The FJ Cruiser is a retro-themed design that harks back to Toyota’s FJ40 sport-utility vehicle. Sold in the States from 1960 until 1983, the FJ40 was a rugged, bare-bones Jeep-like vehicle that helped build Toyota’s reputation for quality in the United States. Beloved by off-roaders, many FJ40s survive to this day.

In an attempt to capture some of the nostalgia and passion of the old FJ, Toyota created the new FJ Cruiser, which went on sale in 2006. Based on a modified version of the body-on-frame architecture of the Toyota 4Runner SUV, the FJ Cruiser has a plethora of FJ40 styling cues; witness the two round headlights up front, the protruding front fenders, the white top, and the chunky C-pillar. But aside from the retro-themed design, the FJ Cruiser is a fully modern SUV under the skin.

Powering the FJ Cruiser is Toyota’s familiar 4.0-liter V-6, which can be found under the hood of the 4Runner and Tacoma. In the FJ Cruiser, the engine puts out 239 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual and a five-speed automatic are the transmission options. In an odd arrangement, FJ Cruisers with a manual transmission get full-time four-wheel drive, and automatic-equipped models get a simpler part-time four-wheel-drive system or rear-wheel drive. The original FJ40 was known for its off-road prowess, and the FJ Cruiser continues that tradition. Large, off-road-friendly tires; a low range; and good ground clearance with obstacle-clearing approach and departures angles give the FJ Cruiser the ability to keep going when the trail turns ugly.

On the road, the FJ Cruiser shows its truck roots by being slightly noisy and rough-riding. The front seats offer tons of space, but the Tonka-style interior design can look a bit contrived and cheap. Back-seat room is good but not as spacious as one might expect. Rear-seat access is through a small rear-hinged access door. Rear visibility, owing to those huge C-pillars, is dreadful. Fuel economy for the manual model comes in at 15 mpg city and 18 mpg highway; both automatic models (rear drive and four-wheel drive) return 16 in the city and 20 on the highway.

Verdict

The FJ Cruiser offers good value for a Toyota sport-utility at the expense of some refinement. Interior and exterior styling aren’t to everyone’s taste, but those who find the FJ Cruiser’s design appealing will likely look past its on-road warts. There’s the trucklike handling, but the FJ’s 4.0-liter V-6 provides good acceleration. For those looking for an off-road-ready sport-utility vehicle with distinct styling, the gruff FJ Cruiser should prove to be satisfying.

What’s New for 2008

For 2008, the FJ Cruiser gets standard front-seat-mounted side-impact airbags and roll-sensing curtain airbags that inflate in side-impact collisions or if the vehicle tips over or rolls. An optional Off-Road package is new.

Trim Levels

The FJ Cruiser only comes in one trim level. Prices start at $23,230 for a rear-wheel-drive example with an automatic transmission. Four-wheel-drive FJs start at $24,410 for a manual version and $24,820 for an automatic, which utilizes a part-time 4WD system. The following equipment is standard on the FJ Cruiser: two-tone exterior color (white roof), black bumpers with metallic trim, silver exterior mirrors, a rear-window defogger, silver door handles, black fender trim, mud flaps, 17-inch steel wheels, a full-size spare tire, body-color interior trim, a tilting steering wheel, a six-speaker AM/FM/CD audio with MP3/WMA playback capability, power windows and locks, air conditioning, a limited-slip rear differential (2WD only), and an eight-way-adjustable manual driver’s seat.

The FJ Cruiser also has a four-way manual passenger seat, 60/40 split-folding rear seats, a rubber floor and cargo mat, stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes, dual front airbags, front-seat-mounted side-impact airbags, curtain airbags with a roll-over sensor, front-seatbelt pretensioners, and a tire-pressure monitoring system.

Optional Equipment

Automatic-transmission-equipped FJ Cruisers with two-wheel drive offer one option package dubbed Option B ($2490), which combines 17-inch aluminum wheels and a full-size spare with the Convenience package (remote keyless entry, cruise control, power exterior mirrors with turn-signal lights, tinted rear glass, a rear wiper, reverse parking sensors, and daytime running lights).

Four-wheel-drive examples with an automatic transmission offer several options groups. Option A brings the Convenience package. Option B ($2830) adds a locking rear differential, 17-inch aluminum wheels with a full-size spare, and the Convenience package. Option C ($3215) brings the All-Terrain package (BFGoodrich Rugged Trail tires, 16-inch aluminum wheels, Bilstein shock absorbers, a Cyclone air precleaner, a rear differential lock, and a trip computer) and the Convenience package. Option D ($4460) puts together the Convenience package with the Upgrade Package #2, which includes 17-inch aluminum wheels with a full-size spare, active traction control, a locking rear differential, a 115-volt power outlet, a nine-speaker AM/FM sound system with a six-CD in-dash changer with MP3/WMA playback capability and an auxiliary input jack, body-color exterior door trim, a trip computer, a multi-information display (inclinometer, compass, temperature), a leather-wrapped steering wheel with integrated audio controls, and brushed aluminum transmission and transfer-case levers. Option E ($4745) starts with the Convenience package and adds running boards and the Upgrade Package #1 (essentially Upgrade Package #2 with a slightly tweaked stereo). Finally, Option F ($4805) is identical to Option D but adds running boards.

FJ Cruisers with a manual transmission offer six options packages that are similar to those available on four-wheel-drive automatic models. Option A ($2490) combines 17-inch aluminum wheels—and a full-size spare—with the Convenience package. Option B ($2875) is for the off-road enthusiast and brings the All-Terrain and Convenience packages together. Option C ($3007) adds a roof rack, a towing hitch, and a spare-tire cover to the Convenience package. Option D ($4249) puts together the Convenience package with Upgrade Package #2 and carpeted floor and cargo mats. Option E ($4335) starts with the Convenience package and tacks on running boards and the Upgrade Package #1. Finally, Option F ($4395) is identical to Option D but adds running boards.

Safety

Stability and traction control, anti-lock brakes, dual front airbags, front-seat-mounted side-impact airbags, curtain airbags with a rollover sensor, front-seatbelt pretensioners, and a tire-pressure monitoring system are standard on all FJ Cruisers.

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