Toyota has long been regarded as the Corolla car company and that’s fair enough. However the brand also made its mark by producing the tough as nuts Landcruiser. Production and release goes back to 1951 with the FJ nameplate coming into being in 1954. It‘s proven to be a solid and dependable vehicle, selling world wide and conquering the harshest environments. In the early 2000s a secret design group commenced work on a new “Rugged Youth Utility” vehicle. Sharing much of the Prado underpinnings, such as the ladder bar chassis, the FJ Cruiser quickly gained popularity after finally being exposed to the public and news broke of its off road capability.
A Wheel Thing tested the FJ recently and found that the car’s off road capability is limited by the driver. Fitted with a swag of electronic aids (and, somewhat surprisingly, automatic only) plus a high and low range transfer case, it’s a high tech trekker with a low tech history.
The powerplant is Toyota’s 200 “killerwasps” V6, albeit in four litre guise pushing out the grunt via a five speed automatic, via the front wheels predominantly. A press of a button locks the REAR diff plus there’s a variable speed CRAWL control, allowing the driver to move at a slow but constant velocity across terrain. Backing that up is A-TRC, diverting torque to each corner on demand and adapting to the driven ratio, be it high or low range. Naturally there’s plenty of the normal driver aids such as brake force distribution, ABS, airbags and more. The off road ability is given extra oomph with approach and departure angles of 36 and 31 degrees, ground clearance of 224 mm and a side or break over angle of 29 degrees. The huge tyres, 265/70/17 in size, along with the near 2700mm wheelbase and track of close to 1900mm add their muscle to the Cruiser’s strength.
On the road it’s quiet inside the basically appointed cabin, with tyre roar muted until you push hard into a turn. It’s also a good idea to plan about a few seconds before hand, as the tyres, being a dual purpose setup, aren’t a fan of being told to turn hard on tarmac, protesting audibly. Being a high sidewall height helps absorb bump/thump and provides a smooth compliant ride. Acceleration is leisurely when under way, with peak torque of 380Nm coming in at a surprisingly high 4400rpm. It requires a severe prod of the go pedal to provoke some excitement in changing gears, with the engine and exhaust emitting a somewhat monotone drone. Seating is comfortable, supportive and easily adjustable whilst the dash is simply laid out with black on white dials.
Design wise, the FJ Cruiser is not unexpectedly clever; the cabin has rubber flooring and water repellent coating on the seats inline with its ostensibly off road intentions and there’s interesting extra quirk with the rear suicide doors. Once the main doors are opened, a small lever to the fore of the rear doors opens and swings them back, making access to the rears much easier. The tailgate is a side, not top, swinger and comes with the rear vision camera embedded in the spare wheel cover plus an upward hinging glass window. The front window was fitted with three wipers, keeping the near vertical screen clean but nothing could be done about the distracting reflection from the inside. The exterior is a deliberate harkening back to the original FJ, with the grille and headlights an almost carbon copy, having a nod to history by having the word TOYOTA rather than the corporate badging, whilst having an almost Humvee like squat profile. Packaging is clever; with an overall length of 4670mm it’s not huge yet TARDIS spacious with a massive amount of rear cargo space . Width is 1905mm allowing great shoulder room and a feeling of airiness. The downside of retro is the usage of very cheap looking brushed alloy plastic highlights around the aircon vents, they look and feel terrible. The exterior colour on the test car was a Tic Tac orange, with the colour scheme carried into the cabin. Again, it’s a minimalist look which doesn’t entirely work however it is ergonomic and allows the touchscreen entertainment system/satnav to blend reasonably well into the vertically styled dash. A Wheel Thing is a promoter of driver safety yet abhorred the intrusive voice message from the satnav insisting the driver had exceeded the speed limit, especially when limits had changed dramatically. Another sore point was the GPS losing location occasionally with a clear sky view and not picking up a current location for quite some distance.
The FJ continues the solid off road history that Toyota is famous for and mixes in a lot of electronic smartness to help a less talented bush driver. It’s a fun ride that, for the most part, overcomes a few quirks but definitely adds to the family timeline. Priced from (as of May 2013) $48k plus on roads, it is, in my opinion, an exceptionally well priced buy for the size, room and, more importantly, the proven off road ability Toyota’s 4WD family history has.
For more info, click here: http://www.toyota.com.au/fj-cruiser/specifications/fj-cruiser