Check Out Toyota's Bronco-Battling New Concept SUV

The future is now.
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The future is now.
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It looks like Toyota will take a second crack at the emerging fashion SUV market, with the FT-4X concept displayed at the New York International Auto Show previewing a potential challenger for vehicles like Ford's revived Bronco and the Range Rover Evoque.

Toyota grabbed for the nostalgia buyer with the 2006-2014 FJ Cruiser, but that model never really captured buyers imaginations the way the company hoped.

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Similarly, Honda's boxy Element boasted unique styling and interesting features, but suffered similarly slow sales, and was discontinued.

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The FT-4X concept was clearly built with production feasibility in mind, so the company is closely gauging consumer reaction to the concept to see whether this vehicle might perform better in showrooms than the FJ Cruiser did.

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"It is produceable," acknowledged Toyota's Calty design studio chief, Ian Cartabiano, who oversaw the FT-4X's development. "Toyota has a pretty awesome track record of turning projects into reality when the concept is good," he told Maxim in an interview at the auto show.

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One critical difference between the FJ Cruiser and the FT-4X concept is that the old production model was built with rear-hinged, center-opening rear doors. Such so-called suicide doors are darlings of concept designers because they swing open wide to reveal the cabin inside.

But in the FJ Cruiser and Honda's Element, the front doors latched to the rear doors, so the rear doors couldn't be opened without first opening the fronts. Worse, latching two hinged doors together, without anchoring them to a solid pillar, is a recipe for rattles and flimsy-feeling door "flutter" when the driver pulls the door closed.

The FT-4X is only a concept, but even it has more driver friendly conventional front and rear doors, which is a sign of Toyota's seriousness in aiming to making a potential second effort successful where the FJ Cruiser failed.

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While this concept does have all-wheel drive, and its chunky outdoor equipment-inspired styling is a tribute to the rugged early Land Cruisers, the FT-4X is intended to be an urban-based "soft roader" in the tradition of models like the Range Rover Evoque and Jeep Renegade.

These are machines meant to dwell in urban environments Monday through Friday, while provide an escape mechanism for weekends. "It is to get them where they want to go, on spur-of-the-moment, impromptu getaways," Cartabiano stated.

"This is not a Moab rock crawler," he said, referring to the Utah off-road mecca where hard core off-roaders take their modified SUVs and trucks for serious workouts. Toyota has other models that are suitable for those duties, Cartabiano insists, and a production version of the FT-4X would instead let owners go places like the trails in California's Joshua Tree National Park where the park service requires four-wheel drive, though the conditions aren't terribly difficult.

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While the rear doors are conventional on the FT-4X, the concept does feature interesting new thinking on the design of the rear hatch. That door can open side-hinged halves of the door that swing open in the small space typically available for parallel parked cars that live on city streets. 

But twisting the hatch's handle the opposite direction instead releases a bottom latch that lets the hatch flip upward, giving occupants the ability to sit on the slide-out tailgate with overhead protection from the elements.

Off-road traditionalists will not be interested in this vehicle, which will surely disappoint them because of its styling. But everyday city drivers will find a vehicle that suits urban use and helps them get to the great outdoors when they are able to go.

Toyota will base its go/no go decision based on customer response to the FT-4X concept, so if this looks like your next ride, it is time to let them know.