FT-1 Concept, Toyota’s scarlet letter, bows in Detroit

Not long ago, it was considered an honour when a sports car was canonised in a video game. Lately, however, the cart has been placed before the virtual horse.

Toyota developed its FT-1 Concept for the sixth instalment in the Gran Turismo video game franchise, and rendered it real for audiences at the 2014 Detroit auto show on 13 January. Once known for producing durable, inexpensive machinery, and more recently for fanciful visions of future technology, Toyota is again courting the youth vote with a voluptuous concept that may evangelise better than its brand custodians ever could.

The directive from Toyota executives was to create “a sexy, halo sports car – period”, said Kevin Hunter, president of the brand’s Calty Design Research centre in southern California. Painted scarlet red with more than a hint of the Jason Castriota-designed Bertone Mantide concept of 2009, the front-engine, rear-wheel drive FT-1 is a long-awaited sign for Toyota that it still sees value in a halo sports car. The company’s last, the dearly departed Supra, left production in 2002.

A driver-oriented cockpit recalls the designs of recent Ferraris, replete with Ferrari Manettino-style steering wheel controls, and a digital dashboard display.

The FT-1 – “Future Toyota 1” – follows in the broad tire tracks of the Mercedes-Benz AMG Vision Gran Turismo concept car revealed at the 2013 Los Angeles auto show in November. Acura also released a virtual demonstration of its coming NSX for Gran Turismo 6, prior to an ever-extending striptease leading up to the car’s on-sale date.

In a debt of gratitude to gamers, the FT-1 will be available for download within Gran Turismo 6 starting 14 January.

The development of the FT-1 was marked by a “minimalist approach to form and function”, according to Alex Shen, Toyota’s North American Calty studio chief designer. Its very existence is an antidote to strong-selling but otherwise bland products such as the Camry and Corolla, in that it demonstrates Toyota can, when pushed, stir emotions.

Accompanying the vehicle’s introduction was a dearth of specifics regarding power underhood and anticipated on-road performance. For reference, the outgoing Supra featured a twin-turbocharged in-line six-cylinder engine, but given Toyota’s leadership in hybrid propulsion, it would not be inconceivable that the FT-1, were it to reach a road, would be a fuel miser.

For concepts rooted in the fantasy realm, however, details matter little. The very real story of Toyota’s dedication to exciting vehicles is the real story here.