05/30/06 — FJ Cruiser built to drive off road

View Archive

FJ Cruiser built to drive off road

Toyota FJ Cruiser (2007)

The white over black 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser spoke to us during a week’s involvement.

It said, buy me only if off-road driving is in your blood. If you never leave the pavement, put your cash in one of my crossover relatives, perhaps a Toyota RAV4 or even a Highlander.

Not many new offerings in today’s “on pavement” world are created with the primary purpose of hitting the dirt trail, taking on fallen trees, climbing over in-stead of around rocks and fording shallow streams.

Toyota FJ Cruiser, 2007

Of course there are more than a handful of sport utility vehicles that can accomplish these tasks. But no matter how adept they are at taking us deep into the woods, most are primarily used by the soccer moms of the world to carry groceries and kids, or men to pull boats, motor homes and other playthings on pavement.

But the retro-looking FJ Cruiser is all about rugged weekend adventure. We place it in the same price and capability category as the Jeep Wrangler, Nissan Xterra and Hummer H3.

But even the Xterra and Hummer are more adept at hauling passengers with four full-sized doors.

The FJ Cruiser has two regular doors and two pickup-like half doors. This arrangement is not conducive to loading passengers. Getting in and out is a problem for the less-than-agile. Squeezing into the rear seat through the small space created by the half-door can best be described as tedious. We can imagine the dexterity it would take to strap in and use a child’s car seat.

Once incarcerated in the back, leg room is on the tight side and claustrophobia is an ever-present possibility. The only plus is a high ceiling.

But the biggest detriments to everyday driving, we discovered, are serious blind spots. Backing up in a crowded parking lot is breathtaking. On more than one occasion we thought this is an adventure best left to someone else.

The lack of visibility from the B pillar back is the result of an exercise in form over function.

So, did Toyota lay a big automotive egg with its newest creation?

The answer seems to be no.

Does the Cruiser have a place in America’s automotive lineup.

The answer is probably yes.

It has a lot of things going for it, but in our opinion one of those things does not include hauling a family.

It’s a worthwhile addition for those who value off-road driving as much as cruising on pavement. And it can certainly serve as the primary vehicle for those who regularly carry only one or two people and cargo.

It’s a satisfactory on-road companion with acceptable handling, decent acceleration and the feeling of Toyota quality. And unlike some of the other vehicles designed for the rough stuff, it has a pleasant, non-truck-like ride.

The FJ Cruiser is based on the concept vehicle introduced at the 2003 North American International Auto Show. It received positive reviews, and the public was impressed. Despite its rather extensive lineup of off-road vehicles, Toyota decided to take the Cruiser from show car to production with the goal of making it the most capable off-road vehicle in the fleet.

Its blocky retro looks with upright windshield and spare tire mounted on the swing-open rear door harken back 50 years to the original FJ40. If you can say one thing about the design, it looks like no other on the road.

Built on a modified 4Runner platform, the FJ Cruiser has a strong resume of off-road credentials. It has a whopping 9.6 inches of ground clearance, 34-degree approach and 30-degree departure angles, eight inches of front and nine inches of rear suspension travel and skid plates for the engine, transfer case and fuel tank.

Vehicles equipped with the five-speed automatic come with a transfer case that can be driven in 2-Hi, 4-Hi and 4-Lo modes. Cruisers equipped with the six-speed manual are always in four-wheel drive with 4-Hi. 4-Hi with locked differential and 4-Lo with locked differential are at the ready.

The limited slip differential offers a 40-60 torque split with as much as 70 percent of the power directed to the rear wheels and as much as 53 percent to the front wheels depending on traction requirements.

The manual transmission models include a clutch cancel feature that allows the driver to start the engine without depressing the clutch. This feature is designed to help the driver when the vehicle stalls on a steep incline.

Even the interior is designed for no-nonsense off-roading with rubber floors, and seats covered in water-resistant fabric.

The FJ Cruiser can be purchased in two-wheel drive format, but Toyota expects 90 percent of the vehicles to be purchased with four-wheel drive.

Power comes from Toyota’s a 4.0-liter V-6 that serves a variety of other vehicles including the 4Runner. It generates 239 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque.

The engine matches up well with the Cruiser giving it adequate performance in all situations. Zero to 60 time has been measured at 7.8 seconds.

But as you might expect, fuel economy is not for the faint of heart, especially at escalating pump prices. The FJ Cruiser is rated at 17 city and 21 highway with the four-wheel drive automatic and 16/19 for the manual transmission.

The vehicle comes in one trim level with either two-wheel or four-wheel drive and either a manual or automatic transmission starting at $22,338. Our four-wheel drive test truck carried a base price of $23,928 and after adding a $1,840 convenience package showed a bottom line of $26,441.

All models are well equipped, and Toyota has not overlooked safety features that aid in on-road driving as well as off-road including four-wheel antilock disc brakes with brake assist, stability control and traction control. Side airbags and side-curtain airbags are optional.

Standard amenities include power windows and locks, air conditioning and six-speaker stereo with CD player. Unfortunately for the bargain hunter, the aforementioned convenience package must be added to get such usually standard features as keyless entry, power mirrors and cruise control.

Toyota plans on building 46,000 vehicles in the first year and early sales figures show that it should have no trouble selling them.

Just be careful when backing through the blind spots. The fender you dent may not be your own.

By Jim Meachen
Published in Car Reviews on May 30, 2006 2:24 PM