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.
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?
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.
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…
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.