The Toyota FJ Cruiser is based on the iconic FJ40 that was sold here in the U.S. between 1960 and 1983. Designer Jin Kim took on the daunting task of creating an exciting vehicle poised between RAV4 and 4Runner that appealed to a younger, more active consumer. Kim’s approach is described as “industrial modern” meaning a tool-like combination of ruggedness and functionality with an honest look and modern surfaces.
Modern is right. The stance, look and feel of the new FJ reminds me of a cross between the Honda Element, Hummer H3 and Jeep Wrangler with hard top. At first sight I thought of the new FJ as the “Toyota Jeep” or “Toyota Hummer,” which is how I describe the vehicle to others not familiar with Toyota’s Cruiser heritage.
The 2008 FJC will seat up to five in a four-door body design with the rear doors opening rearward in a “clamshell” configuration. Climbing in and out of the rear seat was not too difficult for me and I found adequate head- and legroom back there, but would most likely not want to spend a lot time there, especially offroading. The rear side windows do not open and with all of the blind spots in the new FJ, visibility is limited as well. Not much to keep rear occupants entertained.
Up front, however, is a slightly different story. The modern dash design with industrial cues reminds me of a large “boom box” with a steering wheel.
FJ Cruisers are available in 4×2 or 4×4 configuration with a six-speed manual gearbox or five-speed automatic transmission. The automatic offers what Toyota calls Artificial Intelligence Shift Control (similar to logic shift technology) and Flex Lock-Up Control for torque converter.
The first tester FJ we ever got our hands on was a pre-production unit with manual gearbox, which is silky smooth but of the long-throw variety that has been disappearing from the landscape in recent years. Our most recent experience with FJ was an automatic-equipped 4×4 unit.
Power in 4×4 FJs is distributed by the two-speed transfer case featuring a Torsen limited-slip lockable center differential. Normal power distribution is 40 percent front/60 percent rear under most driving conditions but changes due to inputs on steering angle and wheel slippage. When locked, power split is 50/50 front-to-rear, and the manual tranny offers a steep crawl ratio for extreme offroading such as the famed Rubicon Trail.
Inside, the experience is surprisingly quiet and smooth with very good onroad characteristics. Body roll is apparent as it is with any good offroader but not to the point of constantly feeling on the edge of instability, thanks to a wide stance and low roofline.
Speaking of roofline, one thing that draws a lot of attention is the use of white paint for the roofs of all FJ models no matter the body color. This goes back to FJs safari days for reducing cabin heat buildup in the scorching sun. Very handy here in Texas during the summer months as well.
A full assortment of skid plates underneath help protect vital components offroad while a full size spare (17-inch wheels and tires are standard) occupies the outside of the rear swing-open door. There is also a 115-volt AC accessory outlet onboard.
As with all other Toyota SUVs, the standard complement of safety technology is onboard FJ: Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), Traction Control (TRAC), ABS and electronic brakeforce distribution with brake assist. Front seat side impact airbags and dual-row side air curtains are now standard on FJ as well.
What is fact is that the 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser is built on a modified Prado platform that is also used for Toyota 4Runner and Lexus GX470. The FJ wheelbase is a bit shorter which leads to the necessity of the shorter rear clamshell door for access to the rear seat.
Spending time behind the wheel of several FJ models has afforded us the opportunity to really put the truck to the test. We spun our wheels out to Barnwell Mountain Recreation Area with the first unit we tested, and gave the recent production version a true test of urban living.
Our manual transmission 4×4 was about as sure-footed as a mountain goat on the variety of terrain I steered it through. Rocks, dirt, sand, mud, trees, brush, creeks, stumps, inclines, side slopes – wherever I pointed the FJ it had no quarrel with going. For those times when two feet were not enough to work three pedals, I got to check out the nifty clutch-start disable function. Worked like a champ. A push of a button and a turn of the ignition switch and the FJ crawls forward without any hesitation while both feet are free to work the brake and accelerator pedals as needed, ignoring that third pedal altogether.
Throwing the transfer case into Low Lock puts the truck into full offroad mode while offering a steep gear ratio with the shifter in first – perfect for those times when I maxed-out the horizon level gauge on the top of the dash. Rear and center differentials are also put into full lock mode in Low, and electronic alterations are made to ABS and VSC systems for optimal control and stability. ABS seemed to apply maximum Brake Assist in Low Lock mode and stability control system is overridden so that the driver can obtain control over what he or she wants the vehicle to do for any given terrain condition.
And thanks to the engineer who demanded skid plates as standard equipment. I ran across quite a few rocks and stumps that seemed to be poking their noses in my business throughout the offroad park.
While the FJ Cruiser was a joy to drive offroad, a full complement of onroad mileage proved the vehicle equally capable on paved surfaces. The truck has very good acceleration, braking and steering characteristics. It is as easy to park as any sedan, although backing out does reveal some blind spots.
A new offering for 2008 is the Offroad package that puts trail-rated 16-inch tires on alloy wheels and Bilstein trail-tuned shocks. For those wanting an all-out serious offroader, opt for the 4×4 version FJ Cruiser with manual gearbox. As for the rest of us, most folks will be able to get away with a 4×2 with automatic tranny as many of these trucks will never see anything but pavement under their tires.
Under the hood of all FJ models is Toyota’s smooth 4.0-liter V-6 that cranks out 239hp and 278 lb. ft. of torque. Fuel economy for the 4×4 models we tested runs between 16mpg city and 20mpg highway. Vented disc brakes all around are backed by ABS, brake assist and electronic brakeforce distribution for strong stops.
Seats are covered in a durable, water-repellent synthetic fabric and the floors in the cabin and cargo area are covered with a rugged rubber-like material. The truck seats five adults and cargo capacity with the rear seats folded is 66.8 cubic feet.
One of the best parts of the new FJ Cruiser story is pricing. For what this rig offers, both onroad and off, makes Toyota’s newest SUV one of the best values going for its segment. Base MSRP for our 4×4/automatic tester is $24,135 with the final sticker of our loaded 2008 in new brick red paint with the convenience package, offroad package, window tint, roof rack, Predator step bars and all-weather floor mats coming to $29,527.