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Car reviews - Toyota - FJ Cruiser - 5-dr wagon

Our Opinion

We like
Cool styling, value, off-road abilities, open road security, smooth V6 petrol
Room for improvement
No diesel, no manual, overhead grab handles, non-opening rear windows, tight cabin space, no steering wheel reach adjustment, tailgate opening, glovebox opening

Toyota logo9 Mar 2011

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

BLAH blah blah, typical Toyota-tough 4x4 capability, blah blah! There, that’s the FJ Cruiser’s off-road credentials covered.

And it’s just what you would expect from a Prado-based ladder-frame chassis vehicle with full-time 4WD, a dual-range transmission with an electronically actuated differential lock, short overhangs, and high ground clearance.

Earlier this year, after being taken to the Flinders Ranges to put the latest Toyota SUV through some very demanding courses, we came away extremely impressed by the FJ’s off-road capabilities.

But doubts lingered over the Cruiser’s urban disposition – and whether it was sophisticated and refined enough to meet the expectations of the target audience.

After all, people into retro will need to respond to this Toyota, much the same way as fans of the New Beetle, BMW Mini and Fiat 500 have. They’re a notoriously fickle bunch of buyers, wanting the latest post-modern item on offer.

Did we mention that the FJ Cruiser, built by Hino Trucks in Japan, is already six years old in some overseas markets? Better late than never isn’t always enough.

And for serious off-roaders, there are more high-tech offerings available like the Prado with its terrain-traversing electronics…

As the Elephant Man and Michael Jackson discovered to their dismay, looking different means people will always point and stare at you. And that’s exactly the type of reaction the FJ elicits.

Front-on the old FJ40 heritage is undeniable, and the execution is quite attractive. But the profile and posterior fall into the grotesque category, with weird proportioning, heavy-handed detailing and a general lack of purity – the one thing the original Toyota 4x4 had in spades.

The post-modern parody continues inside, too.

You peer out of the cabin like you might out of a tank, thanks to almost bolt-upright pillars, a letterbox-style slit of a windscreen and a trio of tiny wipers that bring to mind sitting in a truck – from the 1940s.

Tall, vertical exterior mirrors and a gear lever that looks like it was pinched from a 1972 Valiant underline that feeling, as does a high floor that small children and pets might have trouble clambering up to.

And those fat posts that dot the FJ’s profile do nothing for exterior vision.

Old-school 4WDs certainly seem to have been the inspiration for the fascia, which is blocky, simplistic and very American in flavour and presentation. Adding to the cliche are three gauges you may never refer to – inclinometer, compass and outside temperature readout.

Despite the painted plastic that suggests otherwise, there seems to be little trace of real metal inside the cabin.

Owners of 2004-era Toyotas might recognise the car-like steering wheel (which tilts only, annoyingly), white-faced analogue dials and associated switches, buttons and controls.

The front seats also seem passenger-car/SUV pilfered, although they do an OK job in holding and supporting their occupants.

Designed for flexibility and basic utility, the FJ’s large door handles, vent controls and shift levers that the company points out can be operated with gloves on.

Another bit of yesteryear 4x4 lip service is the fat centre console running between the front seats. Besides housing the dual-range gearbox lever, 12V outlet, traction/diff lock buttons and six blanks, it features three sizeable storage trays and a smaller one for coins and keys.

The rear seat area, though, is a mess. Access is unnecessarily complicated due to the reverse-opening side door that requires the front ones to be open first.

Getting between the rear pillar and front seat requires some fancy footwork, and interestingly, while the front passenger seat folds forward to aid egress, the driver’s seat does not.

That heavy rear-hinged door is a struggle to close on an incline and, once inside, the ambience is slightly oppressive since the square window is so small.

We’re not kidding when we say that the rear bench seems like an afterthought.

No wind-down window, no overhead grab handles (just two oversized items behind the front seat that are admittedly useful for hauling yourself into the car) and no rear air vents make the back seat passengers feel second-rate. Knee and legroom is pretty limited, too.

At least the cushion itself is fairly comfy, aided by ample width and head room, and Toyota does provide a few storage receptacles and an overhead reading light.

Unfortunately, a rear-seat occupant cannot reach the handle for the front door – which has to be opened first, remember – unless they are incredibly acrobatic, willing to clamber in very unladylike fashion over the seats ahead, have stretchable arms or have somebody else ever-present to open the doors for them.

