All-new for 2007, the Toyota FJ Cruiser is a retro-yet-modern rendition of the company’s venerable FJ40, designed for and marketed almost exclusively in North America.

The FJ Cruiser starts with a full frame modified from that used for the Tacoma; the sole engine choice is a 4.0-litre V6 that makes 239 horsepower and 278 lb-ft of torque, while a choice of transmissions is available on all trim lines. 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. An optional five-speed automatic includes part-time 4WD with shift-on-the-fly capability. All models feature a two-speed transfer case, traction control, vehicle stability control, and fuel tank and transfer case protector plates.

The FJ Cruiser’s small back doors are rear-hinged, requiring the front doors to be opened first; rear seating is cramped, but the seats fold 60/40 to increase cargo space, and can be removed entirely for maximum carrying capacity. All models feature an easy-clean interior, with rubber floor, all-weather floor mats and water-repellent, dark-charcoal seating fabric.

The base model includes CD/MP3/MWA player with six speakers and auxiliary jack, air conditioning, power windows, power locks, 17-inch alloy wheels, and variable intermittent wipers (with three blades).

The B Package adds an active traction control system, privacy glass, cruise control, clearance and backup sensor, roof rack, power mirrors with lamps, rear window washer/wiper and keyless entry; when added to an automatic transmission, it also includes a rear differential lock.

The C Package adds rear differential lock, active traction control system, upgraded stereo with eight speakers and wheel-mounted controls, side and curtain airbags, cruise control, clearance and backup sensor, 115-volt power outlet, outside temperature gauge, inclinometer, compass, roof rack, rear window washer/wiper, metallic shift knob, colour-keyed interior door trim, keyless entry, leather-wrapped wheel, power mirrors with lamps, privacy glass and running boards.

The FJ Cruiser may be cute, but it’s seriously capable, with approach and departure angles of 33.5 and 30 degrees, and the ability to ford up to 70 cm of water. Despite its off-road ability, its on-road manners are surprisingly civilized, with a relatively smooth ride and agile performance. Good points include its easy-clean interior, comfortable seating, chunky and easy-to-use handles and controls, and a rear gate that’s hinged on the left for easy curbside loading; on the down side, the rear-mounted spare tire and huge C-pillars consume much of the visibility, the rear seat is tight, the high sill and shallow floor make entering and exiting somewhat cumbersome, and the V6’s 91 octane recommendation will increase operating costs.

Still, this little truck is great fun to drive, and it’s not often you get this much rugged performance for so little money; the Hummer H3, the FJ’s closest competitor, starts at $10,000 more, and its five-cylinder engine is listless compared to the FJ’s V6. Toyota has done an excellent job of bringing this classic design into the 21st century.

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