Toyota’s Compact Cruiser EV Concept Is the Smaller, Electric FJ Cruiser of my Dreams

Toyota’s Compact Cruiser EV Concept Is the Smaller, Electric FJ Cruiser of my Dreams

The Toyota Compact Cruiser EV recently won the 2022 Car Design Award, even though it’s still in the concept stage. According to Toyota, the award’s generic name belies its prestige. To be fair, the off-road inspired design of the Compact Cruiser EV is not at all generic. I’d call it nostalgic instead, resembling the long-gone Toyota FJ Cruiser. And, dammit, this (concept) EV looks good.

Toyota specifically calls out the first-generation Land Cruiser as a source of inspiration, but by the transitive property the FJ Cruiser is in there, too. The Compact Cruiser EV’s black and grey bumpers are pure FJ, as well as the blocky mirrors. I’m not sure about that rear visibility, though.

Other than that, the Compact Cruiser EV looks like it would make for a friendly daily driver if it ever went into production, and it looks less top-heavy than its predecessors. It also looks relatively tiny, which seems like a good thing for an EV (looking at you Hummer).

Toyota’s Compact Cruiser EV Concept Is the Smaller, Electric FJ Cruiser of my DreamsPhoto: Toyota

If it ever did make it onto lots, Toyota says it would be aimed at young professionals living in cities who enjoy the great outdoors. That sounds like Toyota is talking around the question of off-road ability, but the carmaker says the Compact Cruiser EV would at least come with AWD.

But there are more than hints of design to glean from the award announcement. Toyota’s EV strategy beyond the bZ (coincidentally, meaning beyond zero) is still vague, but the remarks from Toyota’s design team contain a bit of insight.

Toyota Design Lead Simon Humphries had this to say:

“Our research into electric vehicles has been ongoing for more than 30 years, and we’ve come a long way. After an initial phase of contact with electric vehicles, people will want zero-emission cars that speak about them and express their lifestyle. And the Compact Cruiser EV is a perfect example of that trend.”

Toyota’s plan, it seems, is to lead the EV charge with a crossover like the bZ4X. Call it a lay-up, a way to score easy points. People really love crossovers, and underneath its eccentricities, the bZ4X is a bland — if not boring — entry into the EV landscape. But it’s a safe bet, and is mostly inoffensive.

After this “initial phase of contact,” however, Toyota may follow up with more exciting EVs. Toyota showcasing an off-road EV also looks like an easy choice, but I’m not complaining. It’s a deliberate choice, meaning it’s a choice at all.

Toyota’s Compact Cruiser EV Concept Is the Smaller, Electric FJ Cruiser of my DreamsPhoto: Toyota

Along with becoming more affordable, this is also what EVs should do to win drivers over. They need to branch out and be electric cars other than for the sake of being electric cars. These cars being fully-electric is not entirely beside the point, but it’s also not the only reason they should exist at all.

When Toyota revealed a room full of EV concepts in 2021, it seemed like the company was playing catch-up with rival carmakers who are defining their roles during the EV transition. Ford has the F-150 Lightning and Mustang Mach-E. Chevy and GM have the Bolt and Hummer EV — for better or worse. Tesla has the Model 3.

The Toyota bZ4X has less appeal than some of those EVs, but maybe that’s by design. If it really turns out to be the electric welcome wagon, and cars like the Compact Cruiser EV are next, then I’m pretty excited to see what Toyota plans to make beyond the bZ4X.

Toyota’s Compact Cruiser EV Concept Is the Smaller, Electric FJ Cruiser of my DreamsImage: Toyota
Toyota’s Compact Cruiser EV Concept Is the Smaller, Electric FJ Cruiser of my DreamsImage: Toyota