2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
September 7, 2008

Retro-coolness, off-roading, and practicality don’t come together as well in any other vehicle as they do in the 2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser.

While assembling this comprehensive review that covers the 2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser, the auto experts at TheCarConnection.com turned to some of the best review resources on the Web. And to help compare it to the performance of its rivals, TheCarConnection.com’s editors brought their own firsthand experience with the vehicle.

Toyota unveiled the FJ Cruiser for the 2007 model year, cashing in on the retro theme played out on other crossovers and SUVs—in this case, with design cues reaching back to Toyota’s 1960s-era FJ40—but underpinning it with real truck toughness.

Built on the 4Runner architecture, with a shortened floorpan, the 2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser comes with the same 4.0-liter aluminum-block V-6 with variable valve timing offered in the 4Runner, Tundra, and Tacoma. Here it makes 239 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque. The engine is mated to either a five-speed automatic transmission or a six-speed manual transmission exclusive to the FJ.

The 2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser has the goods for serious off-roading. Approach and departure angles are among the best of any vehicle, and the FJ can ford water up to 27.5 inches deep. Skid plates help protect the underside, and components are tucked within the frame rails. Wheel articulation is also impressive, to help soak up jarring holes and boulders without being thrown from side to side. The four-wheel-drive system uses a mix of traditional mechanical and more modern electronic means of gaining and maintaining traction; a system called A-TRAC helps reduce wheel spin and redistribute torque, and it's helpful on the road.

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On the road, the 2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser drives quite well, considering its off-road ability. It shows its truck roots in not offering especially responsive steering, but the ride is quite compliant. Only around tight corners does the 4,300-pound curb weight reveal itself. The V-6 doesn’t provide acceleration that’s particularly quick for passing, but it’s adequate and very torquey from a standing start. At highway speeds, there’s noticeable wind noise and some road noise.

As the exterior styling of the 2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser nods to the past, so does the interior. The instrument panel follows a very basic style, with hard surfaces that are the same color as the exterior and traditional-looking round gauges; it’s very businesslike and not as gimmicky as the gauges in other retro-styled cars.

Front seats are comfortable, and the driving position is nice and upright. Backseat space is quite limited in the 2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser and especially difficult to get to, as a step up is required before wedging behind the front seat.

For 2007, Toyota bumped up the off-road credentials of the FJ with a Toyota Racing Development (TRD) package. The package includes Bilstein off-road shocks designed to reduce brake dive and squat, as well as enhance straight-line stability; TRD-specific 16-inch rims with BF Goodrich all-terrain tires; an all-black exterior paint scheme; and TRD performance exhaust and rock rails.

Alternately, the more luxurious 2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser models with the optional Special Edition package are equipped with seat-mounted side airbags; front and rear side curtain airbags; and a multi-informational display that includes compass, inclinometer, and temperature gauge. The Special Edition package also includes a two-in-one AM/FM audio and six-disc CD changer, quick shifter (manual transmission models only), and all-weather front and rear cargo floor mats with a TRD logo.

For 2008, the FJ Cruiser adds a handful of new standard gear, including an anti-theft system, an illuminated entry system, curtain airbags for both rows of seats, and sun visors with vanity mirrors.

Side and curtain airbags are newly available on the 2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser; other standard safety equipment includes anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control. The Toyota FJ Cruiser does quite well in crash tests, with four stars in the federal frontal test and a commendable five stars for side impact. The typically tougher insurance-affiliated IIHS tests find top "good" results in both frontal and side impact, though the FJ Cruiser gets "poor" results in the IIHS rear-impact test.

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2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser

Styling

Both veteran FJ aficionados and buyers bored with bland SUVs should rejoice at the 2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser’s singular exterior and rugged, functional interior.

The exterior of the 2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser is a show-car standout in a sea of conformist SUVs.

In the spirit of the original 1960s FJ40, the FJ Cruiser offers narrow-set round headlamps, a white-painted roof, an upright windshield, and wraparound rear glass. “Those familiar with the older FJs will immediately see the family resemblance,” claims Road & Track of what was originally a concept vehicle for Toyota that garnered rave responses at the 2003 Detroit Auto Show. Motor Trend vouches the styling “successfully conveys uniqueness and heritage--two traits currently missing in the Toyota lineup,” and Automobile, too, proclaims the FJ “distinguishes itself from its brethren with evocative styling.”

