First Drive: 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser toyota first drives
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Review by Greg Wilson
Photos by Russell Purcell

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Kanata, Ontario – Such is the reputation of Toyota’s iconic FJ40 Land Cruiser, first introduced in 1960, that when Toyota unveiled a 2003 concept truck with similar styling features, the overwhelming reaction was, “Build it!”

Though most people today associate Toyota with passenger cars, the company has a long history of making trucks stretching back to 1935. In 1951, Toyota produced a small Jeep-like 4X4 called the BJ that featured a torquey 3.4-litre inline six-cylinder engine. After seeing how well it travelled over rough terrain, company officials christened it the “Land Cruiser” in 1954. In 1955, the next-generation BJ, called the FJ25 Land Cruiser, featured a larger and more powerful 105 hp 3.8-litre six-cylinder engine, but it was the restyled 125 hp FJ40 Land Cruiser introduced in 1960 that established the Land Cruiser’s popularity. From 1961 to 1965, the FJ40 was Toyota’s best-selling vehicle in North America.

What exactly was it that made the FJ40 a classic? Aside from its durability and off-road prowess, there were some key styling features that gave the FJ40 a distinctive character:

First Drive: 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser toyota first drives
1960 Toyota FJ40 Land Cruiser. Click image to enlarge

a white roof, wrap-around rear side windows, rounded hood with a separate air intake above the main grille, rounded front fenders, and twin round ‘inboard’ headlamps surrounded by a white perimeter. All of those features are found on the new 2007 FJ Cruiser.

In fact, according to Akio Nishimura, Chief Engineer for the FJ Cruiser, the FJ’s styling came first and the engineering came second.

First Drive: 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser toyota first drives

First Drive: 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser toyota first drives

First Drive: 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser toyota first drives

First Drive: 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser toyota first drives

First Drive: 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser toyota first drives
Click image to enlarge

“We knew that almost everything about the FJ Cruiser would have to be engineered around the exterior design,” he said. “This is a highly unusual approach to vehicle development,” he admitted. The white roof, for example, required development of a new primer and paint process.

However, engineering the FJ Cruiser wasn’t exactly a blank-sheet project. The FJ is based on a modified Tacoma truck body-on-frame chassis and includes the same 269 horsepower 4.0-litre V6 with variable valve timing used in the Tacoma and 4Runner. The FJ Cruiser also features an independent double wishbone front suspension and a 4-link solid rear axle, and four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock, electronic brake force distribution and Brake Assist; and standard 265/R70-17-inch tires with a 32-inch diameter.

As well, the FJ Cruiser comes standard with such electronic traction aids as Traction control which utilizes both brake and engine throttle control; standard Vehicle Stability Assist for maintaining steering control when cornering; and optional Active Traction Control which uses the VSC system to brake individual wheels to simulate front and rear limited slip differentials. More on this in a minute.

Interestingly, if you choose the 6-speed manual transmission, you get a standard full-time four-wheel-drive system with a centre Torsen differential. This model also includes a two-speed transfer case with Hi and Lo ranges that locks the centre differential when in Lo range.

If you choose the 5-speed automatic transmission (which features uphill and downhill shift logic), you get a part-time four-wheel drive system that allows you to shift between 2WD (rear-wheel drive) and 4WD on the fly. This is the same system used on the Tacoma and Tundra. With this model, you can also order an optional locking rear differential which locks both rear wheels together to get out of really slippery spots. The locking rear diff is available only with the 5-speed automatic.


Interior like the concept

Looking very much like the interior of the original 2003 concept truck, the FJ’s cabin features big front seats with water-repellant seat covers, sporty gauges, oversized controls and door handles that can be operated with gloves;

First Drive: 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser toyota first drives
Click image to enlarge

body-coloured centre console and door insets; metal-like dash trim; rubber-like resin flooring in dark colours to hide dirt; and a large cargo area with tie-down rings, hooks and storage compartments. Some models are available with an instrument pod that sits on top of the dash that includes a compass, outside temperature gauge, and ‘inclinometer’. Unfortunately, it looks like an aftermarket add-on.

Apparently, a good stereo was an important consideration for FJ Cruiser buyers,

First Drive: 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser toyota first drives
Click image to enlarge

so the FJ is equipped with a standard AM/FM/CD audio system with MP3 player, audio auxiliary input jack, and six speakers including two in the ceiling, an industry-first according to Toyota. Optional is an “FJammer” audio system with a six-disc in-dash CD changer and two extra speakers.

Access to the rear seats is via rear-hinged doors that open a full 90 degrees, but don’t have outside door handles, much like the rear doors of the Honda Element and extended cab pickups. This means you must open the front door first before opening the rear door, and close the rear door first before closing the front door. Personally, I find this arrangement irritating, but a lot depends on whether you plan on using the rear seat a lot. One advantage of this design is that there is no centre pillar, so access to the interior with both doors open is unimpeded.

First Drive: 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser toyota first drives

First Drive: 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser toyota first drives

First Drive: 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser toyota first drives

First Drive: 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser toyota first drives
Click image to enlarge

The rear 60/40 split seatbacks fold down flat with the seat cushions pulled up into a vertical position, and have a hard, durable back for loading gear like skis, snowboards, mountain bikes, or scuba gear. As well, the seat cushions are removeable for more space. Behind the upright rear seats there is 27.9 cubic feet of space, and with the rear seatbacks folded down, there is 66.8 cubic feet.

