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Toyota FT-1 marks a return to cool

At the 2014 Detroit auto show, Toyota unveiled its FT-1 concept car, which signals a return to dramatic design.

Toyota FT-1
Wayne Cunningham/CNET
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DETROIT -- For more than a decade, Toyota's most exciting car didn't actually exist, the company focusing on reliable sedans such as the Camry and Corolla. At the 2014 Detroit auto show, Toyota released the FT-1 concept car, a signal that its era of boring design has officially ended.

Kevin Hunter, President of Toyota's CALTY design center, called the FT-T a "spiritual pace car."

"FT" stands for Future Toyota, according to Hunter. This new concept shows that the company is bringing back sports car design, such as it used to have with the Celica. In 2001, Toyota launched the Scion FR-S, under a joint project with Subaru. That car won accolades and seems to have given Toyota the confidence to return to the sports car market.

The FT-1 was unveiled at Detroit without any specifications, leaving the identity of the engine visible under a clear panel in the hood a mystery. However, the fact of that clear panel, exposing red valve covers and a strut brace, suggests high performance.

Twenty-one-inch wheels would seem oversized for a sports car, but the entire FT-1 concept was designed to be 110 percent of the size of an actual car of its type, according to a Toyota spokesperson. The oversize design gives it more presence as a show car.

Large air intakes grace the front and sides of the FT-1, the former to feed the engine and the latter to cool the brakes. Likewise, a rear diffuser and automatic spoiler lend to aerodynamic force to handling. The mirrors also feature an aerodynamic lift from the body to reduce drag.

LED headlights give the front of the FT-1 a high-tech look, giving a hint as to cabin electronics features. A transparent panel on top of the dashboard hosts a head-up display, giving the driver line-of-sight performance information.

The top of the steering wheel also shows the driver the car's current driving mode, along with the gear it's in, a uniquely positioned information display.

The lack of a shifter on the console or a clutch pedal, and the inclusion of paddle shifters on the wheel, suggest either a dual clutch automated manual transmission or a fully automatic transmission. Again, Toyota has not give any specifications for the car.

Despite the lack of performance data, the car makes an appearance as new, downloadable content for the Gran Turismo 6 racing simulator. Gamers will be able to experience the car's handling in the game. During a press conference, Toyota noted that Akio Toyoda, CEO of Toyota, used the game version to approve the concept.

Although Toyota does not intend to build a production version of the FT-1, it may inspire design in future cars.