From Within Outside Turns Upside Down

It’s Tokyo Motor Show Time again. There is so much to discuss. Recently we politely drew your attention to the new Toyota Century. Crouched at the other end of the spectrum from that is the Fine Comfort Ride concept. It’s not real, it’s not petrol driven, it’s not very square at all. 

2017 Toyota Fine Comfort Ride: source

The powertrain of this Toyota sets up the framework for this concept car which has strong points and a major weak point. The fuel-cell arrangement allowed the designers to have another go at re-defining the luxury car: a flat floor, a short nose and a wheel at each corner so lots of room can be crammed inside. From a creative point of view, the freedom from the constraints of the RWD petrol-engined three-box saloon should mean a chance to be a bit daring. On first examination, I want to like this design. And in a way I do. It is daring though maybe doesn’t know what it wants to dare to be.

The most effective aspect of this car as a luxury “saloon” is the very formal, vertical rear, seen best in the photo below. The stubby bonnet flows into the body side, which one can take to be a symbolic reference to the long hoods of traditional saloons only compressed. The flow also works to make the car look a shade longer with the resultant rather lush play of light and shade. Is the colour the right one?

2017 Toyota Fine Comfort Ride: source

The matte plastic cladding on the sills achieves a similar aim regarding visual length, so despite the fact the vehicle is nearly a monospace, it also avoids looking taller than it need be.

2017 Toyota Fine Comfort Ride: source

At the rear we find more aero-sculpture: the undertray peeping out between the rear arches and the half-zagatos over the rear windscreen.

Questions marks float over the concept though. First, there is the matter of the articulation around the shoulder line (where body meets the side glass). As a concept car it can dodge boring matters of construction yet we do need to know if the vehicle is intended to suggest real design features. So, if those side windows open, how will that affect the waistline? The same question hangs around the back: does the rear screen/tailgate open? From the photos, one has grounds to doubt it. The interior points towards no boot space at all.

The design, as monospace, owes something to the Renault Espace – particularly the last iteration. The double A-pillar and glazing from the windscreen to sideglass are very reminiscent of the way Renault did it. Toyota are to be praised for the dropped line of the sideglass. Rear passengers are humans too and need a view out. The debt to Opel’s lovely Meriva Mk 2 needs to be acknowledged.

Another question smells like this: with a monospace it can be hard to signal luxury as the proportions are neutral. This could be a 4 metre car or a 5 metre car. If this design is make it to production in some form, Toyota will need to offer some punchier clues to scale and value. Left as it is, the car could very well be a waku-doki Picnic or Previa. I don’t want to say “brightwork” again so what else can Toyota do to underscore that this vehicle is a modern take on the luxury limousine?

At the start I mentioned the weak point. The problem is that it isn’t a matter of a bad line there or a strange detail here, but the entire interior of the car…

2017 Toyota Fine Comfort Ride interior: source

Toyota’s designers, like many others, are evidently having a tough time trying to develop interiors for what will very likely be semi- externally controlled or fully externally-controlled cars. The door skins are almost featureless and the seating is – if taken from the car – verging on the administrative. It’s office furniture for the mid-21st century firm on a space mission. I really have strong reservations about the forms too, in context. This isn’t an interior that says “fine comfort” – it’s actually rather hard and, due to the sheen, is slippery looking.

The blue lighting creates reflections which suggest an acoustically reflective interior as well as a visually reflective interior. This interior could have been a study in soft-feeling advanced fabrics and inviting furniture forms. Instead it’s little more than a very well-resolved proposal for a science fiction vehicle cabin. The choice of a fabric instead of leatherette and the use of carpet might easily have neutralised the chairs’ shapes. Ahead of the luckless passengers is another Zaha Hadid dashboard crossed with some themes from MC Escher.

On the outside, the Fine Comfort Ride makes a bold claim: to re-imagine the luxury saloon. It is a decent proposal for some form of family monospace, that’s true. Closer inspection shows that Toyota couldn’t really decide if the car was actually modern luxury or another effort to make externally controlled cars look appetising.


Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

10 thoughts on “From Within Outside Turns Upside Down”

  1. It’s a reworked TJ. Toyota have a pic of how the doors open (but, as you say, not the hatch), and front access is very poor.
    The seats’ “puddle lights” are daft. Yes, more like an office pretending to be a sitting room. Do those light-blue devices in the armrests dispense drinking water/gin/pastis/whatever?
    The dogs want a bench at the back, sculpted if you like, but freedom to find their own relaxing spot.
    There is plenty of boot space behind the passenger seats.
    Safety approval for fuel cells (if hydrogen) is some way off.

    But then I don’t really know what an “externally controlled” car is. Is it where Gran sends it to do the shopping/collect the wheelchair, or some China-style state moves all traffic according to to a fixed algorhythm to avoid jams?
    And why would such a car need a steering device or dashboard?

    There’s a decent-looking Volvo Polestar long-range 2+2 EV we could look at.

  2. Richard,

    thank you very much for this most poignant analysis! Now, what do you make of those sublimely elegant Mazdas and that charming Honda?

    1. You may be unsurprised to know that I’m in a trance over the two Mazda concepts and the two Honda EVs (the Urban having already attracted eulogies from a number of us here). The Mazda that seems to hint at the next 3 is truly a tease. I can’t see how they make that C-pillar work in production as the rear visibility for the driver and view out for the rear passengers would be terrible – even worse than the current car – but it does rather define the concept, and there is something deeply alluring about the way it has been executed. The 4-door coupé thing is gorgeous – if the next 6 can carry much of that panache into production then Mazda will have a crowd-stopper on its hands. The Honda coupé has real, heart-melting appeal, they just have to protect it as a design as it is transferred into production. Add in those new Daihatsu models featured previously and it’s beyond doubt that Japan has returned to form and is leading global car dealers design at the moment.

  3. Great analysis Richard. I have to confess I looked at the pictures before reading the article and I thought it was a high end people carrier in the Alphard mould. Then I thought of the Avantime. Then I read the piece. It’s not really a runner is it?

  4. When I look at this vehicle what I see is a post-millennium stagecoach. It would almost make more sense with a half dozen horses up front. Mind you, since the modern SUV is essentially a modern interpretation of the horse-drawn carriage, I suppose why not? As ever – the Japanese – ahead of the curve.

  5. I’ve seen this vehicle or something close to it before. Let me think. Mm .. oh yes. It was on Zoltan, you know that planet in the Rigel system. The wife and I were on a 19 day package tour booked through Star Trek Enterprises Inc, all drinks included, when we saw this kerb jumper, actually more likely two generations previous. Good to see they’ve cleaned it up a bit with the Prius Prime furrow in the rear roof, though the Prime does it in the glass being a hatchback. And the Softex pleather interior! Wow! What will they think of next? Make that stuff even shinier? As for the overall styling, the S.O. believes they still haven’t cleaned out the natural LSD in the water at Toyoda City, or is that Toyota City? Nobody can remember! Ha ha.

    It amply answers the question, if we could design a vehicle that absolutely nobody is interested in and gave it semi-spats to ground first and protect the wheels, what would it look like? A hi-tech beached whale with squared-off hindquarters and a pug nose. Oh and blue interior lighting for that cosy wosy warmth.

    Wake me up when the nightmare is over.

    1. Bill: you’ve put your finger on what is wrong with the interior. It is so “near future” space-ship and also reminiscent of a European wine bar (I adore central Europe but no-one’s perfect and when bad taste strikes a Mitteleuropean wine bar it looks like this car’s inner room). The colours and shininess don’t invite one in to the car and such restrictive office chairs make a mockery of the space around them.
      On the other side of the ledger, the exterior synthesises some good ideas into something new enough and all the features Bill spots make the car much more interesting than another big saloon.
      (Did anyone say Mazda Elegance?). Toyota need to make their concept a bit more high-value on the outside and hire me as their interior creative director.

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