Japanese automakers are all bringing their A games to their home auto show this year, and Toyota is an early favorite for an unofficial "best in show" award. It will premiere three all-new concepts at the Tokyo Motor Show later this month, and each is pretty radical in its own way. There's a compact, entry level sports car, a futuristic fuel cell commuter and a retro cruiser with open mechanicals.
We were already getting pretty excited about the Tokyo show based on the sneak previews we'd seen from Suzuki, Nissan and Subaru, and Toyota has really ratcheted that excitement up to a higher level. This should prove to be one of the most interesting shows of the year in terms of concept cars.
S-FR sports car
The car we're most excited about, and the one that could conceivably be approved for production, the S-FR is a look at an FR-S baby brother, something that's been rumored for quite some time. The quick flip of an S from the Scion FR-S, which stands for "Front-engine, RWD, Sport," doesn't seem to tell us much on its own because "Sport, Front-engine, RWD" is really the exact same thing. However, if we take that S to mean "small," it's much more insightful.
Toyota describes the S-FR as an entry level model, and with an overall length of 157 in (3,990 mm), it's close to 10 inches shorter than the Scion FR-S (166.7 in/4,234 mm). The S-FR has 3.2 inches (81 mm) less width at 66.7 in (1,695 mm) but stands 1.4 inches (36 mm) higher at 52 in (1,320 mm). Its wheelbase is set at 97.6 in (2,780 mm) versus 101.2 (2,570 mm) on the FR-S.
Believe it or not, while the S-FR body looks like it could only possibly hold two seats inside, this is actually a 2+2. We're pretty sure most people older than 8 would never want to squeeze into those rear two seats, but they could come in handy for shopping bags and the like.
Toyota hasn't yet revealed the power plant under the curvy hood, but it does explain that the car was designed for smooth, responsive handling and superior man-machine connection. Its front-mid engine position helps to optimize weight distribution, which sharpens cornering capabilities with help from the independent suspension. The six-speed manual transmission only enhances the driver's fun.
Even if it wasn't neon yellow, the S-FR is the type of concept that catches the eye, no matter how many other cars surround it in an auto show hall. It has a simple, curvaceous style that recalls classic Japanese sports car designs like the Datsun 240Z and, more importantly Toyota's first sports car – the Sports 800. We think Toyota's done a good job of creating design that's simple, distinct and sporty, but the concept's look has been polarizing based on some of the early comments we've read. The styling may not attract a whole lot of buyers on its own, but we'd say it's strong enough that it wouldn't deter young, enthusiastic drivers looking for a fun, affordable sports car.
Toyota describes the S-FR as a continuation of its lightweight sports car design heritage and envisions it as a product that could "make a whole new generation fall in love with driving." It sure sounds like this car could make the trip to production, where it would take on the Honda S660. Toyota hasn't confirmed it publicly yet, but Car and Driver is already talking about a potential late-2016 production start. Here's to hoping!
The other two cars on Toyota's Tokyo world premiere slate fall on the opposite end of the "production likelihood" scale. The Kikai concept car reminds us a little of a grown-up version of Toyota's ongoing Camatte toy car project. While the various Camatte models were designed to give children an appreciation for and understanding of the automobile, the Kikai does the same for adults. Its body work has been peeled away to reveal the inner parts at work, including the mid-mounted engine, fuel tank and suspension hardware.
"The concept was designed to explore and emphasize the fundamental appeal of machines: their fine craftsmanship, their beauty, simplicity, and their fascinating motion," Toyota explains. "It reminds us of the appeal of the physical and tactile in a digital age.”
The three-seat Kikai interior features window panels set near the feet of the centrally situated driver. These windows reveal the rush of the road below, as well as working parts like the tires and suspension, inviting the driver to develop a closer connection with his car and the road. Hopefully, that hypothetical driver will still pay attention to the big window at eye level, though.
FCV Plus fuel cell car + portable generator
Just under a year after launching the Mirai fuel cell vehicle, Toyota has skipped a few years ahead with its vision for a future-generation AWD fuel cell vehicle. The FCV Plus is driven by four in-wheel electric motors powered by the fuel cell stack mounted between the front wheels. That stack is fed by compressed hydrogen in a rear-mounted tank. Toyota envisions the car also capable of being hooked up to an external hydrogen source so it can feed electricity into the home and community grid when it's not out on the road.