Concept cars are rarely a good indicator of what’s actually going to come out of a car factory at any point, but I do hope something of the Toyota NS4 – unveiled at the Detroit motor show this week – makes it onto the road. No doubt the concept’s name won’t. Apparently NS4 stands for New Splendid 4-door, which is the most marvellous Toyota name since the Midship Runabout 2-seater (better known as the MR2).
But while the name is a little silly, the design is not. It’s about time Toyota found some visual substance to equal its engineering expertise. The Auris Hybrid is a technical marvel and I found it engaging to drive, but it’s as charming to the eye as a bucket of magnolia paint. And while the Prius might not be boring, nobody would think it beautiful. Toyota says the NS4 is intended to make an emotional connection with potential buyers, and it stands a better chance of doing that than any of the current line-up.
Designed as a potential 2015 product, the NS4 is not too far-fetched. It’s a plug-in hybrid, designed to sit separately from the expanding Prius family – which will shortly include the Prius Plug-in, Prius+ people carrier and, in the US, the compact Prius C.
The smallest Prius will be called Aqua in Japan, while in Europe we’ll get the similarly sized Yaris Hybrid instead.
The front of the NS4 bears some resemblance to the upcoming petrol-electric Yaris. The trapezoidal outline of the lower grille is the same, although the NS4 bisects it with a beaky central bar.
The rest of the NS4’s face is interesting and elegant. Daytime running lights form hockey-stick slashes running across the tops of the headlamps and underscoring the rounded, pedestrian-friendly bonnet (which carries an illuminated central badge). At the back, the very clean and simple design includes high-set lamps that double as aerodynamic spoilers to reduce turbulent drag. There’s no bisected Prius-style window to ruin the rearward view.
The sides are simple and clean, as is the unbroken arch of the roofline. The shoulder is accentuated with a chrome highlight that flicks across the D-pillar towards the tail.
Of course it’s easier to make a car look good when it’s longer, lower and wider than the production equivalent, and NS4 trumps the Prius in all those measures. It remains to be seen how well the show-car style can be adapted for the road.