Detroit, January 2003. An out-there concept vehicle, dubbed "The FJ Cruiser," takes the Toyota stage at the North American International Auto Show. Cameras capture the jelly beanish lunar lander and the Internet lights up with both excitement and outrage. What a grandiose gesture this was by Toyota and Calty Design Research, to not only pen and build this concept, but to use the legendary FJ moniker.
Car and truck fans were immediately divided by the concept. The FJ-40 purists, with their decades-long love affair with everything simple cried "foul," while the more open-minded modern-era drivers raised their eyebrows with great interest at this updated interpretation.
What began as a concept became something of an enigma. Drivers too young to remember the FJ-40 fell in love with the FJ Cruiser's new-fangled design. Websites and magazines ran page after page on the FJ Cruiser, while the folks at Toyota watched and read with interest - all along, gauging the public's response, wondering if they actually built this thing, would people buy it?
Flash forward to the 2005 Chicago Auto Show. Toyota announces that it will build the FJ Cruiser and begin deliveries in the Spring of 2006 as a 2007 model. They release photos of the production version and it is incredibly similar to the concept vehicle. Normally-reserved Toyota surprised everyone with this, as they usually take a more conservative approach to production vehicles, watering down their concepts for wider customer tastes. But not the FJ Cruiser. It would come to market looking like it came straight off the Detroit stage to the dealerships.
It's summer now, and the FJ Cruisers are on the streets in customers' hands. I take delivery of a Bordeaux 4x4 model (sticker price $26,441.35 including destination). Within 10 minutes I am downtown going to fill up my CO2 tank for a weekend of 4-wheeling. I no sooner step inside the building and I see a grayish man in his mid-40's circling my FJ out on the street. Around he goes, leaning over and peering in through the tinted windows. He looks up at me and I yell to him that the door's open, go ahead and have a look. I walk back to the street and this man is ogling the FJ and drooling. He tells me that he's in love with it and wants one badly. He had looked at HUMMER H3's but they were out of his price range. He also tells me that the dealers here in town have a short supply of FJ Cruisers and they are charging over retail for them - if they even have them in stock yet. He's clearly wanting one badly and I let him have a look for as long as he wants.
I wonder to myself whether this man is really the demographic for the FJ. He's clearly old enough to remember FJ-40's, but does he even associate this thing with them in the first place? Or does he just really like the look of this new Toyota? Toyota seems to think that people in their 20's and 30's will be after the FJ Cruiser, but later in the week I realize my mid-40's neighbor also loves it. It reminds me of the Scion xB, which is aimed at young adults looking for their first new car, yet everyone I see driving them is in their mid-40's!
Toyota's advertising for the FJ Cruiser has been toward the hardcore off-road crowd. They have spent a fortune over the last few months, hammering the public with ads showing why the FJ Cruiser is one of the best off-roaders on the market and backing it up with diagrams, videos and technical data. We wanted to see if all the hype was true and had the FJ Cruiser scheduled for an off-road event that upcoming weekend.
After looking it over carefully we realized that our FJ Cruiser was a base model, optioned with only 4x4, a rear hitch receiver, cargo mats, and the convenience package (keyless remote, cruise control, power mirrors, rear parking Sonar, tinted windows, rear wiper, and daytime running lights). What was notably missing was a rear differential locker and Toyota's A-TRAC traction control. In order to really test it's mettle, we would want a more fully-equipped model, and Toyota would have us one in time for the trip.
So we got to drive the basic model for a couple days and get to know it around town, which actually worked out well, because we could learn what the FJ Cruiser was about before getting overwhelmed by a more fully-equipped model.
A quick walk-around of the FJ Cruiser reveals many styling cues from the original FJ-40, such as the white grille, which surrounds the headlights, the white roof deck, the flat fenders, and the aggressive overall stance. But that's really where the resemblance ends, as today's cars can no longer be built the way the FJ-40 was. Impact and safety requirements, as well as public tastes will no longer make a bare-bones SUV buildable or sellable. The interior of the FJ Cruiser is also a far cry from the FJ-40. With plastic interior trim everywhere, comfortable and adjustable seats, a fold-down rear seat and rear suicide-style doors, the FJ Cruiser is nothing like the FJ-40's spartan styling. Also gone, of course, are the FJ-40's jump seats in the back.
As I pondered the FJ Cruiser, it's naming, and it's styling, I wondered if Toyota really intended for this to be a 2007 version of the FJ-40. I also thought about the "FJ" part of the name and how it has been used continually since 1955 when the FJ-25 was introduced. In 1967 the FJ-55 wagon was introduced, it's long wheelbase, four doors, and tons of room deviating greatly from the FJ-40 in size and intentions. The FJ-60, introduced in 1980 would continue the long wheelbase execution and later be replaced by the FJ-80 and the present Toyota Land Cruiser (FJ-100), which is about as far from the FJ-40 as you can get.
So the FJ Cruiser is really not a 2007 FJ-40. No, it is really more a mid-sized Toyota SUV, built on the heritage of the FJ series trucks, continuing the legacy of off-road-worthy Toyotas. Yes, it borrows styling from the FJ-40, but it is really more a meld of the "FJ" utilitarianism and Land "Cruiser" technology, styling, and comfort. I decided to not judge the FJ Cruiser as an FJ-40 replacement while it spent it's time with me. Instead, I would think of it as a current model 4x4 SUV and judge it purely on its own merit.
