Carmaking’s retro design craze has now spilled over into the truck and SUV market, and Toyota has decided to leave its competition in the dust with their 2007 FJ Cruiser. The company already has one of the largest truck and SUV lineups in the automotive universe, from the sporty RAV4 to the Lexus LX470, but none of them have the curb appeal of this scrappy new 4×4. Actually, very few vehicles do.
This ‘compact’ SUV carries a lot of visual DNA from Toyota’s own FJ40-the Land Cruiser of the 1960s, which was renowned for its off-road prowess and unbreakable…well, everything. The new FJ has its forebear’s tapered nose and front fascia, with round headlights in a silver setting, immediately bordered by amber turn signals. In another nod to the old Land Cruiser, the FJ’s roof is painted white. This FJ is also the only Toyota to have the company’s name stamped on its grille like its ancestor did, in lieu of the company’s softer, abstract corporate logo.
The FJ has serious fender arches, trimmed in a black plastic cladding that wraps around the entire body. The visual cues here are simply all correct, and one look at the FJ will fill you with an overwhelming urge to drive it through a swamp. This truck emanates a petulant disregard for the elements and the humdrum of retail-park duty. If you’ve seen one on the road by now, you know exactly what we mean.
One of the many striking things about the FJ is its unusual greenhouse, which has an almost military feel. It has short, tinted windows, and a not-very-steeply-raked windshield. The B-pillar is massive, and aft of that, more tinted glass wraps around the rear of the truck. In terms of visual appeal, no SUV on the market comes close. The FJ invites fantasies of security, privacy, and command like very few vehicles we’ve seen.
However, the innovative glass work comes at a price. Our taller staffers found it almost impossible to see stoplights directly overhead due to the low roofline and windshield angle. And the rear seat can get a tad depressing if you are the kind of person who thrives on direct sunlight. Your view from those seats will consist of the FJ’s huge C-pillars, and Toyota does not offer a sunroof of any kind. This is due in large part to the truck’s innovative sound system, which utilizes the headliner as a mounting point for speakers. The visibility issue is tempered somewhat by the FJ’s vertically constructed large side mirrors, which can be fitted with optional turn signals.
Rearward visibility is the only area in which the FJ’s practicality is compromised. Everything else is brutally efficient, designed to facilitate quick maintenance, repair, and cleaning, keeping the owner’s attention where it belongs – on slogging through as much rugged terrain as he or she wishes. In a neat and totally singular touch, the FJ’s front windshield is kept clean by three wiper blades. The jets for the wiper fluid can only be described as “industrial-strength.”
The exterior is all soft edges – easy to clean. Ditto the interior, which is entirely free of carpeting. The floor and cargo bay are covered with rubber and resin, so the inside of the FJ can be hosed and wiped after a proper day in the mud. The seats are water-repellent, and breathe well for those open-window days in the Serengeti.
Interior room got good marks from us, and exceeded our expectations, particularly where the rear seats were concerned. The FJ’s 2-door look is achieved by having small rear-hinged doors for the rear. However, the handles are quite hard to access from inside the truck, and small children will be dependent on an adult to get in and out.
So, the exterior is stunning, and the interior can be cleaned with a hose. Now you might be wondering if the FJ has the off-road capabilities to back up its hereditary styling and butch ambitions. The short answer is yes. Features not found on most 4x4s today are standard on the FJ, such as a Torsen locking center differential – an absolute essential for any serious off-roader. The rear differential locks at the push of a button, and the FJ’s gas tank, engine, and transfer case are all shielded with skid plates. Ground clearance is excellent – 9.6 inches – even with our tester’s 17-inch wheels.
Like a proper off-roader should, the FJ sports a large-displacement V6 – 4.0L, making 239 horsepower and a whopping 278 pound-feet of torque. Given the FJ’s weight, the motor’s performance and fuel economy aren’t exactly world-beating, but we had no complaints. High-speed stability was very good, and around-town driving dynamics were trouble-free. Our FJ had the 6-speed manual tranny, which was…well, trucklike. We’d recommend the 5-speed auto, which is the off-road enthusiast’s choice anyway.
We tested our FJ in convertible weather, so we felt a little cheated at not being able to fully exploit its billy-goat traits. Our tester looked straight out of Mad Max, dressed in a coat of black paint, with black wheels made from plain steel. We were a bit surprised, given that journalists are usually given the highest dose of bling a manufacturer can spare, but the black-on-black look grew on us after some time. And by that we mean five minutes. If we were spending our own money on an FJ, we’d definitely opt for these wheels and put the cash saved towards other options.
As with all of its vehicles, Toyota equips the FJ with options packages. We got one with a few different “convenience packages,” one of which included a roof rack, a towing hitch with wire harness, and a cover for the full-size spare that sits in true 4×4 style on the rear gate of the vehicle. It is worth mentioning that this gate swings out rather than upwards, in contrast to most SUVs on the market these days. That is in keeping with the truck’s heritage, but also means you won’t have to struggle to reach for a high-in-the-sky tailgate if you’re not the tallest guy or gal on the block. The rear bumper is the step-up variety, providing excellent access to the roof rack.
Our tester also came with nifty options like a first-aid kit, and rear-door storage. We got a rear parking sonar system as well, which comes in handy when you’ve got a massive spare tire fastened to the rear end of your SUV. The auxiliary input for an iPod was a welcome creature comfort.
The FJ Cruiser is a thoroughly American Toyota, sold exclusively in the North American market after feverish response to the concept car at the 2003 Chicago Auto Show. Technically, it is a compact SUV, but we’ll laugh if anyone really tries to argue that with a straight face. It is large and commanding, and we were asked multiple times if it were some kind of Hummer. It shares its basic architecture with the 4-Runner, so that should give a general idea of its dimensions.
We at Roadfly believe the FJ Cruiser will be a huge success. The competition is stiff, but few in number, as the only vehicles that really stack up against the FJ are Nissan’s Xterra and Jeep’s new Wrangler. They are both highly capable vehicles, but we don’t think Toyota is going to have any problem selling this bad boy. If you’ve ever considered one of those two rugged little SUVs, this newcomer is definitely worth a long, hard look. At an MSRP of $27,919 for our tester, it’s a home run. We’re not sure how Toyota built it without charging an arm and a leg, but we’re glad they did.