It’s rare that any vehicle triggers a confused response from the average kiwi but the Toyota FJ Cruiser is one machine that can. With retro-inspired styling and unconventional angles the FJ Cruiser body has a brave disregard for low-key Kiwi tastes. Many Kiwi’s find themselves torn between loving it or loathing it. The Toyota badge draws us in, instantly recognising the FJ as a vehicle that must be reliable and practical like our much-loved Corolla or Hilux. But on closer inspection this Toyota seems different, it appears strangely familiar but clearly favours form over function, it’s bulky and flashy and we just don’t know. Toyota has certainly thrown the NZ market a curveball with its FJ Cruiser. In an attempt to avoid mass confusion, Car and SUV had some seat time in this distinctive off roader and brought back the results.
New Zealand is late in receiving the FJ Cruiser with it first released in the States back in 2006. It began life as a design concept paying homage to the original FJ40 Land Cruisers of the 1960s but its popularity led to full production. Built with the U.S market firmly in mind the FJ comes to us in one specification but with nine body colours on offer but the roof must be white.
Exterior design is the hot topic with the FJ and that’s because it’s bold and a touch brazen. The retro styling cues are most evident up front with a wide bonnet scoop, close-set circular headlights and rectangular mesh grille. The front indicators push wide of the guards and the windscreen is almost vertical like its go-anywhere ancestor. At the rear, wrap around glass continues the retro theme and the white roof caps it all off. More modern touches are found in the FJ’s bulky bumpers and toughened plastic guards, wide pillars and 17-inch alloy wheels with tall 265/70 rubber. There are also reverse-hinged suicide doors that help access to the rear seat while keeping the more traditional 2-door appearance. There’s no doubt the FJ styling polarizes opinion but it’s fun, it stands out, it’s almost overwhelmingly purposeful and it’s a refreshingly brave design for Toyota.
Inside, more retro revelations can be made. There’s an industrial and chunky look to the FJ cabin leaving no doubt that this is a rugged off-road machine. The exterior color is repeated on parts of the dashboard and door cards breaking up the dark grey overtones. The switchgear is large, easy to reach and simple to use. Instrumentation is also suitably large and there are extra gauges on the top of the dash displaying a compass, outside temperature and vehicle pitch. The flat top dashboard has a cubby for small storage, but the glovebox is mounted very low and opens on to the shins of the shotgun passenger. A three-spoke leather wrapped steering wheel is thick and houses audio control buttons but only adjusts for angle not reach.
Standard equipment on the FJ isn’t bad and includes handy kit like a 6-Disc 8- speaker stereo, small reversing camera, side sun visors, Bluetooth phone capability, remote door locking and cruise control.
Build quality feels Toyota tough, like you could run a herd of cattle in one door and out the other without serious consequence. That said, some of the plastics are very hard and flat, while this would usually be a bad thing in the FJ Cruiser it almost seems fitting due to the cabin’s easy clean nature. The well-bolstered seats are trimmed in a water-repellant fabric that can wipe clean and the rubber look flooring is specially grooved to channel water away.
In terms of space, the FJ is a wide beast so there’s plenty of room for front occupants with ample legroom. In the back seat things aren’t as rosy and while there’s certainly enough head and legroom for a couple of adults, entry and exit is a chore. The rear suicide doors can only be accessed with the front doors already open and the front seats may need to be leaned forward to allow easy access to the rear. Visibility is also an issue in the back seat, it’s slightly raised but with the short side windows, thick C-pillars and wide seats in front – it’s hard to enjoy the scenery. With the difficult entry and hampered visibility the back seat of the FJ isn’t exactly kid friendly, but if they do throw up, you can just hose it out later.
The cargo hatch is accessed through a large side-swinging door that opens from the roadside of the FJ; it’s very weighty with the bolt-on full-size spare wheel. There’s a 790-litre capacity behind the rear seats, which is usable but smaller than most mid-size SUVs. However, the rear seat back can fold down to create a much larger area and there are four tie down loops for securing a load.
