker needs a performance brand to attract, and despite the sublime (and criminally ignored) Lexus LF-A of a few years back, Toyota has had a sports car-shaped hole in its lineup since the plucky MR2 roadster disappeared after 2007.
But that all might change soon; the company has been working with BMW to create a sports car based on the stunning FT-1 concept (above), and at this month’s Tokyo Motor Show, Toyota will unveil three new concepts that could point to a much sportier future for Toyota.
The first of these concepts (and the most realistic) is the S-FR concept, which Car and Driver says actually is headed for production, though there’s no word on whether it would be coming stateside. We really hope it does – the sprightly yellow coupe is six inches longer than the Mazda Miata, is front-mid engined, rear-wheel drive, and would slot below the Toyota GT86 (or as we know it, Subaru BRZ/Scion FR-S). With FR-S/BRZ sales sagging, Miata has been the clear leader in the affordable sports car market since the MR2’s exit eight years ago. But with Fiat’s upcoming (Mazda engineered) 124 Spyder on its way, now might be the perfect time for Toyota to reenter the fray before it gets too crowded.
Outside, the S-FR clearly takes inspiration from the Toyota Sports 800 of 1965-’69, an affordable two cylinder kei car that was like a baby 2000GT. But don’t worry, the S-FR has twice the cylinders of its predecessor. It draws its power from a 130 horsepower 1.5 liter four, which should be more than enough to keep the 2,160 pound sportster exciting.
While the S-FR looks like a joy to drive, the Kikai (pictured above), looks like Toyota’s love letter to the automobile. According to Toyota, the Kikai is “a concept that encourages us to appreciate the beauty of machines,” something that it pulls off in spades. Refreshingly unpretentious; flowing body panels and gee-whiz gadgets are replaced by a simple aluminum body, exposed mechanicals, and windows in the front firewall to watch said mechanicals to their thing. Seating is McLaren F1-style: two seats in back with the steering wheel mounted proudly in the center of the cockpit.
As counterpoint to the Kikai’s minimalism, the FCV Plus is a hydrogen-powered concept that we imagine Toyota’s designers wanted the Mirai to look like if the company’s bean counters hadn’t been in the picture. While it fits in with the current concept car zeitgeist, the side strakes, jet-like intakes, bubble top canopy and rotary-shaped wheels on the FCV Plus are almost like an amalgam of every avant-garde concept car from the past 60 years. Imagining a world where hydrogen has its place alongside electricity at the pumps, the FCV Plus can be plugged in, to share “…its power generation capabilities with communities as part of the local infrastructure.” Whereas the Mirai is conflicted and incoherent in the styling department, the FCV Plus does it right. If this is the face of hydrogen powered cars, we’re intrigued.
So is this the beginning of a new chapter in Toyota’s history? It may be too early to tell, but when an automaker unveils a host of exciting concepts, good things usually happen.
Like classics? It’s always Throwback Thursday somewhere.
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