Despite having a split-fold function, folding the backrests (or removing the seats altogether – a fiddly job) does not result in a flat rear cargo floor, the bumper is protrusive, the floor is high and there is no cargo cover to hide stuff from prying eyes.

And the door-mounted spare wheel obstructs reversing vision, making the (thankfully standard) rear-vision-mounted camera indispensible.

At least the boot aperture is big and wide, the floor is made from durable PVC (and can therefore be hosed out), there are a couple of tiny storage areas, the child seat anchorage points are located out of the way behind the rear backrests and the back glass flips open at a turn of a key.

Turn the ignition key and you are greeted by the muted muscle of Toyota’s smooth 4.0-litre all-alloy 24-valve V6 1GR-FE petrol engine with dual VVT-i variable-valve timing.

What? No diesel? No chance, not for now anyway, for the FJ is an American-focussed model and the Yanks love their petrol powerplants. End of story.

Get over that shock and you will find a smooth forward urge at just a tickle of the throttle, for that’s the way of this torquey engine, which can feel quite fast across a varied rev range.

Running on 95 RON premium unleaded, this Euro IV emissions unit delivers 200kW of power at 5600rpm and 380Nm of torque at 4400rpm.

Mated to a regular five-speed automatic gearbox – there’s no manual available – the drivetrain is nothing if not relatively quiet and refined, though there’s a tad too much induction roar if you floor it.

Of course, the fuel consumption is high. Yep, we are talking 16L/100km and more for drivers with a heavy right foot. Even with the official average figure of 11.4L/100km, with a tank size of just 72 litres range anxiety might be an issue for some. The blunt aerodynamics can’t help.

And what of the variable-ratio hydraulically powered rack-and-pinion steering offering 2.7 turns lock to lock? In the Flinders Ranges the FJ felt at home traversing all manner of ridges, pot holes and mountain sides, but around town this feels like the truck that it is – low-geared, so slow to react.

On the other hand, the steering is commendably light, making parking a breeze, even though the 12.7-metre turning circle is not tight, while there is enough response and feel for the driver to feel confident tipping the Toyota quickly into a corner.

Coil suspension all-round and heaps of wheel travel means gutters, roundabouts and speed humps really don’t faze the FJ one iota, so as a sub-urban warrior there’s plenty to be said about that separate chassis construction. Indestructible – infused with quite a degree of comfort and control – springs to mind.

Even on wet roads – where the traction control struggles to stifle the rear wheels from spinning in 2WD – the chassis seems to be set up for safety, aided by strong brakes and plenty of grip. But don’t go thinking this is a compact SUV.

In addition to the 2003-era Prado 4WD tech lurking underneath for off-roading, the suspension is via double wishbones with coil springs, gas-filled dampers and an anti-roll bar up front, with a five-link rear combining coils, dampers and another anti-roll bar.

Overhangs are 865mm at the front, 1115mm out back, with a ground clearance rating of 224mm. The respective approach, departure and break-over angles are 36, 31 and 29 degrees – with the latter two being the best of any Toyota SUV.

Local testing has resulted in a unique calibration for the heavy-duty suspension and power steering.

However, the latest Prado’s more sophisticated electronic terrain response systems aren’t fitted, and nor is the six-speed automatic offered on some FJ variants in North America.

But by Toyota’s own reckoning, you cannot get a more off-road-capable Toyota. As we implied back at the start, this thing can deliver as a 4x4.

And the relatively low price represents high value, with standard equipment including six airbags, electronic stability control, traction control, ABS brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, active front-seat head restraints, rear parking sensors, cruise control and a reversing camera that displays in the interior mirror.

Air-con, power windows, remote central locking, privacy glass, rear fog lamps, CD stacker/USB/iPod/Bluetooth phone connectivity audio with steering wheel controls, and that compass/inclinometer are also included for your $45K.

There’s even a world-first speaker system incorporated in the roof lining, for “surround sound” according to Toyota.

So, would we? Sure, if we lived in the bush, didn’t worry about fuel consumption and turned a blind eye to the heavy-handed design.

But the Jeep Wrangler – an original rather than retro model since its WW2-era lineage is direct and unbroken – does offer diesel among a range of alternatives.

Still, the FJ Cruiser is both towering off-road and surprisingly capable in the ’burbs, won’t fall to pieces, won’t break down unless neglected and abused, and turns heads like no other 4x4 on earth – even if people think the Cirque de Grotesque has come to town.

Despite all our reservations, if you’re in love with the looks everything we’ve just said will just sound like ‘blah blah blah’ anyway

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