|Toyota F3R Concept|
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The essential Toyota values of roominess, style and environmentally advanced performance come together in a dynamic new way in the F3R, the latest concept vehicle from Toyota. The surprising F3R, which made its debut at the North American International Automobile Show in Detroit, is an exercise in providing maximum space, efficiency and athletic style from the combined concepts of "box"and "wedge."It is a creative, sporty extension of a concept all but forgotten in today's automotive world - that of the minivan. The project was a joint undertaking of Calty Design Research Inc., Toyota's California design studio, and the company's California-based Advanced Product Strategy group. It was commissioned because of changes in the minivan market.
Starting with a simple, blue-sky request for a three-row concept vehicle, Ian Cartabiano, the Project Chief Designer for the vehicle's exterior, and Alan Schneider, Project Chief Designer for the F3R's interior, began readying sketches depicting an adaptable performance vehicle oriented toward a young family. The decision to explore the possibilities of three-row seating made sense. "It's the most practical package there is. It's useful and versatile. But it's most often associated with minivans, and there's a stigma associated with minivans,"said Cartabiano. "I think that today's young drivers see the minivan as the vehicle they were carted around in when they were kids. It's their parents' car. They don't want anything to do with one."
Cartabiano and Schneider began the project by listing positive attributes of the minivan. These included its space efficiency, versatility, roominess, handling, fuel efficiency and ride quality. "We wanted to keep those, but we wanted to add styling and image. We needed performance and aggressive, upscale styling to attract male buyers, young professional women and families," said Cartabiano. "So the challenge was to revitalize what a three-row vehicle could be. We needed to appeal to more people, with more functions for the lifestyles of buyers who are outside the definition of the usual minivan buyer. This vehicle needed to show the advantages of what three rows can do as a way of serving a market that's mostly being ignored," said Schneider.
To create that extension, the design team came up with three very modern looking sets of seats. Each is unique, composed of modern, metal-edged bottoms and asymmetrical backs whose symmetry is completed by semi-integrated headrests. They can provide roomy, comfortable seating for eight adult passengers. Up front, the driver's seat reclines and swivels, and the passenger seat reclines to form a comfortable chaise. In the middle, the right and center sections of the 40/20/40-percent second-row seats fold into the floor and the left-hand seat reclines fully to form, with the rearmost or third row, an avant-garde sofa built around the sort of conversation area you might find in an upscale home. This is surrounded by a casual, wrap-around backrest formed by the continuous, flowing curve of the instrument panel, doors and rear seatback panels. These are accented by fiber-optic lighting panels in the seat sides, and in the F3R's right-center grand entry, that can be lit to provide illumination during lounge chat sessions.
But there's more to do here than just chat. That's because Schneider equipped the F3R with two track-mounted flat-panel video screens. These allow the vehicle's occupants to enjoy movies or games whenever they want, and to do so in complete comfort, with control supplied by an audio/video/lighting remote unit that docks in the F3R's dash. But if the F3R is a living room away from home, it also offers a very comfortable and very useable motor-vehicle interior. Seating, in transport mode, is stadium-style, with each row just a little higher than the row in front of it to provide optimal passenger comfort and visibility. And it provides convenient three-door access on both sides to reflect adult-size space in all three rows.
To enhance the F3R's utility, its center-row seats stow individually, and the center seat in the middle row can be configured as a "front-and-center"child seat. Schneider took special care to design a unique three-tier instrument panel that is, like the interior itself, dual-mode. He explained, "The upper strip, right below the windshield, has two modes - one for driving and one for lounge. When driving, it has warning lights, the transmission shift indicator, a clock and some audio. When in lounge mode, it turns an ambient blue.
But that's not all. On the far right-hand side of this lower panel is the detachable remote-control module that can be taken into the F3R's lounge to control the audio and video systems and the lounge lighting. Schneider's design emphasizes environmentally sensitive materials, in keeping with the theme of environmental sensitivity suggested by the Hybrid Synergy Drive badging on the F3R. These materials include floor panels made from Ecoresin, a specially formulated resin that can be recycled; and a skin-friendly simulated leather seating material called Mythos that, unlike most plastics, does not produce the harmful chemical dioxin when it is burned.
Cartabiano's starting point for the F3R's exterior shape, meanwhile, featured a van that conveyed maximum volume, with a tall, wedged body shape that incorporated wide, dynamic shoulders, with its sporty 22-inch wheels and wide performance tires planted at the extreme boundaries of all four corners. What the team wound up with just might be one of the more unique and recognizable front-end treatments to be seen in a while. To get there, Cartabiano started with a front-three-quarter view so he could concentrate on a nose with sculpted, high-mounted headlamps, which help hide the front fascia's corners, and on its wedge profile.
With the basic shape of the F3R set in his mind, and with a front-end concept sketched, Cartabiano began thinking of the rest of the F3R's surfaces, using what he describes as "wet and dry surface taste." For the F3R's flanks, he chose a highly sculpted, flowing - or wet - shape, with fender flares smoothly integrated into the body. And for the nose and rear he went the opposite direction, choosing very clean lines and surfaces that are very simple - or, in designer-speak, dry. Then he applied some three-dimensional shaping to the beltline, or shoulder, to get the cabin inset, so that the lower body looks wider than the greenhouse, or upper cabin. And he came up with a rocker-panel section that incorporates what he calls a comet light-catch.
"From a conceptual point of view, this an extremely roomy vehicle in an intelligently sized exterior. It has more interior space than you normally would have," said Cartabiano. "That was done with a long wheelbase, which gives you more length inside. Moving those wheel wells out of the way is how we get the third-row row seating with a lot of legroom. And we needed headroom, so thanks to the wedge shape, the roof is higher, floor is angled and elevated to provide a better view from all the rows. Then there's the door arrangement, with three per side, allowing access to all three rows. This is much better than what you normally would have, and it creates more the sense of a personal and sporty vehicle." The result is that the F3R looks like a stylish performance vehicle. But the feeling inside is very airy and light.
Part of that feeling is because the D pillar is angled rearward to create a wraparound rear glass that provides a widescreen view of the world outside when the vehicle is reversing. And though the F3R seems to have a high beltline, it isn't as high as it looks. That's the result of what the vehicle's designers call proportion tuning. Said Cartabiano, "The cabin kind of looks chopped, but the beltline is not much higher than that of the current Sienna. This look is a trick done by lowering bottom of the car, making the body look a little thicker."
The result, of course, is a concept vehicle filled not only with intelligent drama, but with exactly the fresh take on three rows of seating, and on the usable space that vans so effectively provide, that Toyota executives were looking for. They wanted anything but a minivan. What they got was a sporty new vehicle that defies an easy label. With a dramatic, iconic shape that is as distinctive as that of the Toyota Prius and an interior that is more adaptable and more family friendly than anything previously seen, it's reasonable to suspect that the automotive world could soon be seeing styling elements from the F3R on future Toyota production vehicles.
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