In the landscape of mid-size SUVs, the FJ Cruiser stands apart as the only such vehicle that incorporates a “retro” style interpretation of a previous model that has been a major trend in passenger car design lately. With only marginal sales success, Toyota has attempted to focus the aims of the FJ Cruiser towards the idea that the out-of-this world durability and ruggedness of the original Land Cruiser is compatible, and desired, in a modern vehicle.
Some of the buzz surrounding the FJ Cruiser has died down since its introduction in 2007, mostly because the unique styling that impressed the public initially has been diluted by scores of other similarly inspired new models. Realistically, Toyota had to know going in that the design of the bulging FJ and its gi-normous blindspots is about as hit-or-miss as possible. But this does not diminish the fact that Toyota did not skimp on the FJ Cruisers off-road performance abilities, which are in the same league or surpass nearly any other production vehicle in the world.
If off-road performance eclipses all other factors in your choice for a new purchase, the FJ Cruiser is a hands-down winner. All other factors that many would find irritating in daily driving, including its on road manners, are simply irrelevant. Though the aesthetics of the vehicle are addressed more specifically below, the bulbous, over-sized shape of the FJ is such that it is susceptible to a higher than average level of crosswind influences. Meaning that while getting on and through the trail is a blast in the FJ, getting to it, especially on the highway, will necessitate the driver fighting the vehicles urge to wander on the pavement. However, like many things, expectations are not for the FJ to perform as a daily commuter vehicle, and as such, these complaints are largely dismissed in the final analysis.
The FJ Cruiser is no lightweight with a total of 4,295 lbs. under its sheetmetal, which explains fuel efficiency and makes the V6 in which it relies on even more impressive. Adopted from the Toyota truck lineup is the 4.0-liter V6 engine produces 239 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque delivered to the two or four-wheel drive FJ with either a five-speed electronically controlled automatic overdrive or a six-speed manual. Impressively, in independent testing an automatic version reached 60 mph in only 7.2 seconds. Helping it along is Toyota’s variable valve timing system called VVT-i that is commonly used in their cars.
Choosing between opting for the two or four-wheel-drive version comes down to how serious, and often, you intend to be in the elements. If you even are debating if 2WD is enough for where you go, the answer is probably already made for you. But if your definition of off-roading is gravel roads, the 2WD model should be more than enough. With huge side wall tires, a relatively compact wheel base and substantial suspension travel, 4WD models have little difficulty in powering through all but the most difficult off-road situations. The front suspension is independent with a double-wishbone design, while the rear features a solid rear axle with a four-link coil-spring suspension.
Unless you are comparing it to a similarly sized crossover, and why would you, on-road handling of the FJ Cruiser is on par with other mid-size SUVs.
For all its performance positives, fuel economy is not one of them with a disappointing 17/21 mpg city/highway numbers for the 2WD version and even worse news for 4WD. With the automatic, 4WD FJ’s produce 16/20 mpg, while manuals come in at 14/19.
While the original Land Cruisers were built as a competitor and with several design cues that resembled Jeeps, they were not entirely without their own unique style, including the ambulance style rear doors and curved corner windows. The current FJ retains some if not all of those features. Like the original, the FJ grille features
“Toyota” rather than the modern emblem, as well as the round headlights, wrap-around rear windows and white-topped roof and offset rear license plate. Instead of rear ambulance doors, the FJ comes with suicide doors that helps occupants gain entrance, despite the complaints from FJ purists who would have rather had the original feature. Other downsides which become more apparent when in the cabin is the rather short windows interrupted by huge C-pillars which enclose the interior cocoon-style. To satisfy the large expanse of front glass, three wipers instead of two are in place.
Despite its exterior proportions that give the illusion of greater size, the FJ Cruiser is still just a mid-size SUV, with less than ideal rear seat leg room. Seating is tight for rear seat occupants who theoretically can number three, though not without a tight fit. Like the exterior, Toyota went for a “throw-back” look inside complete with painted exposed sheet metal, that somehow doesn’t quite match up as favorably with reviewers as similarly-inspired efforts from the Jeep Wrangler. Perhaps the public has gotten too accustomed to Toyota-level ergonomics and materials to embrace its rustic intentions. Actually, if Toyota had simply stuck with metal and left off the majority of plastic they may have been better off.
A rectangular, truck-like dashboard incorporates a prominent square panel with stereo and climate controls. A compass, outside temperature display and vehicle pitch readouts are available in an optional gauge cluster that sits above the middle air vents. Suspect plastic quality aside, interior controls are easy to use and reach and include standard air conditioning, an AM/FM CD player with MP3/WMA playback capability and six speakers, water-resistant seats and dual sun visors.
According to Toyota, cargo capacity for the FJ Cruiser is 66.8 cubic feet behind the front seats and 27.9 cubic feet behind the rear seats; subpar for the midsize-SUV class. Rear seatbacks won’t fold flat without the seat cushions removed. The cargo door opens from the curbside, but feels heavy and clumsy with the weighty bolt-on spare tire. Because of visibility concerns, the rear back-up camera is a highly recommended option.
Toyota has slotted the FJ Cruiser to fit below the 4Runner with a starting price for 2WD versions at $23,320 and $24,910 for the 4WD with automatic. Not an unreasonable range, although potential buyers should factor in gas prices for the thirsty FJ.
Toyota intended the FJ Cruiser to be the most specialized of all of their SUV offerings, and in that way it has to be regarded as a complete success. However, even with its striking design, because of its harsher than normal city and pavement manners, the occasional off-road seeker may find alternative choices more appealing.