The Toyota FT-Se Concept that debuted at the Japan Mobility Show recently probably isn’t going to be the MR2 successor everyone has been hoping it would be. But there is reason to believe it actually might evolve into a production model you may someday drive.
Still, it’s always smart to remain cautious when dealing with concept vehicles. Manufacturers often preview cars that are little more than design exercises that hype up the public into believing that their favorite model from the past is about to reemerge as a modern automobile.
Mazda has been doing this for years with would-be RX successors. Some gorgeous long-nosed concept design will debut, the company will announce that it’s a rotary-powered sports car, and then we’ll never see it again. It’s clearly supposed to be suggestive of the brand’s most iconic model (sorry MX-5) and hint that the company hasn’t given up on rotary engines. But there’s never an RX-9 slated for production, nor a revived RX-7 that taps into modern technologies.
With the above representing a singular example of what has become an industry cliche, one could be forgiven for thinking the Toyota FT-Se Concept would suffer a similar fate. However, InsideEVs is reporting that may not be the case.
Hideaki Iida, the project manager for the Gazoo Racing (GR) Design Group and designer of the FT-Se, has informed the outlet that his concept utilizes some of the same hardware as the Lexus LF-ZC that’s already been confirmed for production. The LF-ZC will reportedly be toned down from the wild designs we’ve seen on the concept to be re-imagined as a hatchback sized roughly the same as the current Lexus IS.
While sharing a battery pack and a few other components with a vehicle that’s slated from production isn’t enough to guarantee the Toyota FT-Se going on sale, it’s a good sign and further bolstered by statements from Iida.
“We’re going to release the Lexus model in 2026 and this one afterward,” he said. “We can’t guarantee the year itself, but as soon as possible. After 2026 is what I can tell you.”
The assumption among enthusiasts has been that the FT-Se will either be rebranded as the returning MR2 or serve as that vehicle’s spiritual successor. But it doesn’t actually seem to have much in common with that vehicle beyond being a coupe with room for two. A modernized MR2 would presumably be smaller, simpler, and more practical.
When Toyota first previewed the MR2 in 1981 as the SA-X Prototype, the whole point was to offer customers a car that was incredibly engaging to drive while also being cheap to own. Being small in size meant the coupe could make the most out of the tiny, mid-mounted engines Toyota was throwing inside.
The recipe would presumably be different for the FT-Se. Toyota appears to be targeting higher performance benchmarks with the EV and is using a platform that will presumably be less of a steal than the old MR2. An argument could be made that electrification could be used to help keep the car cheap to operate. But it’s probably not going to result in something that’s not all that affordable from the dealership.
In 1992, the MR2 retailed for $10,900 whereas a base Toyota Camry Deluxe Sedan started at $16,700. Today’s Camry starts at $26,420 and there’s no way the all-electric FT-Se is going to cost less than that unless you’re negotiating the deal at gunpoint.
This would be an outrage if Toyota actually saw the FT-Se as an MR2 successor. But that seems to have been projected on the concept by enthusiasts and automotive publications desperate for exciting vehicles that won’t break the bank. Toyota already has the GR86 filling the affordable sports car slot and clearly wants to do something different with the FT-Se.
Iida basically confirmed this by discouraging any suggestions that the concept is related in any way to the MR2. “This is a brand-new design language to show this is a new brand,” he said, not something that should be considered “traditional” for Toyota.
This is very evident. It’s an incredibly modern design, more reminiscent of today’s supercars than anything Toyota sells currently. There’s not much from the automaker’s past to draw connections from and the only current product that even gets close is the Supra and its bubble-top cabin.
Alright, so it’s not an MR2. But what are the odds of this actually turning into a production sports car?
Seemingly decent. In addition to the mechanically related Lexus LF-ZC being confirmed for production, Toyota has also stated that its GR performance division would soon be getting an all-electric vehicle. The FT-Se Concept seems like the obvious candidate and already has some GR-branded seats.
The car also looks far more finished than something that’s a strict design concept. It boasts a complete interior, the lights are all functional, and it’s polished to a point where you could be tricked into believing it’s already a production vehicle. But its guts are a big mystery. We know it’ll be battery-electric, with claims that it’ll be targeting the Porsche 718 in terms of performance benchmarks. However, that’s about all we know.
Considering Toyota’s general hesitancy to embrace pure EVs, it’s probably wise not to assume anything at this juncture. Though the company has clearly given the FT-Se Concept a little more love than a throwaway show car and it seems better poised than anything else to become a GR-badged performance electric.
Regardless of the above, don’t anticipate hearing much about it for the rest of this year and maybe even not through 2024. If Toyota is serious about bringing this thing to market, we probably won’t get any confirmation until the company is certain there will be a launch. Iida said that wouldn’t be on the table until “after 2026” and that’s far enough away for everyone to pretend the car never existed if development plans fall through.
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