All FJ Cruisers are powered by a high-compression 4.0L 24-valve DOHC V6 engine, which puts out 239hp and 278 lb-ft of torque. Incorporating Toyota's VVT-i (Variable Valve Timing with intelligence) and distributorless Direct Ignition System (DIS), the FJ Cruiser's EPA numbers come in at 18/22mpg (4x2 model) and 17/21mpg (4x4 automatic). In our driving tests, we did see good numbers and the EPA numbers seemed accurate, though we did not get to drive enough to drain the tank and really measure for sure. We did, however, notice that it requires Premium fuel.
Mated to the V6 is either a five-speed automatic or a six-speed manual in 4x4's, while the 4x2 model gets only the automatic. The automatic features Artificial Intelligence (AI) Shift Control, which senses the driver's input and road conditions and varies the shift pattern accordingly. We spent a good amount of time driving the FJ Cruiser around town and on the highway and the shifting was incredibly smooth and mostly invisible - something that we cannot say for much of the competition.
Driving the FJ Cruiser is a joy. Too many vehicles today are so full of whiz-bang computer doodads that take away from the driving experience. We've driven SUV's recently that had so much lag moving from a start that they mimicked turbos. We've also driven competitive vehicles that needed Overdrive turned off in order to merge with traffic or go up steep hills. The FJ Cruiser does none of this. You step on the gas suddenly or slightly and it moves in proper proportion to your input. Once moving, it shifts up and down very smoothly. Need to pass or climb a long mountainous hill? Not a problem. Mash the pedal, it downshifts and away you go - no delays or hunting for the proper gear.
While many SUV's, including some Toyotas, seem either underpowered or barely amply powered, the FJ Cruiser seems just right. There's power when you need it and when you really get on it, it doesn't sound like it's screaming for mercy. It handles the hills with aplomb and cruises at highway speeds quietly. Big bravo for Toyota on this one.
When the weather turns nasty or for off-road use, manual-equipped FJ Cruisers get the same full-time four-wheel-drive transfer case used in the V6-powered 4Runner, which features a Torsen limited-slip center differential with a locking feature.
Automatic FJ Cruisers, like ours, get a part-time transfer case, with 2WD High, 4WD High, and 4x4 Low ranges. Low range gear ratio is 2.566:1. With an automatic the FJ Cruiser's crawl ratio is a respectable 33.76:1. Manuals crawl at 41.84:1.
All FJ Cruisers are equipped with Toyota's Star Safety System, which is comprised of Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), Traction Control (TRAC), Antilock Brake System (ABS), Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist. All this alphabet soup spells is a safer on-road drive.
Inside, the FJ Cruiser keeps you save with dual-stage airbags for both front passengers. Two rows of side-curtain airbags, as well as driver and front-passenger seat side-impact airbags are optional.
Our Bordeaux FJ Cruiser was equipped with the standard 17" black steel wheels with P265/70R17 tires. Frankly, we liked them a lot. They had a down-and-dirty, mean sort of look to them. Optional alloy wheels are also available, which we would have on our weekend, upgraded version.
Driving around town was fantastic. The FJ Cruiser handled all of the bumpy, pothole-riden streets of Birmingham with confidence and we would return home each day with our teeth and kidneys in-tact. Darting through town we found the suspension to be soft enough to soak up the bumps, yet firm enough to keep body roll at a minimum. Other than a huge blind spot in the rear side quarters, navigating through traffic was a breeze. Also worth noting is the side view mirrors, which feature a chiseled lower, outer corner. Though we like the shape of them visually, in practical use, they allow passing cars to disappear from view because you are missing that corner of the mirror. Their size also makes them vulnerable to tree damage on the trail.
The interior of the FJ Cruiser is wild. Depending on what color you buy, the matching interior plastic pieces can be pretty darned bright. The styling is right out of Conceptville, with a tubular-shaped dash-top, lots of silver and gray plastic and rubber pieces and wonderful-feeling HVAC controls. Also catching your eye is the enormous shifter. It's huge!
The seats are comfortable and supportive and are covered with a washable fabric. The driver gets an 8-way adjustable seat, while the front passenger gets a 4-way. Both are adjusted manually, with height being done via a hand crank. Not our favorite method but we suppose this is done in lieu of electronics because of the washability of the interior floor area. Also of note, is the passenger seat does not get a left armrest without ponying up an extra $125.
Mid-week we traded out our FJ Cruiser for a loaded yellow one. This one stickered at $29,908 and included the additional airbags, running boards, floor mats, hitch and convenience package. But what we were really interested in was "Upgrade Package #2" which includes A-TRAC, rear differential lock, Multi-Info Display, alloy wheels, and a great-sounding 400W stereo with 6 disc CD changer, MP3 input jack and sub-woofer. I particularly liked the input jack and the perfecly-sized cubby in the center console for my iPod.
Multi-Info Display (Compass, Temperature, Inclinometer) |
The center console holds an iPod Nano perfectly
Ah yes, we named this one "Ol' Yeller." This would be the FJ Cruiser of choice for the real 4-wheeler or someone who just wants all the goodies.
Immediately noticeable on this one is the Multi-Info Display, which has three gauge pods on it; exterior temperature, compass, and inclinomter. This would be both useful and entertaining on the trail, as we would find out the coming weekend.