As concept cars go, the Toyota FT-1 concept made a good case for star of the show at the Detroit Motor Show 2014. And if you’re gutted that you never actually get to go up close and personal with these types of concepts, then here's a little treat - because you can already "drive" the FT-1 as part of a special download made available for PlayStation racer Gran Turismo 6 (GT6).
Car makers aren’t always known for being particularly responsive, but from our discussions with various makers it seems apparent that they are becoming increasingly worried that a generation of people are more interested in phones and video games, than cars. That’s part of the reason why we’ve seen manufacturers like Mercedes-Benz with its Vision GT Concept and now Toyota, creating concepts specifically for racing games.
And there’ll be more to come. In Detroit, Nissan’s global design chief told us his company was developing something unique for GT6 too. And we've already seen bonkers looking cars such as the BladeGlider.
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However, while the Mercedes concept did seem to be a true one-off for the game, the Toyota has other reasons for existence. It shows Toyota’s desire to build exciting sports cars again and, perhaps if you squint your eyes heavily, gives us some hint at a new generation Supra - a famous Toyota name plate that’s been dormant since the 90s.
On the Detroit show stand the FT-1 looked a diminutive thing. Certainly striking, but smaller than it appears even in photos. Its overall proportions and the form reminded us to some extent of the TVR Sagaris. A shame that company no longer makes cars. Whether or not you like the aesthetic, it’s hard to argue with the fact that a brand like Toyota - known for its beige saloons and eco-friendly Prius - is conjuring up things as exciting as this.
It’s a concept of course, so talk of its powertrain is largely academic, but as Toyota pointed out to us during our hands-on session, the FT-1's proportion clearly suggests a front-engine, rear-wheel drive layout if it does make road production. One thing that is perhaps a little strange, though, is that this concept was apparently developed independently of the joint venture Toyota has with BMW to develop future hybrid, rear-wheel drive sports cars. Yes that’s right, Toyota says the FT-1 is not a hybrid, which is a surprise given the company’s history and expertise in this area.
Visually there’s a lot to get your head around. A huge McLaren/Bugatti like rear-wing, an F1-like central nose section, flanked by two gaping apertures which, in a cool bit of retro detailing, you could see the fans within. There’s also the racing car signature, the double-bubble roof, and a giant Plexiglas see-through section on the bonnet to look in upon the (non-existent) engine within. Like a Ferrari, but just at the other end of the car.
All manner of scoops and winglets signal the FT-1’s racing intent, but if you’re looking for true futurama, you need to step inside where the cockpit feels genuinely different. The steering wheel, just like contemporary Ferraris, takes its lead from F1 cars, with a pair of paddle shifters attached, various adjustment buttons in its lower segment and a display read out in the very top section of the wheel rim.
Ahead of it, the stalks for things like the lights migrate onto the dashboard, and as the driver your attention is channelled to a centre section, where a portrait screen displaying the race track circuit, and a head-up display above it projects speed, revs and all the normal feedback info.
While your taste might have much to do with whether you actually love or loathe the FT-1, it’s exciting to see a brand like Toyota do something like this. The GT-86, which we love, showed the brand moving in the right direction and trying to engage with the emotional, driver-orientated customer. This is a preview of the next step. Not only is the company trying to excite young people in the brand, but suggesting that they’re seriously thinking about a powerful yet lightweight high performance coupe.
We doubt the FT-1 will make it into production, but however it turns out, as an idea it’s definitely something to get excited about. And to continue that excitement, go switch on that PS3 and fire up GT6 to get the closest experience you're likely to ever get.