Toyota as a company is not known for adventurous vehicles. Practical transportation, yes. Adventurous? No. While the earlier Land Cruisers and 4Runners were considered adventurous, the latest iterations of these SUVs have morphed into conservative vehicles. The FJ Cruiser fills in the void. Rivaling the Jeep Wrangler and Nissan Xterra, the FJ Cruiser debuted in 2006 with priorities on looks and off road ability. The FJ Cruiser is meant to be a retro model inspired by the original Toyota FJ40 Land Cruisers while retaining Toyota’s reliability. The Trails Team Special Edition version you see here is one of 2,500 produced in 2012. This particular version receives many TRD (Toyota Racing Development) upgrades such as upgraded tires, cosmetic changes, body colored interior, and others.
My first impression was of the design was, “Is it made out of Legos? It looks like a toy”. I mean this as a compliment, because the design is very well put together and there is a Tonka-like quality to it. Every angle you see, there are blocky surfaces abound. This version has tasteful blacked out touches on the grill, wheels, mirrors, and doors. The rear doors are cleverly hidden. Bulging fenders, chunky taillights, and sharp headlights all contribute to an aggressive presence. I really like the front because I like how they incorporated the original FJ40’s fascia into a modern look. To sum up, it is a very well done retro design. It has the right amount of toughness and adventure. The interior mirrors the exterior essence. The interior has a classic feel to it. All the controls are big and hard to miss. The interior surfaces such as the seats, door panels, and dash are body colored, a neat touch. One cool, if somewhat useless feature is the three compasses on the dash. They look cool, but in this modern age, are somewhat useless. Another feature I do not like is the blank buttons, a price to pay for not paying more. Overall, the interior design is decent with some nice touches.
This car is not meant for handling. This is a big machine, and you feel it. The car leans dramatically in turns. It relentlessly plows straight on when you push it to its limits. The steering is surprisingly responsive for such a large car. It is accurate and precise, and it actually feels connected to the wheels. Steering feedback is a bit muted, but at least there is some feedback. This car does not feel ponderous in normal driving, but when the drive becomes hasty, it is not a willing machine.Braking performance is very good, but the pedal is mushy, and it dives dramatically when you brake. Ride quality is middling. At low speeds, sharp bumps are felt. At higher speeds, bumps are ironed out. But on the highway, the ride is somewhat jittery.
The tradeoff for the ride quality is remarkable off-roading ability. The suspension has long travel, so it is not surprising that it could handle rough roads. Hit a dip on a rough road, and the FJ acts like it is nothing. It wafts through effortlessly. In the mud, it will prove to be capable…but only if you engage four wheel drive. We learned this the hard way, as we got stuck because we used two wheel drive. Oops. Articulation is impressive, as the suspension is very flexible when it comes to bumps. During development, this car was tested in America’s toughest trails such as Moab, Utah, the Angeles National Forest, the Mohave Desert, and the Rubicon Trail in order to ensure reliable off roading performance, and it shows. As long as you know what you are doing, the FJ will prove its worthiness. Overall, it is a thorough off road machine.
Despite the 4.0 V6’s horsepower rating (239 horsepower), it feels very strong and has no problem moving this titan. Acceleration is effortless. Only at high revs does the power begin to level off. There is ample torque at any revs, which is ideal for off roading conditions. Fuel economy is 16-18 mpg overall. The 5 speed transmission shifts smoothly most of the time. The manual transmission would be a better match for this engine and this car’s mission, especially considering the original FJ40 came in manual only.
You can tell this car was designed in America just from its engine note. When you fire up the engine, you hear a growl reminiscent of an American V8. Floor it, and the engine responds by letting out a muscular growl. Refinement is lacking. Noise levels are high as you hear the exhaust, wind, and road noise. You constantly hear the exhaust which can prove fatiguing, wind noise increases with speed, and road noise is present at any speed. However, the engine is refined.
Convenience is the name of the game when it comes to the interior. All the buttons are large, legible, and easy to use. Fit and finish is spot on. The gauges are easy to see. One glaring flaw I have with this car is its ability to be so large on the outside, but be so cramped inside. Trunk space is not as big as you would think it is. The rear is cramped. There is decent room in the front, but you expect more from a car of this size. Visibility is horrendous due to the styling. There are very large blindspots, making the over-your-shoulder-look impossible. You have to rely entirely on the mirrors for changing lanes. There is a commanding view of the road though, and access is made easier by the rear doors.
The Toyota FJ Cruiser combines legendary off roading ability with classic looks, while its flaws include compromised interior space, nonexistent handling, and bouncy ride. Despite the flaws, I am fond of this car. This car is styled like a toy, and it feels like a toy. After all, toys are something you enjoy. The FJ Cruiser is an enjoyable car. The feeling you get from conquering the terrain is priceless. I am sad that Toyota is discontinuing the FJ Cruiser after 2014. I do not think they should, because they have a gem on their hands. Even though this car is Japanese, you can feel the American spirit in this car. It is dependable, tough, and hard working. Toyota, please do not kill this car. Preserve the heritage.