The FJ Cruiser shares its platform and suspension with the LC Prado and it also shares its engine – a 4.0-litre V6 petrol unit. It’s a well proven motor that revs-freely and produces 200kW of power and 380Nm of torque. While that may not sound like much to shift around a near 2-tonne 4WD, the engine has punch and seldom feels burdened by the heavy body. At just 1200rpm, 310Nm of torque is available with the full compliment kicking in at 4400rpm, impressive for a petrol engine and it means the FJ is no slouch off the line. It’s punchy through the mid-range as well with overtaking moves completed with relative ease. The V6 is also very refined and goes about its work at a whisper, this makes driving the FJ a relaxed experience but is at odds with the brutish nature the exterior styling implies.
Shifting the gears is Toyota’s slick 5-speed auto box. The ratios are well spaced and the changes are predictable and unobtrusive. Fuel consumption is officially rated at 11.4L/100km but drivers will struggle to achieve that particularly with regular doses of suburban or city driving. The FJ is a thirsty beast, but that’s the trade off for the smooth petrol V6 engine. Towing capacity is rated at 2250kg for a braked trailer and 750kg unbraked.
On the tarmac there’s a lot to like about the FJ. It’s surprisingly charming with its civilized manners around town and total composure on the open road. It can feel a touch floaty at times so you won’t want to throw it into bends. But the soft suspension does gobble up even the harshest bumps and dips with consummate ease. The FJ will lean its shoulder into corners but no more than you’d expect from any SUV and there is enough grip to avoid heart in mouth moments. The steering is on the light side so don’t expect too much communication through the wheel.
Overall refinement is mixed, only minimal tyre or engine noise enters the cabin but the square body shape creates audible wind noise. Visibility is an issue in all directions, the high bonnet and short windscreen affects the front view and the broad C-pillars create blind spots at the rear.
Get off the tarmac and the FJ will prove that it’s a pureblood off roader. Although it’s missing some of the high-tech electronic aides of the more expensive Prado it has all the basics well covered. Short front and rear overhangs make for a 36-degree approach angle, 31-degree departure angle and a 29-degree break-over angle. There’s 22cm ground clearance, good wheel articulation and tough underbody protection. A low range transfer case means the auto transmission can be switched to 4WD high and then low-range 4WD for the tough stuff. If that’s not enough there’s a rear diff lock function to keep the FJ pushing on. The petrol V6 also functions admirably off-road with plenty of low-speed torque and strong engine braking.
Safety equipment on the FJ checks out nicely with front, side and curtain airbags included. There’s also stability control and an active traction control system, ABS brakes and 3-point seatbelts for all positions with pretensioners at the front.
So what’s the bottom line with the FJ Cruiser? Well, it’s an interesting prospect and a true individual in Toyota’s range. The love it or hate it design will immediately put off some, but it has an enjoyable ride and off-road ability that’s up there with the best. The FJ interior doesn’t have the right type of practicality for daily family use but it is practical in a rugged, muddy way. The V6 petrol engine is thirstier than diesel alternatives but its also smooth and well powered. If you’re looking for a daily-driven family SUV the more expensive Prado would make a better choice. But if you love your Land Cruisers and are planning on regular off-road excursions then you won’t be disappointed with the FJ.
What we like:
- Bold exterior styling
- On road refinement
- Strong and smooth petrol engine
- Tough-guy off road ability
What we don’t like:
- Fuel usage will keep you poor
- Compromised visibility
- Glovebox placement
- Wind noise
Who will buy this car: Badge fans mainly, but also those who want a hardcore off-road machine but can’t afford a Land Cruiser Prado or 200 Series.
Cool Factor: Fair, the FJ has plenty of ‘wow’ factor and a staunch presence. But some people may assume that its driver is a bit of a dick. But hey, they just don’t know you.
Words and Photos: Adam Mamo