by Steve Laser
With the Soarer (Lexus SC 430) firmly entrenched as the automaker's luxury sports flagship, Toyota aims to fill a void left by the departure of the Supra. More importantly, a weapon is needed to counter the salvos of the forthcoming Nissan 350 Z and Mazda RX-8.
Thus, the FXS (Future Experimental Sports) concept vehicle that premiered at the 35th Tokyo Motor Show presents a three-dimensional glimpse into the minds of Toyota's designers. What it proves is that the formerly conservative automaker is taking a new stance by fielding more aggressive and risky designs.
According to Shigeaki Sugawara, TMC project general manager, Tokyo Design Division, Sugawara Studio, the FXS sports car is conceived to be a purist's delight. "There is DNA from the '67 Toyota 2000GT, but the FXS has an individual style -- an original design that's simple and sexy," he says. "The package pushes the four wheels to the corners of the car and the center of gravity is as low as possible for very good stability."
The FXS eschews a cab-forward approach for a more traditional long hood/short deck look epitomized by the likes of the '68 Corvette, '63 Jaguar XKE and Toyota's own 2000GT. Viewed from above, the retro-inspired FXS also brings to mind Chevrolet's Corvair-powered Monza SS show car of the mid-'60s, as well as the Honda SSM concept first shown at the '95 Tokyo Motor Show.
The roadster is also vaguely reminiscent of Toyota's second- and third-generation Supras that sported a long hood. In the case of those bellwether models, the styling served a functional purpose to house bulky in-line 6-cylinder engine blocks. The FXS concept is very low and wide with a length of 4150 mm, width of 1870 mm and height of just 1100 mm. In an effort to leapfrog the V6 Nissan and Rotary powered RX-8, Toyota has selected a sophisticated V8 for the FXS.
From the side, the FXS silhouette brings to mind the Corvette with its bulging fenders and Coke bottle shape. The cut-down windshield and side glass are strictly for show, forcing the eyes to focus on the low beltline. At the front, a distinctive oval "grille" is flanked by thin vertical headlamps so in vogue on today's crop of concept vehicles. Together with the protruding spoiler and aggressively styled lower air intakes, some wags have dubbed the FXS as Toyota's "Batmobile."
Perhaps the most pleasant view of the FXS is from the rear, where a domed boot lid echoes the bulging design of the bonnet. A large FXS badge is positioned atop a simple wall-to-wall band of LED taillights. There is no provision for a top at this point, making one wonder how the design might be compromised if one were added. (For instance, when raised, the convertible top on the Chrysler Prowler creates a rearward visibility nightmare for the driver.)
Sugawara describes the interior theme for the FXS concept as "midnight blue." The deep bucket seats are trimmed with light blue leather bolsters while the centers of the seats wear a perforated suede-like material that has also been applied to the dashboard. To reinforce the idea of the FXS's extreme handling capabilities, racing-style four-point seatbelts are installed.
A small diameter, thick-rimmed two-spoke steering wheel is topped by a simple pod affair that houses all of the gauges and meters. A large, round analog-style tachometer surrounds a small digital speedometer. Fuel and temperature gauges are positioned beneath the central pod in smaller, half-mooned shaped clusters.
The center dash panel is a tall, sweeping affair with a touch of Art Deco style. Icons are visible for a compass, cellular phone and HVAC controls, yet this appears to be merely eye candy at this point. At the bottom of the center stack rests a large twist dial for the sequential transmission. Three selections are offered: "R," "N," and "D." There appears to be no provision for a parking brake, although a large red button suggests it may be electronically operated.
Under the hood resides Toyota's alloy-block 4.3-liter DOHC 32-valve V8 engine, borrowed from the Celsior (Lexus LS 430) and Soarer. The powerplant is mounted low in a front midship configuration in an effort to provide nearly ideal 50:50 weight balance. A low yaw moment of inertia and a low center of gravity creates the high performance and handling required of a sports car in this genre when pushed to the limits.
A newly developed 6-speed sequential manual transmission is another advancement for the FXS. A new design in-wheel double wishbone suspension reduces weight and is said to provide linear and agile handling.
The three-spoke 18" wheels have an unusual ribbed design that imparts a feeling of motion. It's a bit odd that the triangular-shaped wheel center caps bring to mind the rotors from the Mazda Rotary engine. Peeking out between the wheel spokes are massive four-wheel disc brake calipers, which have been painted red to attract the eye.
As an open roadster, the FXS is built with a very strong and rigid platform in an effort to minimize flex and cowl shake. Although no plans were mentioned during the show, the FXS could also serve as the basis for a forthcoming coupe, effectively replacing the Supra.
Toyota has billed the FXS as "a sports car catering to mature tastes, targeting adults with a deep interest in cars who believe that driving is one of life's great pleasures." In other words, this is Toyota's E-ticket ride for gear heads and enthusiasts who might otherwise gravitate to the forthcoming crop of competitive sports cars.
Toyota is coy about production plans stating that the FXS is only a styling exercise at this point. Yet it could very well signal the long rumored appearance of Toyota's 4500GT coupe and roadster a few years down the road.