Toyota is looking for a gap in the small SUV segment.
Based on the underpinnings of the C-HR small SUV, the FT-4X amps up the off-road ability and chunky design with an FJ Cruiser-inspired look, right down to the nose that eschews the Toyota stylised badge for one that spells out the brand across the badge.
Created following weeks of interviews with “outdoorsy millennials” from the San Francisco Bay area, the FT-4X has low-range gearing and a mechanical four-wheel drive system (instead of the city focused part-time systems used in most SUVs), an indication it has some LandCruiser genes.
Not that Toyota is pitching the FT-4X – which denotes “future Toyota four-wheel drive” – as a proper off-roader.
Kevin Hunter is the boss of Toyota’s Californian design studio, Calty, and says the FT-4X is about unlocking new space in the SUV segment, a segment that now accounts for more sales than traditional passenger cars.
“We think it can do a lot and there’s a great spot for this in the market,” said Hunter. “We identified these millennials as casual users; they’re not interested in doing that [off-road] crazy stuff. This is perfect for them.
“[FT-4X] symbolises a new type of adventure vehicle for young urbanites, one that is compact enough to navigate around the city but capable of escaping into the wild at a moment’s notice, anytime, anywhere, always ready.”
Hunter said it wasn’t about going everywhere a LandCruiser could but that it would go further than other small SUVs, many of which only drive the front wheels.
“They [millennials] share the same desire to get away and explore, but their needs and appetites are less hard core and more of what we like to call casual core.
“In generations past, base camp symbolised the beginning of a journey but today for many millennials base camp has become the destination.
Hunter said the FT-4X wasn’t just about looking good but also being functional and ready for younger buyers, many of whom often had different requirements for a car.
“We talked to future customers of this car … they want to take gear with them but they don’t like to plan … they want to be very spontaneous.”
The FT-4X has water bottles built into the doors, a North Face sleeping bag that doubles as a centre arm rest and a GoPro camera built into the exterior mirror to capture the adventure.
The tailgate is also a work of art, able to open vertically or horizontally and incorporating heated and cooled drinks areas.
The boot has a sliding floor that doubles as a table or bench seat as well as wet gear storage underneath.
Instead of a traditional infotainment screen Toyota added a mobile phone mount and plans to allow third party app developers to create software tailored to the car and driving generally.
The car is purely a concept for now, but Toyota is clearly keen to bring it to showrooms, even outlining that it has Macpherson strut front suspension and double wishbone rear-end and a four-cylinder turbo, likely a version of the 1.2-litre in the C-HR.
Hunter said producing the FT-4X is “doable”.
“It depends on the reaction,” he said of the concept. “We designed it to be built on the C platform. We’re optimistic, maybe someday.”
And Calty design studio chief Ian Cartabiano reinforced it was realistic for production.
“Our production engineering has really stepped up its game … if we could make C-HR we could make this thing.”
By Toby Hagon Apr 13, 2017