Toyota’s all-new FJ Cruiser takes several automotive rule books to the shredder to deliver a hip, but retro SUV which is stylish and practical, brilliant on-road and off.
While the FJ Cruiser’s Korean-born chief designer, Jin Kim doesn’t like the ‘retro’ tag’ for his creation (“I just tried to keep the essence of the FJ40 LandCruiser” he says), there is no doubt FJ does thumb its nose at SUV automotive ‘norms’ in many ways, such as:
• brilliantly engineered, rear-opening second row doors
• audio speakers in the roof
• practical, plastic-trimmed interior which is ‘anti-luxury’
• retro-look exterior which is chunky and ‘non-aero’
We reckon it’s a brilliant concept, and after a couple of days driving the Toyota FJ Cruiser in a variety of conditions – including some very tough off-road tracks – we can confirm the driving experience matches the brilliance of its exterior and interior styling.
It seems the new Toyota FJ Cruiser has taken more than just its conceptual inspiration from the iconic Toyota LandCruiser FJ40 sold in the 1960s - the newcomer has also inherited the go-anywhere off-road prowess of the original.
Toyota FJ Cruiser Overview
Toyota FJ Cruiser is a mid-sized SUV based on the platform of Toyota’s hot-selling Prado. At 4670mm in overall length and with a wheelbase of 2690mm, the newcomer sits between the three-door and five-door Prado models in dimensions.
Toyota Australia is selling the Toyota FJ Cruiser in one model grade - equipped with a V6 petrol engine and five-speed automatic transmission - priced at $44,990. That’s about $500 more than the entry-level Toyota Kluger and about $1,000 less than the three-door Toyota Prado.
Unlike Toyota’s other SUVs - with their ‘technological overload’ drive systems - Toyota frankly admits the FJ Cruiser is rugged and simple. There’s no ‘KDSS’ or crawl control – just a lockable differential and A-TRAC traction control.
But don’t confuse that lack of electronic ‘gee-whizz’ with a lack of ability. As we discovered, the FJ Cruiser is astoundingly competent off-road – aided by ‘Toyota-Best’ departure and breakover angles of 31-degrees and 29-degrees plus a 36-degree approach angle.
But as much as anything – like the Jeep Wrangler and Land Rover Defender – Toyota’s FJ Cruiser is all about a look that’s a modern twist on an iconic original.
Toyota FJ Cruiser Engine
Toyota FJ Cruiser runs the same 4.0-litre quad-cam V6 engine as Prado and HiLux. Code-numbered 1GR-FE, this long-time Toyota favourite delivers FJ Cruiser 200kW at 5600rpm and 380Nm at 4400rpm (310Nm is available from 1200rpm).
Toyota says that 200kW/380Nm, combined with FJ Cruiser’s 1955kgs kerb weight, equals a better power-to-weight than Jeep Wrangler.
Fuel consumption is rated at 11.4l/100kms (combined cycle) and exhaust emissions score 267g/km.
Drive is via Toyota’s A750F five-speed electronic transmission. Toyota FJ Cruiser is part-time 4WD with a driver-select two-speed transfer case.
Toyota FJ Cruiser The Interior
Growing up in rural up-state New York, interior designer William Chergosky was familiar with the FJ40 LandCruiser from his childhood. In fact William came from Chrysler and started work at Toyota’s Newport Beach, California design facility (CALTY) the very day the FJ Cruiser project got the green light from management.
“I did not want the interior to look ‘styled’,” Mr Chergosky explained. Rather I tried to recreate the essence of what made the FJ40 so special, reinterpreting it using more modern techniques.”
There’s a tool-like simplicity and industrial look/feel about the interior from the easy-clean floor to the water-repellent seat material. Everything is driven by functionality – for example, the ‘chunky’ controls like the gear lever enable FJ Cruiser owners to operate their vehicles wearing ski gloves
And there’s the metal intrusion in the dashboard and body-colour panels wherever you look – just like the FJ140.
Front seats adjust for height and lumbar support (but the steering wheel only for rake). There’s three nice-looking gauges (tacho, speedo and fuel level) and on top of the centre console is a three-gauge pod with inclinometer, compass and outside temperature readouts.
Access to the rear seat is a little complex with the rear-opening doors, but once aboard, second row passengers enjoy great legroom and comfort.
