Test Drive: 2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser toyota car test drives
2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser. Click image to enlarge

By Haney Louka; photos by Michael Clark

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2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser

Winnipeg, Manitoba – I must admit that by and large, Toyota’s vehicles don’t register high on the excitement scale for me. I’m a fan of responsive handlers with decent power that are only as large as they need to be. Like the Audi A4, or Infiniti G35.

Given those choice automobiles, it should also be quite clear that I’m a car guy, not a truck guy. So it’s all the more significant when a truck like this 2008 FJ Cruiser appeals to me as much as it does.

While retro design cues have been prevalent in various automobiles since the mid-’90s, few have resulted in as successful an execution as the FJ. Why? Because this isn’t some watered-down trucklet that’s designed to merely bear a passing resemblance to an automotive icon. This is the real deal: a genuine sport-utility vehicle that pays proper homage to its predecessor.

Test Drive: 2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser toyota car test drives
Test Drive: 2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser toyota car test drives
2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser. Click image to enlarge

The other reason the FJ scores well in my books is because it has a high utility factor and it’s not over-priced. At $30,725 to start, the FJ represents a strong value proposition. Standard equipment includes, among other things, a torquey V6, 5,000-lb. towing capacity, stability control, part-time four-wheel drive with a two-speed transfer case, four-wheel discs, 17-inch alloys, six-speaker audio, curtain airbags, and water repellent seat fabric.

The proof is in the numbers: 244 mm (9.6 in.) of ground clearance and a water fording depth of 698 mm (27.5 in.) elevate the FJ to serious off-roader status as affordable out-of-the-box packages go. Want to look for competition in this arena? The $44,900 Land Rover LR2 doesn’t come close to those numbers. Hummer H3? It still costs $10,000 more than the FJ and doesn’t have the ground clearance. The Jeep Liberty? It’s two inches closer to the ground than the FJ, although buyers can equip it with more creature comforts.

My tester had a six-speed manual transmission and full-time four-wheel-drive. A five-speed automatic with part-time 4WD costs another $1,000.

My review subject was also loaded with options, at least in the FJ context. Don’t expect heated leather seats and DVD entertainment systems – the available options are consistent with the FJ’s character: functionality comes first, with some added attention paid to the audiophile.

The ‘C’ package (a $5,555 touch) on my truck included active traction control (a dash-switched electronic differential lock), upgraded audio (subwoofer plus eight speakers and six-disc changer, with controls on the steering wheel), cruise control, back-up sensor, 115-volt power outlet, an inclinometer and compass, a sturdy and useful tubular roof rack (good for 75 kg/165 lb), keyless entry, and more.

Folks who don’t care so much about the sound system can save almost $500 and go for the off-road package – new for 2008 – instead, which foregoes the audio upgrade but gives them Bilstein shocks and more aggressive 16-inch tires.

Since the FJ was introduced in 2006 as an ’07 model, it’s no surprise that changes for this year are minor. Other than the new off-road package, the only other change is that items that were previously optional-side and curtain bags, tire pressure monitoring, rear wiper, and front seat side visors (a nifty and useful feature)-are now standard.

Test Drive: 2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser toyota car test drives
Test Drive: 2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser toyota car test drives
2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser. Click image to enlarge

Predictably, the FJ is a bit of a thirsty beast, a characteristic that’s exacerbated by the truck’s penchant for high-test fuel: official Transport Canada figures for fuel consumption are 14.5 L/100 km in the city and 11.2 on the highway cycle. I was a bit surprised, though, to learn that models equipped with the optional five-speed slushbox actually consume less fuel on the test cycle, to the tune of 13.6 and 10.2 L/100 km respectively.

The source of this thirst-a 4.0-litre V-6 that’s shared with the 4Runner-generates 239 hp and 278 lb-ft of torque: enough to keep the nearly 2000-kg truck moving well, considering that it has all of the aerodynamic qualities of a brick.

Lest you think that the presence of a six-speed stick means that this is a sporty truck, allow me to make this point clear: it’s a trucky truck, and that’s the way I like it. The manual gearbox works well in this context, though, with an action that’s a little notchy accompanied by fairly long throws. The powertrain as a whole, though, is very refined and the engine-tranny combo works well enough such that smooth shifting becomes natural almost immediately.

The FJ’s interior continues the theme of rugged functionality suggested by its outward appearance. There isn’t an ounce of carpet to be found: this is a hose-down space front and back. Access to the rear seating area isn’t great because of the high step-in and relatively narrow rear-hinged door, but the front seats fold forward to ease this situation if necessary. Once seated back there, passengers will find plenty of room, although that legroom comes at the expense of maximizing cargo space.

Folding the 60/40 split rear bench is a simple two-step affair, involving first flipping the seat bottoms forward followed by the seat backs to give a flat load floor behind the front buckets. The easy-clean hard surface means that objects will be sliding around back there, but tie downs are provided should that be an issue.

Test Drive: 2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser toyota car test drives
Test Drive: 2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser toyota car test drives
2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser. Click image to enlarge

From the driver’s seat, information is clear and plentiful. The standard array of gauges is just behind the steering wheel with a combination of white-on-black and black-on-white lettering and smaller coolant temp, battery voltage, and fuel gauges off to the right. The centre stack becomes the focal point, though, with a body-coloured bezel around the audio and HVAC controls. Just above the centre stack sit the compass, inclinometer, and ambient temperature display. They’re situated in a not-so-subtle housing perched atop the dash, but they don’t seem to get in the way in the course of normal driving.

The windshield is wide and upright, necessitating the use of a unique triple-wiper setup that manages to do a good job of covering real estate. A consequence of this upright position is that the visors are far away and don’t reach very far back when they’re rotated to the side windows. For that reason, Toyota’s designers put a completely separate side visor to keep the sun out of the driver’s peripheral vision. A good, useful touch.

The FJ Cruiser’s value lies in its combination of reasonable pricing and retro-inspired nature, both in terms of appearance and genuine utility. Just don’t go to your local dealer expecting to find one with the creature comforts available in most SUVs.

Pricing: 2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser


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