The rear door, which has a full-size spare tire mounted on the outside, is hinged on the left which makes the cargo area easier to access from the curb but requires some effort when the vehicle is parked on a road that slopes towards the curb. Fortunately, the rear door features a locking prop rod that holds the door open while loading – a great idea. As well, the rear window opens independently of the rear door enabling long objects like surfboards or construction materials to be hung out the back. The FJ Cruiser can carry 601 kg (1,325 lb) of cargo.

Standard features on all models include air conditioning, power windows with auto-driver’s down, power locks, folding rear seatbacks, tilt steering wheel, alloy wheels, foldable exterior mirrors, rear step bumper and four-pin sub-wire harness. A few of the interior features I liked included driver and front passenger glove-boxes, good-sized cup and bottle holders, large centre storage bin, and optional 115-volt outlet in the cargo area. Dual-stage driver and passenger airbags are standard and side and curtain airbags are available as options.


Off-road performance

First Drive: 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser toyota first drives

First Drive: 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser toyota first drives

First Drive: 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser toyota first drives

First Drive: 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser toyota first drives

First Drive: 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser toyota first drives

First Drive: 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser toyota first drives
Click image to enlarge

Unlike many new SUVs, the FJ Cruiser is designed to be a genuine off-road machine. In addition to the big tires, high ground clearance and two four-wheel drive systems I mentioned, it has great approach and departure angles (33.5 and 31 degrees) and a breakover angle of 27.4 degrees with a 245 mm (9.6 inch) ground clearance under the middle of the car. Standard front, centre and rear underbody skid plates protect the engine, transmission and fuel tank, and the FJ Cruiser has a fording depth of 27.4 inches made possible by an air intake system mounted high in the engine bay.

FJ Cruisers with the six-speed manual transmission and full-time 4WD system normally split engine torque 40% front/60% rear but that varies automatically if one end begins to lose traction. When the driver puts the vehicle in Lo range, it locks the centre Torsen differential, and torque is split evenly 50/50.

Models with the five-speed automatic have a part-time 4WD system, allowing them to run in 2WD if the driver chooses. That explains why the automatic FJ Cruiser gets better overall fuel economy than the six-speed manual model. Equipped with the five-speed automatic transmission, the FJ Cruiser’s fuel consumption is 13.6 L/100 km (21 mpg) city and 10.3 L/100 km (27 mpg) highway. With the 6-speed manual tranny, it’s 14.5 L/100 km (19 mpg) and 11.2 L/100 km (25 mpg). Still, these figures are reasonable for an SUV of this size and weight (1946 kg/4290 lb.).

I drove the FJ with both available transmissions and 4WD systems, and found it to be a remarkable rock climber, with plenty of wheel articulation and enough ground clearance to clear large boulders. The Active Traction Control feature is a worthwhile option because when one or two wheels are off the ground it prevents the wheels with traction from spinning needlessly and helps regain traction. I would also recommend the locking rear differential available on the FJ Cruiser with the automatic transmission – this can also get you out of a tight spot.

I tried steep ascents and descents on loose dirt, and found the throttle and brake could be modulated with ease so that the vehicle could crawl over difficult sections. As well, I took an FJ Cruiser through a large puddle a bit too quickly, creating a bow wave that almost went over the top of the hood. Still, there were no driveability problems whatsoever as I drove away.


On-road performance

Considering its ‘truck’ roots and formidable off-road capabilities, I was surprised at how well the FJ Cruiser rode on the highway. This is a very comfortable, easy-to-drive SUV that’s reasonably quiet despite its upright windshield and big tires. A long wheelbase, tall-section tires, and clever suspension tuning can be given credit for this. At freeway speeds, some wind noise and tire noise is evident, but it wasn’t intrusive.

First Drive: 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser toyota first drives

First Drive: 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser toyota first drives

First Drive: 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser toyota first drives

First Drive: 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser toyota first drives
Click image to enlarge

The narrow height of the windows and the forward position of the windshield does provide an unusual driving position. As well, the thick ‘C’ pillars, particularly on the right side, produce a blind spot when shoulder-checking. The narrow windshield requires three wipers, but they work well in the rain.

While the 4.0 litre V6 engine is quick enough from a standing start, the FJ Cruiser feels a bit heavy when pulling out to change lanes or when passing another vehicle on the freeway. I found the manual transmission shifts comfortably for a truck transmission and clutch take-up is smooth, while the automatic transmission is very smooth and responsive.

One feature I liked on models with the manual transmission is a hillholder system that prevents the FJ from rolling back on a hill when the driver releases the brake and engages the clutch. I also liked the optional back-up sonar warning system that helps make up for the poor rear visibility created by a high rear window and the spare tire on the back.

The manufacturer’s suggested retail price of the FJ Cruiser is surprisingly low in my opinion: 6-speed manual models range from $29,990 to $35,985 and five-speed automatic models range from $30,990 to $37,080. FJ Cruisers are in dealerships now.

The FJ Cruiser is built in Hamura, Tokyo, Japan in partnership with Hino Motors.


Verdict

First Drive: 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser toyota first drives
Click image to enlarge

A real off-roader with classic FJ40 Land Cruiser styling cues, the 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser impressed me with its versatility on and off the paved road. Concerns are the ‘handle-less’ rear doors which swing out to the rear, and poor visibility to the side when lane-changing.

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