Akio Toyoda, president of his great-grandfather's loom-manufacturing company -- now a bit more involved with automobiles than with weaving machines -- went on record a while back as being determined to inject some pizzazz into his firm's products, although he didn't use that precise term. For a very long time, most Toyota cars have been real snoozers, albeit paragons of practicality, reliability, and longevity. Apparently, this Detroit show car is what Akio-san had in mind as "more exciting" design for a mainstream money-spinner.
I looked long and hard at the Corolla Furia concept slowly revolving in the back corner of the Toyota stand at Detroit and somehow managed not to get too excited. In fact, the more I looked, the more I was disappointed by its extremely conventional central section and its overworked ends. From the base of the faster-than-usual windshield to the bottom of the backlight, it is almost aggressively conventional. True, there are some overworked convolutions along the doorsills, and there is more bas-relief in the side surfaces than is usual for Japanese cars, with the rear doors in particular embracing plenty of negative surfaces both above and below the peak that separates the two body colors. But it's still ordinary, and altogether its proportions are weak.
One immediately sees that the passenger compartment is generously dimensioned, which is of course very good for a family car and something that was celebrated on the original Austin Se7en [sic] and Morris Mini-Minor twins back in 1959, when the British Motor Corporation proudly showed that 80 percent of its ten-foot length was useful passenger and luggage space. But if the bricklike Minis were quite attractive in their mostly unstyled state, this Corolla comes across as overdone, with too much undisciplined sculpting going on in too little space. The front wheels are right back to nearly touch the forward door cut, and there's too much front overhang, emphasized by the cutaway corners.
The Furia's best aspect is the dead-on front view, where its chrome trim strip separates the hood from the front end. It's rather like the 1960 Corvair that so influenced popular car styling in the 1960s; at least eight makes from seven countries recapitulated the look, although as usual none of the copies were as good as the original.
We don't know what the interior will be like, as the car shown in Cobo Center had blacked-out windows, suggesting that it was just a styling model, not a real car. The Furia would very quickly become tiresome to look at if Toyota were to produce it as is. However, if it were to be too toned down, it would be back to the Toyota look of old: OK but boring and forgettable. It's not easy for a leopard to change its spots, even if the Big Boss says he wants it to.
FRONT 3/4 VIEW
1 C-pillar on this notchback roof is conventional, but the backlight is sufficiently sloped to improve aerodynamics.
2 This tight radius runs forward through the door handles to die out in the front fender, where it swells to meet the black perimeter band around the wheel opening.
3 Sharply inclined windshield is set into the A-pillars, a negative plane that continues to the forward edge of the backlight.
4 Crisp centerline surface break provides a bit of directionality and visual thrust.
5 Notice the sharp change between the bumper strike face and the buttress that continues into the body. The grille below has simple, flat horizontal bars -- quite elegant.
6 Rather strange hanging blade hides the indent where the triangular running light is placed.
7 Black perimeter of the wheel opening is rather horseshoelike and not very attractive in its isolation from the rest of the painted side surfaces.
8 Two deep concavities, one in the painted rear-door surface and one under the color break on the front door, simply make the sides of the car unnecessarily busy and cut visual length.
9 Wheels without a clearly defined circle often appeal to design students but tend to look like cartoon insect legs. Let's hope they never make production.
REAR 3/4 VIEW
10 Side windows are a little skimpy in height. This is partly because of styling trends, partly because glass is heavy and the chopped-top look saves weight -- and fuel.
11 The slight rise at the bottom of the fixed quarter glass is sufficiently different to be interesting.
12 Black spoiler is presumably functional but is definitely there as a styling feature and to suggest a sporting quality to the car.
13 The lift-over height of the trunk opening seems a bit high and narrow for a family car, and the shelf below it is a place where snow will collect in winter.
14 Another sporting affectation, this "diffuser" is definitely a styling trick.
15 Yet another band, like those around the outside of the frontal opening and around the wheels, seems to be present for no particular reason.
16 The sharp edge is curious. In profile it looks like the tail of a 1940s Indy racer, leaving very flat sides and the hint of a separate rear fender. It intersects with the taillight and side crease at a sharp point, breaking all three lines.
17 This severe undercut would seem to make the rear doors very susceptible to curb and shopping-cart damage.
18 Dangling painted area helps frame the front wheel but to no advantage, visually shortening the car's overall length. Strange, at best.
19 Nicely shaped creases separate convex surfaces outboard, concave surface inboard.
20 This chrome perimeter strip widens as it spreads from central Toyota emblem, interestingly three-dimensional here.
21 Triangular running light is set into a negative surface on the sharply cutaway front end.
22 Bumper strike face is quite narrow, but its ends spread out from a crease that delineates front and side aspects of the considerable black area.