Toyota’s new compact concept is for urbanites in need of utility

Toyota's new compact concept is for urbanites in need of utility

By Antuan Goodwin

The Urban Utility concept is a compact car that’s big on space. Toyota It has the functionality of a compact truck, the spaciousness of a cargo van, and the size of a compact car. In a nutshell, that’s how Toyota describes the newly revealed Urban Utility concept. I’d describe it as a highly configurable box on wheels.

The Urban Utility concept (U² or U Squared for short) was unveiled today at a private event hosted by Make Magazine in San Francisco and was developed by Toyota’s Calty Design Research facility in Newport Beach, California. The concept was designed to be “a flexible, functional gadget that owners can customize according to individual on-the-go needs.”

Toyota’s Urban Utility concept (U2, for short) debuted today at a private panel discussion hosted by Make: magazine in San Francisco, Calif.

The compact concept is designed to offer big capacity for crowded city dwellers.

Developed by Toyota’s Calty Design Research in Newport Beach, Calif., the Toyota U2’s boxy back end is the key to its open architecture.

The rear glass retracts into the tailgate, which, in turn, swings down to reveal the large, reconfigurable storage area.

The tailgate can touch the ground to act as a ramp while the glass roof also retracts to allow unfettered access to the rear and to allow the U2 to carry tall cargo.

The driver’s seat and cockpit are the only “fixed” bits in the U2’s cabin. The entire rest of the interior is reconfigurable.

Additional seats can be added for up to three passengers, or accessories can be added to accommodate special equipment like bikes. Or the entire cabin can be left free for bulky items.

The cockpit is where you’ll find the driver’s seat, steering wheel, and a rather unconventional center console/armrest.

Rather than a traditional infotainment stack, the U2’s dashboard uses an iPad with a customized interface that monitors the vehicle’s performance and various systems.

Ahead of the front passenger position is a sliding bar that allows this bit of the dashboard to be customized with accessories.

For example, this desk locks into place on the dashboard, giving the driver or passenger a temporary workspace for writing or using a laptop when the vehicle is parked.

According to Toyota, “research showed the fast-growing small SUV segment points to a desire for greater utility but a smaller footprint.”

The goal of the U2 is to provide the utility of a cargo van with a vehicle the size of a small hatchback.

As a design exercise, there was no mention of a possible powertrain or plans to move toward production with the U2, but it wouldn’t be hard to imagine elements of the concept’s utility making it into the next Scion xB.

The concept’s cabin is designed around its boxy cargo area. Seating can be added or removed to accommodate the driver and up to three passengers or long, tall, or bulky items. The rear glass can retract into the tailgate, which lowers all the way to the ground to form a loading ramp that gives the owner unfettered access to that large cargo area. If an item is still too tall to fit in the rear, the roof glass separates into segments and retracts to reveal an open, pickup truck-like bed.

The vehicle’s proportions are nearly identical to those of the Scion xB, though in person it prints a bit taller than Toyota’s original box. I think it’s the emphasis on the squared-off shoulders that give the concept that impression.

Accessories and equipment can be added to the U Squared to hold gear such as bicycles, surfboards, and more in place while driving. This customization extends to the front of the concept where a rail system allows even more accessories such as baskets or even a small desk can be added to the dashboard area ahead of where the front passenger seat would normally sit. This rail system is mirrored on the sides and floor of the cargo area, giving the would-be driver more choices for customizing the concept.

The tailgate lowers all the way to the ground, forming a loading ramp.

Ahead of the driver’s seat is a minimalist digital instrument cluster and a uniquely styled steering wheel that mirrors the design of the dashboard mounting rail. To the driver’s right is a unique center console and armrest combo that is capped off by an “intuitive” shifter switch that I can’t make heads or tails of from the photos.

In place of the traditional infotainment stack, the U Squared makes use of a mounted iPad that displays information about the vehicle’s fuel level, coolant temperature, fuel efficiency, and more. This is a concept car, so Toyota hasn’t mentioned any details about the hypothetical power train, but the 48mpg indicated on the iPad’s display seems to point to the concept being a hypothetical hybrid.

The configurable interior is capped off with a digital dashboard and an iPad.

The concept has been ruggedized, not for off-roading, but for the rigors of city driving. Rubber pucks inset into the wheel spokes protect against curb rash when parking. And the bumpers are composed of resilient plastic that is resistant to bumps and can be replaced in four separate sections in the event of a fender bender.

The Urban Utility concept is likely little more than a styling exercise — so don’t expect to see the box-shaped compact coming to a corner near you — but I’d love to see some of the flexible features find their way into a future Scion xB.