2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser
2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser. Click image to enlarge

Test Drive: 2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser

Manufacturer’s web site
Toyota Canada

Review and photos by Chris Chase

Photo Gallery:
2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser

The Toyota FJ Cruiser is a modern rendition of the rugged FJ40 Land Cruiser off-road utility vehicle that is iconic among off-road devotees. Its headlight in grille design, up-right windshield with three wipers, and optional roof rack are cues to the original FJ. With a stocky body, extremely wide C pillars and two-door design, the FJ Cruiser is curiously appealing. I’ve heard it described as both rugged (males) and cute (females).

The FJ Cruiser was a popular addition to the Toyota lineup with 9,820 Canadians giving rugged and/or cute a high priority in its first model year (2006 and 2007 combined). But such perceptions have limitations as sales dropped to 2,630 in 2008, 899 in 2009, 797 in 2010—you get the picture, a slow descent into quicksand. The US experience was quite similar, just multiply by 10.

Apparently consumers don’t need auto writers to help them make intelligent decisions.

2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser
2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser. Click image to enlarge

This is not a knock on the FJ Cruiser, which does what it is designed for extremely well, but evidence of the left to right brain switch that many consumers probably experience once they realize that their dream vehicle doesn’t really meet their needs. Once they see how well equipped a RAV4 can be at $35,045 (Limited 4WD), it can be difficult to still lust after the FJ at a starting price of $32,725 ($38,745 as tested). Add to this four real doors, better rear seat leg room, much better visibility, way better fuel economy (AND at time of writing a $3,000 incentive for cash buyers on the RAV4, but only $1,500 on the FJ), and one can see that the FJ Cruiser might have a positive impact on RAV4 sales.

Based on the Toyota Tacoma pickup truck, the FJ Cruiser has a full frame, meaning despite the looks, it is a truck too. The sole engine choice is a 4.0L V6 that makes 260 horsepower and 271 lb-ft of torque, while a choice of a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission is available. All models feature a two-speed transfer case, traction control, vehicle stability control, and fuel tank and transfer case protector plates.

The six-speed manual transmission includes full-time four-wheel drive, which splits the torque 40/60 under normal driving conditions but can redistribute as necessary, and the rear differential lock can be manually engaged for 50/50 distribution. Our test vehicle was equipped with the optional five-speed automatic, which includes part-time 4WD with shift-on-the-fly capability.

2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser
2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser. Click image to enlarge

The vehicle was also equipped with the “Urban” package, which added a bunch of useful things like cruise control, keyless entry, multi-information display, power adjustable mirrors and folding passenger armrest. Kidding aside, the Urban package also includes cargo area mat, compass and inclinometer, auto-dimming rear-view mirror with back-up camera and back-up sensors (a necessity), JBL Synthesis audio system with 10 speakers and rear subwoofer, running boards and leather-wrapped steering wheel.

An “Off-road” package is also available, which is basically the same as the Urban package (no kidding)—just substitute Bilstein shocks and a retro roof rack for the running boards, JBL audio system and interior upgrades.

Leather seating, sunroof, climate control, navigation or any other modern convenience that might be construed as cushy is not available. And with an interior that emphasizes durability over creature comforts, it is a utilitarian space, the kind you’d clean with a bucket of water.

2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser
2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser
2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser. Click image to enlarge

Seats are firm—an auto writer euphemism for rock hard—but guaranteed to last longer than your butt. Visibility is poor, particularly to the rear quarters, where the large C-pillars obscure a wide swath of territory. The side mirrors, which are tall but not wide, do not help much either. A low roof line over a wide dash top also obscures upward and foreground visibility, needed to avoid low hanging branches on a trail or to see over the hood when cresting a hill.

On this test, the FJ Cruiser did not venture off public roads. It has been hot and dry in eastern Ontario since spring and the fields and woods are ready to ignite. Not wanting to be the source of ignition, the decision was made to stay away.

However, I have driven the FJ Cruiser off-road on two other occasions and it demonstrated itself to be extremely capable, if unsophisticated. Short overhangs, front and rear, provide exceptional approach (34 degrees), departure (31 degrees) and break-over (27.4 degrees) angles. Despite 245 mm (9.6 in.) of ground clearance, skid plates protect vital components including the engine, transfer case, and fuel tank. The FJ can crawl up steep rock surfaces and ford 700 mm (27.5 in.) of water. The Towing capacity is 2,268 kg (5000 lb.).

But it is a basic off-road 4×4. Four-wheel drive with the five-speed automatic is strictly part time, great for off-road, not so good for the streets and highways where speed and surface conditions are constantly changing. And other than the inclinometer and the driver’s good sense, there are no other electronic or mechanical aids, such as crawl control, downhill assist, hill start assist, a multi-terrain system or the multi terrain ABS brakes that are available with the Toyota 4Runner.

With used values for a 2007 model in the $15,000 to $20,000 range, picking up a good, low-mileage FJ Cruiser for dedicated off-road duty makes good sense.

2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser
2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser
2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser
2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser
2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser. Click image to enlarge

Because despite how much I like the FJ Cruiser for cruising around the bush, cruising around the city is a pain in the firm seat and the less firm part that sits on it.

Toyota has been lauded for building an off-road vehicle with respectable on-road ride and comfort and it is respectable for an off-road truck, which is the caveat most everyone else leaves out. With its relatively short wheelbase and high centre of gravity, the ride has a tendency to choppiness, particularly over roads marked by horizontal frost heaves and cracks.

The driving position is upright for a good view down the road, but not so good looking up or over the hood, and downright disaster-looking-to-happen bad in the right rear quarter. Despite fussing with the skinny optional power adjustable mirror, I couldn’t get rid of the blind spot. Backing up is nerve-racking and the tiny image in the optional mirror mounted rear-view camera is too small and fuzzy to be reliable.

On the road, there is the ever-present drone of the 4.0L V6 that packs enough power to move the FJ forward with authority, a practice that will grow tiresome when the fuel bills roll in. With a city rating of 12.4 L/100 km (9.5 on the highway), the FJ can be thirsty under a heavy foot. Just cruising is what the Cruiser likes best. And not too fast unless you want to hear lots of wind noise. All those upright retro bits hit the wind hard.

The FJ Cruiser is a four-door vehicle with all the convenience of a two-door. The rear half doors open only after the front door is open and rear seat access is not as good or as convenient as a real door. The rear seats are firm (you know what that means) but they can be flipped up or removed entirely if cargo space is a concern (which is what I would do rather than buy an off-road package just to get a roof rack). The spare tire is mounted on the rear door, which swings open toward the curb (urban convenience) instead of toward the driver’s side (off-road convenience).

Despite the faux pas with the rear door, the FJ Cruiser should be on your list of off-road specialists if your idea of a fun vacation is driving the Rubicon Trail or the Mojave Desert. But if you’re really looking for a capable vehicle for foul weather and rough roads, look elsewhere — even in the Toyota showroom. They’ll be just as happy to sell you a RAV4 or Highlander.

Pricing: 2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser
Base price: $32,725
Options: Urban Package, $5,020; automatic transmission, $1,000.
A/C and environmental fees: $135.20
Freight: $1,635
Price as tested: $40,515.20

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