Unlike some other manufacturers I could mention, Toyota’s concept car team is really bringing it for this year’s Tokyo Motor Show. Yesterday we talked about the S-FR baby sports car, now I find myself really taken by the Kikai, a 3-seat, center-drive, mid-rear little machine that looks like a car-Terminator with its skin burned off. It seems very cool.

I looked up ‘kikai’ in a Japanese-English online dictionary, and found that it can mean “chance, instrument, machine, mechanism, weird, wonderful, strange, opportunity, outrageous” and it’s remarkable how many of those words I’d feel comfortable applying to this concept.

I really like the fundamental thinking behind this concept:

The concept was designed to explore and emphasize the fundamental appeal of machines: their fine craftsmanship, their beauty, simplicity, and their fascinating motion. As a true concept car, the Toyota KIKAI’s appeal is simultaneously free from and reliant on the core concepts of automobiles.

See? Unlike so many inane concepts that try too hard to reach some abstracted ideas or pander to social-media horseshit, this one is just about how amazing machines are. It’s got minimal body panels and outer skins to better show the interesting and finely-crafted mechanisms inside, all those exciting oily bits of a car that are normally hidden from view.

The car is full of simple, good ideas, like the lower windows in the interior. They let you see the wheels and road and the suspension parts flexing and moving, and would likely make the act of driving — even at speed limits — much more engaging.

Inside, it’s got a single central driver’s seat, in front of a bench seat for the passengers. There’s no big color LCD screens in sight, just a nice array of big analog gauges, including one enticingly baffling one with a pig, an arrow, and an angular line. If I had to guess, I’d say this is a semi-mechanical NAV — the physical arrow rotates to show direction, there’s a b/w LCD to show the road paths on the right, and the pig is, um, a pig. That shows the remaining mileage? Does “pig” equal “destination” in Japan, somehow?

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Also, the cab uses sliding doors for entry, which I’ve been wanting to see employed on more cars than just minivans for quite a while.

Looking at the pictures, it appears to be powered by a transverse inline four and next to what I think is an electric motor controller box— the powerplant looks similar to what drives a Prius, so I think it’s a safe guess to assume it’s got Toyota’s usual hybrid drivetrain.

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Of course, this is clearly just a concept and not a production car, so who knows. But it looks like the concept’s intent was to show use of a hybrid engine system, appealingly exposed out back there.

Overall, I really like this concept. It distills the car down to its fundamental basics, and really celebrates the mechanical side of things, a part of concept car design that’s been neglected in favor of flashy, silly electronics and increasingly baroque biomorphic streamlined body designs.

Perhaps more importantly, the Kikai just looks like it would be an absolute blast to drive. Unpretentious yet ambitious, technologically advanced yet simple, modern yet traditional, this concept manages to pull off all kinds of exciting dichotomies.

Plus, it feels like a rare return to the idea of the fun car, and I’d desperately love to see those reborn. I know there’s not an Icee’s chance in Hell of it happening, but I would love to see Toyota bring something even remotely like this to market.

A boy can dream, right?


Contact the author at jason@jalopnik.com.