Underlining the functionality of the Toyota FJ Cruiser, that second row seat split folds flat or can be removed altogether to max-out luggage capacity. Out back are four tie-down points.
Toyota FJ Cruiser Exterior & Styling
A young designer of Korean origin starts work at Toyota’s CALTY design studios in upmarket Newport Beach, California. Immediately he is told to come-up with a concept for a new mid-size SUV to be pitched against similar concepts from rival designers.
What chance would you give him of success?
Well that’s exactly the story of Jin Kim, the guy responsible for the FJ Cruiser. Not only was his design successful, it was so good that very few changes were made before the FJ went into volume production.
They called it an ‘RYU’ vehicle – an acronym for ‘Rugged Youth Utility’. The idea was to bring to the SUV market the same sort of young buyer appeal Toyota was achieving in North America with its funky SCION brand.
Kim drew his inspiration from Toyota’s iconic LandCruiser FJ40 and the America pit bull dog he had a youngster. “It’s not really a massive dog, but it has a lot of presence to it and you get really intimidated looking at it,” he revealed.
The result is not quite so retro as the MINI and Volkswagen New Beetle, but presents numerous cues from the original – the white roof, horizontal windscreen with three wipers, the unique grille with ‘TOYOTA’ in letters (not a logo) and the squared-off blistered guards.
Then there are the remarkable rear-opening doors for rear seat passengers. While the original concept had doors which were too small, the production version uses an ingenious design which not only keeps the required three-door-look, it provides reasonable access to the rear seat and the side impact safety required by the American NHTSA.
The overall result does bring a smile to your face. But in all seriousness, it’s unlikely a new vehicle will be launched in Australia this year to match the Toyota FJ Cruiser for its ground-breaking design trends and smart execution.
Toyota FJ Cruiser On The Road
Toyota ushered-in the FJ Cruiser in outback South Australia with a drive program on sealed roads and bush tracks around beautiful Wilpena Pound.
Surprise number one leapt out initially when Car Showroom jumped into an FJ Cruiser for the first time for a brief dash down a sealed road from Hawker air strip. The FJ was actually felt more refined and sure-footed than the highly-praised Prado.
Seiji Kanda, a Group Leader from Toyota’s chassis engineering department in Nagoya explained this on-road excellence comes from not insignificant changes to the Prado’s ‘donor’ chassis for the FJ – the extra compliance of the 17-inch tyres, 10 per-cent firmer dampers and re-tuned power steering. These modifications came after local testing with Toyota Australia engineers.
Other changes implemented globally after the ‘Downunder’ tests included NVH improvements (especially on ‘coarse-chip’ rural roads) and the fitment of grab handles to the rear of the front seats to provide rear seat passengers with extra comfort.
Surprise number two came on the extreme off-road tracks we tackled on private properties – steep, loose climbs and descents, dry creek crossings, massive rocks, you name it, the FJ Cruiser conquered it. All with 4WD kit which by today’s Toyota standards is somewhat basic (although the A-TRAC active traction control system is a beauty and takes some of the hard work from throttle control in slippery conditions).
Toyota FJ Cruiser Challenges
As the FJ Cruiser was originally conceived for the North American market and in fact presented some engineering challenges to adopt to right-hand-drive for Toyota’s home Japanese market, a diesel engine was not on the ‘To-Do’ list.
Toyota says it’s not even under consideration.
Toyota FJ Cruiser Verdict
Toyota FJ Cruiser is already one of the real surprises of the 2011 new models. And there is a very real chance Toyota may have another icon on the books.
Toyota has managed to combine head-turning looks, crafted in such a way the all-new FJ Cruiser delivers more than just a token nod to the historic FJ40.
It’s modern, very clever and immensely practical.
Turn the ignition key and the FJ becomes pure 2011 with superb on-road refinement and off-road competency.
We’re massive fans already.
Toyota FJ Cruiser The Competition
Jeep Wrangler has iconic American looks and style and can match the FJ Cruiser in the rough stuff, but pulls up just a bit short for on-road refinement and handling. Pricing is competitive too.
Same for Land Rover Defender – staggeringly impressive off-road, historic and distinctly British style, but not in the league of FJ Cruiser on-road. That British style doesn’t come cheap either.