Though Toyota effectively started the funky box trend in America with the original Scion xB, the company has abandoned the sub-segment since killing off the second-generation model in 2015. The Japanese automaker has shown renewed interest in this niche, though, first with the FT-4X that debuted at the New York Auto Show, and now with this Tj Cruiser it will reveal at the Tokyo Motor Show.
According to Toyota, the “T” in Tj stands for toolbox, because this practical little machine can be used like one to store all sorts of stuff. We suspect that a toolbox was also a key design inspiration. It’s all slab sides and sharp corners like a traditional metal toolbox. There are also a variety of strakes stamped in the metal that suggest it’s stiff and strong. The silver paint is accented by panels coated in a bed liner-style material to make it look tougher, as well as resist scratches. We also noticed the grille mesh evokes the look of diamond-stamped steel plates. The slab sides are broken up by wider fenders that help it look lower. Though on paper these design details sound like they would be over-the-top, the overall look is actually rather attractive and it’s restrained enough that we could see a production one looking extremely similar.
The interior continues the theme of straight lines and practicality. The instruments are laid out in a thing and wide binnacle on the dash. The steering wheel is squared off with a horizontal rectangle functioning as the spokes. There are also functional and decorative woven straps throughout the Tj. Even the door panels look like peg boards. All seats but the driver’s fold completely flat, and the backs are covered in the same bed liner material as found on the exterior. The seat backs have plenty of tie-down points, too. Add-in the sliding rear doors, and the Tj Cruiser seems like a very versatile little hatch.
It sounds as though Toyota could be considering this little box for production, too. The company suggests that it would use the TNGA platform that currently underpins the Prius and the C-HR. In addition, it would offer front- and all-wheel-drive drivetrains, along with a “2.0-class engine + hybrid system.” We take that to mean that it would have an engine sized up to 2.0 liters, possibly with or without an electric motor. Of course a hybrid, and one with that engine displacement, would be easy to accommodate on the TNGA platform seeing as the Prius uses it. The C-HR even offers an all-wheel-drive hybrid variant overseas. Not only would the platform make it feasible, but Toyota has registered the “TJ Cruiser” as a trademark in the U.S., and that was before showing this concept. That’s no guarantee of production, but Toyota sure seems serious about this thing.