Is it a Seat? An Audi? No, this is the Toyota NCSV

A study model that never went into production

You might almost ignore it every now and then, but the Japanese mammoth Toyota has not always been GR Yaris cool. Many years ago, in 1999, we were in the middle of the era of the fifth-generation Starlet and the eighth-generation Corolla. Cars that had so little personality that they were 'just a little less boring' and 'very interesting!' made.

We were on the threshold of a new millennium, with cars like the all-new Yaris and the second-generation Prius making an appearance. Models that weren't you either, but at least gave hope that better things were ahead. You can imagine – it was that bad.

The Toyota NCSV Concept was above all not a lot of things

In the middle of all this was the decidedly less than hopeful Toyota NCSV Concept, unveiled at the 1999 Tokyo Motor Show and even shipped to Geneva a few months later, just in case anyone wanted to see it there. Which probably wasn't the case. The brochure created to try to explain what exactly it was was headlined: 'Not quite a coupe. Not really a station wagon. Not really a sedan. And that's the point!' That immediately came across as a bit defensive.

It was apparently intended for people in their twenties and thirties with a 'modern lifestyle full of fun'. The sloping roofline was intended to evoke a sports coupe atmosphere, but the car also had practical aspects - a sliding rear seat - and gadgets such as a folding infotainment screen in the rear.

17-inchers were a big deal back then

The 17-inch wheel size may be common among city cars nowadays, but 24 years ago this was still very sporty. Despite Toyota's efforts to give the NCSV some marketing polish, it mostly looked like a half-hearted and woefully failed attempt to fend off competition from lifestyle SUVs and the Audi TT in one go. Maybe that was the point.

In any case, it was intended to offer the fun of a coupe - you know, the kind of car you like to take on a long trip on rural B-roads - but also the practicality of a smart sedan that takes you to you drive to work and a station wagon in which you do, well, whatever young people do with a station wagon.

Still a bit of NCSV in current Toyotas

Eventually the Spartan interior would find its way into the second Prius, and elements of the exterior can be spotted on the 2006 Auris, if you look at it through binoculars with the wrong side to your eyes. Neither were cars that young people were queuing for.

For Toyota, the NCSV should be the equivalent of an old photo of you standing with a mat on your neck, with a strong message of 'we thought it was cool back then'. The kind of photo you keep just to remind yourself never to do something like that again.

The moral of the story is that if you decide to target young people, it is useful to at least show the drawings to some of them before you actually start putting the car together. Otherwise, see the NCSV, it could sometimes have embarrassing consequences.