BMW’s MINI got it right with today’s modern MINI because it takes the original vehicle concept and moves it forward.
On that same token, the Toyota FJ Cruiser was inspired by a rugged off-road vehicle that Toyota sold for over 20 years: the Toyota FJ40 Land Cruiser.
Alas with tightening corporate fuel standards and decreasing sales, model year 2014 will be the last year that the FJ Cruiser will be sold in the North American market.
So this review is really a hello and goodbye to a Tonka Toy truck that I’ve had my eye on since it first debut as a concept truck several years ago.
WHAT IS IT?
Early Land Cruisers were basic but quickly built a reputation for their toughness and reliability in harsh off-road conditions worldwide. However, later models morphed to suit the changing tastes of suburbanites. The subsequent Land Cruisers grew larger, more luxurious, and also more expensive.
The 4Runner was introduced to fill the void of a more basic four wheeler. Nonetheless in time, it too migrated upscale to the SUV that it is today.
And this is where the FJ Cruiser was created to fill the void. Sold since model year 2007, the FJ Cruiser is based on the rugged body-on-frame chassis of the 120-series Toyota Land Cruiser Prado, an SUV that Toyota sells outside of North America.
TRAIL TEAMS SPECIAL EDITION
The Toyota FJ Cruiser Trail Teams Special Edition is a commemorative final edition of the FJ Cruiser limited to only 150 units in Canada. I’m convinced that it’s going to be a future classic and it won’t be here for long.
Toyota says that this is “the toughest and most capable FJ ever that pays tribute to the iconic vehicle”. Aside from its exclusive, monochrome Heritage Blue paint scheme and BF Goodrich All-Terrain tires on 16” black TRD beadlock style alloy wheels, this special edition is also enhanced with roof lights with an integrated air dam, off-road rocker panel rock rails, matte black bumpers, door handles and mirrors.
Inside, the shift knob and four-wheel-drive selector knobs are polished black and the interior trim is colour-coordinated to the exterior.
RETRO-MODERN good looks
You’ll like the FJ Cruiser if you’re looking for an SUV with “look at me styling”. It’s truly a retro-modern celebration of the original FJ40 and as such, there is nothing else quite like it on the market.
With its white headlight trim, simple mesh grill and circular headlights, it’s easy to see the family lineage. How about those three miniature wipers? They’re absolutely cartoonish to watch, but do a great job of cleaning the vertical gun slit of a windshield.
Other retro cues include the wrap-around rear window glass and the rear mounted spare tire with the off-centred license plate position.
HOW DOES IT DRIVE?
An independent double-wishbone suspension up front provides for almost 8-inches of travel. Out back, there is a 4-link solid axle with over 9-inches of travel.
Four wheel drive systems will depend on which transmission you choose. Opt for the 5 speed automatic and you’ll get a part-time system with both high and low range.
Go with the 6 speed manual and you’ll get a permanent system similar to that in the 4Runner. It’s equipped with a Torsen limited-slip centre differential and a trail-ready locking rear differential.
The FJ’s steep approach and departure angles combined with advanced electronic off-road traction aids results in highly competent off-road performance. There is even a system, called A-TRAC, that will allow you to crawl up rocks with the modern equivalent of a hand-throttle!
All of this hardware really translates into the simple fact that the FJ is pretty much unstoppable in all but the absolute worst conditions.
Despite all of this heavy duty hardware, I was pleasantly surprised by the comfortable on-road ride quality. You do sit up high and there is a fair bit of roll when pushed, but despite the off-road shocks and 32 inch BFGoodRich All-Terrain TA KO tires, the FJ doesn’t beat you up on rough roads.
In fact in some circumstances, such as after initial turn-in mid corner, the vehicle actually feels remarkably agile for its size. When off-roading this agility is further enhanced by swaybars that can be electronically disconnected by the push of a button.
Because of the 4.0L V6, the FJ is also great tow vehicle. With 260hp and 271 ft-lbs of torque, there is sufficient power for almost all situations off or on-road.
Sure the off-road tires get a bit noisy at highway speeds, but the steering is well boosted and the FJ feels solid and smooth. Aside for an annoyingly wide 42 foot turning circle, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the FJ.
Fuel consumption, however, is not one of the FJ’s strong suits. With a curb weight of 5,566 lbs, blocky styling, and those off-road tires, the FJ is officially rated at 12.7L/100 kms in the city and 9.5L/100 kms on the highway.
I didn’t fare quite as well in mostly city driving with my real world figures coming in at 15.2L /100 kms on average.
INSIDE THE CABIN
Toyota also maintained a retro feel inside the FJ Cruiser but with a modern flare. You get all of the creature comforts expected from an off-roader today including an 8-way power adjustable driver’s seat, tilt adjustable steering, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, and XM satellite radio.
There is even a handy rearview camera display built into the auto dimming rearview mirror. This is especially handy given the large blindspots caused by a combination of the retro design, the height of the vehicle, and the exterior mounted full-spare tire.
An off-road specific gauge package is also available and really adds to the rough and tumble character of the vehicle.
Yes the FJ has four doors but it’s a bit claustrophobic in the rear quarters with the small rear windows. The second row bench seat is suitable for two adults or three kids, but don’t buy one if you have a family of four.
Since the rear doors are clamshell-styled coach doors, you’re going to have to open the front doors first in order to open the rear ones. Not the most convenient arrangement for family-use.
At least the rear seats split 60/40 and fold to expand to extend cargo room from 27.9 cu-ft with the seats up to 66.8 cu-ft with the seats down. The water resistant load floor is easy to clean up after any muddy trail or camping gear you may have with you.
The large strut-assisted rear cargo door swings away from the curb but requires a fair amount of room behind the vehicle for full access. Thankfully there is a separate glass window that can be lifted independently for small items.
Although the FJ Cruiser recalls the no-frills look from days gone by, it’s still well equipped for the modern age. This Trails Team model was optioned up in ways that will certainly make FJ40 owners envious. But you better hurry before it’s gone, especially if you’re looking for the special edition!
Living with this truck for a week made me feel like a 5-year old playing with a Tamiya toy truck. I didn’t want my playtime to end.
If you’re looking for a surprisingly practical everyday truck that is nice to drive in town but can also be taken seriously off-road on the weekends, this will do nicely. It will do very nicely indeed.
The FJ Cruiser Trail Teams Special Edition carries a manufacturer’s suggested starting price of $41,925 with the six-speed manual transmission, and $43,165 with the five-speed Super ECT automatic transmission.