ConsumerGuide considers the interior “more functional than rich. It includes washable rubberlike flooring, water-resistant fabric trim, faux metal, body-color painted accents, and some low-budget plastic panels.” Road & Track declares “the cabin exudes simplicity, echoing the feel of the earlier FJs” when describing the mood set by “cloth seats, a body-colored radio surround and large, easy-to-operate controls,” and Motor Trend proclaims “the basic cabin harmonizes nicely with the busier exterior.”

In a nod to modern-day convenience, the FJ Cruiser has rear suicide doors that operate only when the main forward doors are open. While Road & Track comments these “Honda Element-esque suicide doors lends the FJ a 2-door's personality,” others criticize their marginal usefulness, seeing them as more style than function.

7

2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser

Performance

With the 2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser, on-road performance takes a backseat to off-road performance, but it’s a closer race than you’d think.

The 2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser proves adept enough on road, but it’s clearly designed for rugged driving.

Using the same dual-VVTi, aluminum block 4.0-liter V-6 found in the Tacoma and 4Runner, the FJ Cruiser enjoys immediate, torquey response from a standstill but left some wanting more passing power. The V-6 produces 239 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque. Road & Track crows the “free-revving V-6 is up to the task of moving the FJ down the road (or trail) with ease,” Edmunds raves it is “able to get the FJ up to speed in quick fashion,” but Consumer Reports counters that it can feel “overmatched by vehicle weight in passing maneuvers and on long upgrades.”

Transferring power to wheels is a five-speed automatic, available with part-time 4WD or 2WD, and a six-speed manual that comes only with full-time 4WD. Edmunds states “the automatic transmission shifts smoothly and accurately,” and ConsumerGuide reports “the manual has long throws but light clutch action.” Interestingly, the manual achieves lower EPA mileage figures, perhaps due to powering all four wheels at all times, at 15/18 mpg versus the automatic (in 2WD or 4WD guise) at 16/20 mpg. Road & Track notes that “all 4wd models come equipped with a 2-speed transfer case that proves invaluable” in serious off-roading.

Handling is generally praised, especially considering the truck’s live rear axle and remarkable ability off-road. Road & Track notes it actually feels “slightly better than a similarly outfitted 4Runner, where the FJ Cruiser enjoys a marginally more planted and stable cornering attitude.” Edmunds praises it as “one of the best off-roading rigs you can drive off the showroom floor,” claiming that it is also “surprisingly maneuverable around town.” Motor Trend is slightly critical of the FJ Cruiser’s on-road performance, stating that while the vehicle “isn't averse to being hustled…it doesn't exactly accept the invitation with a smile. Drive at 6/10ths,” they continue, “and the FJ is a peach, its communicative steering and beefy brakes feeling perfectly suited for the job. Take it to 7/10ths, however, and the stability-control nanny incessantly blinks and beeps her disapproval.” Car and Driver considers it “slightly noisy and rough-riding.”

Despite the concerns, “the FJ's faults are pretty easy to overlook given how enjoyable it is to drive and own,” commends Edmunds. And let’s not forget how comfortable and livable the FJ Cruiser is apart from its dual mission of on-road grocery getter and off-road dominator. A “firm but compliant suspension combines with tall-sidewall mud and snow tires to flatten most road bumps with little jolt or body quiver,” says ConsumerGuide. Motor Trend praises the FJ’s suspension compliance when compared to rivals: “Rough roads will gently bounce passengers around, never aggressively toss them like in an Xterra or H3, which feel decidedly firmer.”

6

2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser

Comfort & Quality

The 2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser’s style dictates a difficult climb into the backseats, but the interior’s pure Toyota in quality.

Prospective buyers of the 2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser should beware: Its comfortable ride and quality materials come wrapped in a package with some pretty serious compromises.

“Seating in front is very comfortable,” reports Edmunds, “but getting into the rather cramped rear compartment requires a high step up and a contortionist dance, even with the rear doors open.” These comments set the stage for a vehicle whose interior is praised up front and generally criticized regarding the rear. “The seats are all-day comfortable,” ConsumerGuide says of the front, with “good headroom and legroom for six-footers.” Car and Driver warns that “back-seat room is good but not as spacious as one might expect,” and Edmunds chimes in, commenting that “rearward-opening doors aren't as convenient as one might think.” Edmunds concludes “an FJ isn't the best choice” as “a children-schlepping vehicle.”

