Rugged Toyota concept challenges Jeep’s Wrangler

Henry Payne

Los Angeles – Jeep isn’t the only manufacturer that wants to take you to the Outback. Toyota wants a piece of the action, too.

Just a day after Jeep’s all-new rock-climbing Wrangler rocked the Los Angeles Auto Show, Japan’s biggest automaker rolled out a four-door Wrangler clone called the FT-AC (short for “Future Toyota Adventure Concept”).

The FT-AC’s off-road playbook reads like Wrangler 101: fore and aft skidplates, knobby tires, detachable fog lights, all-wheel drive, lockable four-wheel drive ... a proposed hybrid drivetrain like the Wrangler’s first-ever, 2.0-liter hybrid turbo-4.

It’s easy to understand Toyota’s interest. The Wrangler has sold some 5 million copies worldwide in its lifetime and established Jeep as the alternative for a youthful, outdoors-conscious demographic. In a ute-crazed world, the Wrangler icon attracts buyers to the SUV brand as first-time buyers, then feeds them up the product pipeline to more expensive offerings like the Cherokee and Grand Cherokee as they age.

Toyota isn’t alone in Wrangler envy. Ford wowed the Detroit auto show earlier this year with news that it would bring back the rugged Bronco as a 2020 model.

Like Ford’s iconic Bronco, Toyota hopes to resurrect brand heritage. The FJ Cruiser (its FJ reminiscent of the Jeep CJ that inspired the Wrangler) was a truck-based, off-road rhino built by Toyota from 2006-2014. The well-received FJ enjoyed peak sales of more than 50,000 units a year before getting chewed up in the Great Recession.

“FT-AC reminds adventurers of all skill levels how remarkable the trip — not just the destination — can be,” goes the pitch from the Toyota publicity machine. “Going for a paddle on the river. Climbing a favorite rock face. Hitting a trail on a mountain bike. FT-AC is experience-centric. It compels.”

The FT wraps its Wrangler-esque ambitions in a Toyota wardrobe. The bold face is similar to the Toyota Tacoma that has dominated mid-size pickup sales for the last decade. The concept’s off-pavement capabilities suggest it might also be built on the Ridgeline’s body-on-frame skeleton.

The Adventure Concept packs versatility with LED fog lights that can be plucked from their pods and used as portable lights — or on a bicycle for night rides. Infrared cameras in the side mirrors can also be used to film vehicle — or personal — adventures. The beast sits high above 20-inch wheels, its body clad in extra armor for canyon adventures. Above is a safari-style roof rack to haul baggage and below are twin hooks if the driver gets too deep into treacherous terrain. Like any proper 21st century machine, the FT comes with GPS-location and WiFi.

Although Toyota calls it a concept vehicle, it likely will go into production.

“It’s no coincidence then that FT-AC makes its debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show, in a city where much of the population escapes to the hills, deserts, or beaches for their much-needed weekend recharges after a long week of work,” Toyota said.

It’s also no coincidence the Toyota boasts of its alternative powertrain here, too. California is the most heavily regulated state for battery-powered vehicles and Toyota teases that the FT could have a “no compromise,” next-generation hybrid powertrain that blends fuel efficiency with rugged all-wheel-drive grunt.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at or Twitter @HenryEPayne.