NEW FOR 2008:

– Standard seat side airbags and roll-sensing front and rear curtain airbags
– Engine immobilizer
– Standard rear window washer/wiper
– Tire pressure monitoring system
– Front seat side sun visors
– New Off-Road package replaces B package
– Subwoofer and front passenger armrest added to C package
– Exterior colours: Iceberg, Sandstorm and Brick added; Black Cherry Pearl deleted

An all-new model in 2007, the Toyota FJ Cruiser enters 2008 with several enhancements, including side and curtain airbags as standard equipment, a tire pressure monitoring system, and the rear window washer/wiper changed from optional to standard.

Designed for and marketed almost exclusively to North America, the FJ Cruiser sits on a full frame modified from the Tacoma pickup, and uses a 4.0-litre V6 engine with six-speed manual transmission or optional five-speed automatic. The manual includes full-time four-wheel drive, which splits the torque 40/60 under normal driving conditions, but can redistribute as necessary; the rear differential can be manually locked for 50/50 distribution. The automatic transmission comes with part-time 4WD with shift-on-the-fly capability.

The 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. The easy-clean interior includes rubber flooring, all-weather floor mats and water-repellent, dark charcoal seat fabric.

The FJ Cruiser comes in a single trim line, with available packages; standard features include 17-inch aluminum wheels, CD/MP3 with auxiliary jack, air conditioning, power locks, power windows, tilt wheel, cargo lamp, front tow hook, flip-up rear hatch glass, variable intermittent wipers and rear washer/wiper.

The Off-Road Package includes active traction control system, Bilstein shock absorbers, 16-inch alloy wheels with mud and snow tires, passenger armrest, privacy glass, cruise control, clearance and backup sensor, roof rack, power mirrors, keyless entry and exterior mirror lamps.

The C Package includes premium six-CD stereo with subwoofer, rear privacy glass, 115-volt power outlet, compass, outside temperature gauge, inclinometer, running boards, leather-wrapped wheel, colour-keyed interior door trim and cargo mat.

The FJ Cruiser stands apart from everything else with its retro styling, but it’s also seriously capable, with approach and departure angles of 33.5 and 30 degrees, and the ability to ford up to 70 cm of water. Still, it has civilized on-road manners, with a relatively smooth ride and agile performance.

Its chunky handles and controls, easy-clean interior and comfortable seating make it a great choice for outdoors lovers, but the rear-mounted spare tire and huge C-pillars eat up almost all of the rear visibility. The rear seat is tight, and the high sill and shallow floor make getting in and out less than easy; the premium fuel recommendation will also increase operating costs.

Still, it’s great fun to drive, and its rugged performance comes at a surprisingly low price; shop it against the Hummer H3 and Jeep Wrangler.

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