Is Toyota Prepping a Wrangler-Fighting, Body-on-Frame, Off-Road SUV?

The company drops a tantalizing hint about its future plans in Detroit.

Toyota

Last year, Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda laid down an edict: No more boring cars. One year later, and the company has used the North American International Auto Show to drop a tantalizing hint about a very not-boring new product: a small, body-on-frame, off-road-oriented SUV to take on the Jeep Wrangler.

In a sit-down with Motor Trend, Toyota North America CEO Jim Lentz revealed that the company has its sights set on a dedicated off-roader once again, more than three years after killing off the FJ Cruiser in the United States. The retro-styled and supremely capable SUV inspired something of a cult following over the years, and Toyota's not blind to all the mania surrounding the redesigned 2018 Wrangler—nor to the rough-and-tumble 4Runner's fifth straight year of skyrocketing sales.

"There’s room for an authentic small off-road SUV," Lentz said to Motor Trend. "Everyone moved out of that segment because of truck CAFE ratings. But we’re getting a lot of requests from folks who want another FJ or some variant. There is room on the lower end, in terms of price or authenticity, for an off-road, frame-based SUV."

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Surprising as this is, Toyota actually spent much of 2017 laying the groundwork for just such a move with a pair of rugged adventure vehicle concepts. With its torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive and raised hatchback profile, the FT-AC looks like more of a Subaru Crosstrek-fighter, while the boxy shape and mechanical four-wheel-drive of the FT-4X calls to mind the old FJ40 Land Cruiser. Lentz's comments seem to indicate Toyota is trending toward the latter.

"This would be for people going outdoors, but truly going offroad. This would not be all-wheel-drive for safety, this would be four-wheel-drive with ground clearance," he said. "The difference is in wheel travel, and you can only do that with frame-based. This could be FJ sized, but for an enthusiast, it’s gotta be something with a small wheelbase to be more maneuverable when in the rocks.”

Small. Maneuverable. Four-wheel-drive. Wheel travel. Frame-based. These are all promising words. Lentz noted that since crossovers have increased in size and capability, people who seek out more rugged trucks do so because they want or need the specific toughness those vehicles offer. However, none of this is guaranteed—yet."

“There’s market demand for frame-based SUVs, but we have to crunch all the CAFE numbers to see if there’s room for them," he told Motor Trend. "4Runner continues to do well, but the softest segment is for big SUVs."