The 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser, a funky-looking SUV, is based on the 1960 Toyota FJ40 Land Cruiser, the first four-wheel-drive utility vehicle it exported to the United States. Although sold only in small numbers over two decades, those original FJs still have a cult like following in some places, particularly Southern California.
So when Toyota noticed the trend to retro vehicles—the Mustang, the PT Cruiser, Chevy’s HHR—the company decided it was time to bring back the FJ. It assigned the design task to the company’s Calty studio in Southern California and what resulted was a thoroughly modern, truck-based SUV that retains many of the design cues from 1960.
There’s a nearly vertical front windshield, high, narrow side and rear windows, huge wheel wells with fender bulges and no-nonsense 17-inch-high-sidewall tires. The large front grill is flanked by two round head-lights, and two semi-tractor/trailer-sized rear-view mirrors stick out from the doors.
Entry to the cockpit is through clamshell doors similar to those seen on a lot of pickups these days.
Squint at the overall design and you could be excused if you see some tough-guy themes from the Hummer H3 as well.
But once you get past the looks, what’s the FJ Cruiser really all about?
Perhaps surprisingly, the FJ Cruiser is an affordable—base price starts at a little less than $22,000— competent SUV with legitimate off-road credentials. And despite looks that suggest a rough, noisy ride, the FJ is very civilized, with quiet, refined road manners.
Underneath the FJ is a modified chassis from the 4Runner. That means the FJ is available as either a two-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive vehicle. In four-wheel-drive mode there’s a traditional two-speed transfer case, which makes that version suitable for serious off-road use. Ground clearance is a rock-hurdling 9.6 inches, and there are also skid plates and tow hooks onboard.
The only engine available is a four-liter, 239 horsepower V6 that also has plenty of low-end grunts with 278 foot-pounds of torque. It’s available with a five-speed automatic transmission in two-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive forms and with a six-speed manual in a full-time four-wheel drive option.
For those who are mindful of fuel costs, the FJ has some bad news—it requires premium unleaded gas and gets 17-22 mpg depending on the transmission. Our four-wheel-drive FJ Cruiser with automatic transmission—sticker price of about $26,500—struggled to get much above 17 mpg in combination city-highway driving.
There are beefy P265-70 tires mounted on industrial-looking 17-inch black-painted wheels (chrome wheels are optional). At each corner there’s a ventilated disc brake, and the chassis also benefits from stability control and anti-lock brakes.
Towing capacity is 5,000 pounds, and the overall vehicle weight is about 4,200 pounds.
On the inside, the FJ Cruiser is a utility-oriented vehicle for drivers who aren’t afraid to get dirty. The floorboards are covered in a composite plastic material; and the fabric seats are water resistant, meaning you could cautiously rinse mud out of the interior.
But a lot of convenience items are also on-board: power windows, door locks and mirrors; AC; a six-speaker AM/FM/CD that has two of the speakers in the roof for a deeper sound; tilt steering wheel; and lots of cup holders and storage cubbies.
Optional is a dash-mounted gauge pod that includes an exterior-temperature dial, compass and inclinometer, which measures the degree of the grade you’re on—helpful when you’re going off road.
Toyota says the FJ will hold five people, but that’s arguable.
Leg room in the backseat is only adequate, and it’s hard to imagine three people sitting on the bench seat for very long without complaining.
The clamshell rear doors make entry a little tricky and require the front seats to be moved fully forward. Also, the handle to open the rear doors is positioned on the inside panel instead of the doorjamb, the way such doors operate on most pickups. That makes them somewhat difficult to open if you’re carrying anything.
Rear cargo room ranges from more than 27 cubic feet with the rear seats in place to about 67 cubic feet with the rear seats folded down.
On the highway, the FJ Cruiser is a treat to drive. It has plenty of power for merging and passing, and the handling is much more precise than might be expected of a truck-based vehicle.
The only drawback in the cabin is the poor rearward visibility, which stems not only from the small side windows but also from the obscured view out the back, thanks to the full-sized tire that’s mounted on the rear door. It means drivers will have to make frequent use of the generous side mirrors.
What sets the FJ Cruiser apart from other, youth-oriented vehicles on the market—the Honda Element comes to mind—is that it’s a much more rugged SUV that can acquit itself well in a variety of environments and uses.
Not bad for a vehicle that looks a little funky.
Originally Published on GRAND Magazine in January-February 2007 Issue