“The FJ's retro-looking dash is color-keyed to the exterior," notes Edmunds, “and most of the controls are straightforward and functional.” This is a Toyota, after all, and typical Toyota attributes such as “obvious build quality, and amazing versatility” (Car and Driver) still apply.

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2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser

Safety

The scores are there, but the 2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser’s safety grade is docked for poor visibility.

The 2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser offers solid occupant protection, but its design creates major visibility problems.

Edmunds points out that in “National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash tests, the 2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser earned a top five-star rating for driver safety in head-on collisions. Front passenger protection rated four stars.” Additionally, front and rear passenger side impact protection earn a perfect five stars. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the FJ Cruiser its top “good” rating for frontal offset and side impact collision occupant protection.

Car and Driver reports the FJ Cruiser comes standard with stability and traction control, anti-lock brakes, dual front airbags, front-seat-mounted side impact airbags, curtain airbags with a rollover sensor, front-seatbelt pretensioners, and a tire-pressure monitoring system. In addition to the FJ’s stout Toyota 4Runner frame that performs very well in crash testing, this litany of safety features should both help prevent accidents and cushion the blow--should the driver of an FJ experience one.

Despite the optional backup camera, the FJ’s poor visibility outward can be seen as a design that reduces safety. Practicality has to take a backseat with a style as radical as the FJ Cruiser’s; nowhere is this more obvious than from the view out, which Motor Trend likens “to wearing a football helmet, with a wide, truncated slot straight ahead and two big blind spots in the periphery.” Automobile advises, with “the spare tire taking up much of the tailgate, it's advisable to order the optional rear parking sensor.”

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2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser

Features

The 2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser can be ideally outfitted for off-road driving, but more traditional features take a backseat.

One trim level, three drive systems, and a host of options make the 2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser easy to personalize.

Coming in just one trim level, the FJ Cruiser, Car and Driver notes, starts at $23,230 for a rear-wheel-drive example with an automatic transmission (the only one available), $24,410 for a manual 4WD version, and $24,820 for an automatic, which utilizes a part-time 4WD system. Of the drive systems in this off-road-capable beast, Car and Driver deems it an “odd arrangement” that “FJ Cruisers with a manual transmission get full-time four-wheel drive, and automatic-equipped models get a simpler part-time four-wheel-drive system or rear-wheel drive.”

Calling the Toyota “decidedly purpose built,” Kelley Blue Book points out that every FJ is equipped with water-resistant seat fabric and rubber flooring. In the cargo area, “convenient hooks and tie-downs add functionality,” they add.

Standard in every FJ Cruiser are the aforementioned host of safety items, including side curtain airbags that inflate not only in a side collision, but also if the vehicle’s sensors sense an impending rollover. A six-speaker CD MP3 audio system with auxiliary jack, electronic stability, and traction control are also standard.

The FJ Cruiser’s options are broken out into several packages specific to 4WD and 2WD models. Items include larger wheels and tires, a Convenience Package (remote keyless entry, cruise control, power mirrors and other luxuries), rear sonar parking assist, an eight-speaker audio system with six-disc CD changer, an attractively built-in subwoofer, steering-wheel mounted audio controls, and a 115V/400W power outlet.

For dedicated off-roaders, there is a rear differential lock, A-TRAC active traction control, and a multi-information display (inclinometer, compass, temperature) available. The All Terrain package includes all of the above plus BFGoodrich Rugged Trail tires, 16-inch aluminum wheels (steel wheels are standard on the FJ), Bilstein shock absorbers, a Cyclone air precleaner, and a trip computer.

Kelley Blue Book describes the operation of its favorite features on the FJ Cruiser. The Subwoofer Switch is a “subwoofer on/off button” that “makes it easy to optimize the listening experience when switching from talk to rock, for instance.” And A-TRAC, a step above the standard stability control, automatically applies the brakes to a spinning wheel, forcing “torque to the opposing wheel” and boosting the “FJ Cruiser’s off-road capability.”

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