2011 Toyota FJ Cruiser Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
February 6, 2011

The 2011 Toyota FJ Cruiser stands above most SUVs—even off-road-capable ones—in both style and trail toughness; but city slickers should look elsewhere.

Toyota hasn't changed the look of the FJ Cruiser since its introduction, quite a few years ago. And it hasn't messed with its off-road toughness and trail prowess. That's good, because much of the FJ Cruiser's appeal rests on those two things. There are few vehicles that nail a blend of retro and contemporary so well, and it serves to produce an almost ageless design, looking a bit like a vintage 1960s-era FJ40, crossed with modern cues from the 4Runner and Land Cruiser, with a MINI Cooper-like edge.

Off-road ability is first and foremost. The 2011 FJ Cruiser is built from some of the same components as the last-generation Toyota 4Runner, so it shines off-road—especially when considering its shortened wheelbase and additional ground clearance. Skid plates protect the underbody, and components are tucked into frame rails. Suspension tuning aims to get good wheel articulation without making too many on-road sacrifices, and the FJ can ford up to 27.5 inches of water; approach and departure angles for the FJ are among the best of any stock vehicle.

The 4.0-liter aluminum-block V-6 makes 260 horsepower and 271 pound-feet of torque, and it feels very strong from a standing start either with a five-speed automatic transmission or a six-speed manual transmission—and with the engine upgrade it received last year, it now can muster faster highway passes.

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Considering that, on-road performance isn't quite the afterthought you'd expect. The FJ does quite well, even on the highway, provided the path is relatively straight, but in any corners its height, tall tires, and hefty 4,300-pound curb weight get in the way of any attempt to change direction quickly.

If you're considering the 2011 Toyota FJ Cruiser on the same list as more conventional (though off-road-capable) SUVs like the Jeep Grand Cherokee or Nissan Pathfinder, you might need to recalibrate. For carrying backseat passengers, or for ride comfort on long trips, there are far better choices. In short, the back seat is just too cramped, and getting in and out is a challenge for some due to the high step up and narrow opening from the rear-hinged back doors. You won't find the settled, sophisticated ride quality or quiet, refined interior here, either.

The 2011 FJ Cruiser models come surprisingly well-equipped inside, for vehicles that you might think look serious, back-to-basics, and ready for serious trail. All FJ Cruiser models include a good set of interior comforts, along with the bones for real off-road ability, but packages and options help boost the off-road credentials—there's some scruffiness and a hint of military-grade here, and it's intentional.

Toyota has upped the FJ Cruiser's standard tech content this year, and its set of features is very impressive and should appeal to younger buyers who want to go everywhere but stay connected and entertained. Audio systems have been reconfigured for 2011; all FJ Cruisers now include iPod connectivity and XM satellite radio, in addition to a USB port, Bluetooth audio streaming, and a Bluetooth hands-free system with steering-wheel controls. In addition, there's a new JBL premium audio option.

Serious off-road equipment includes an A-TRAC active-traction system, a special multi-information display (inclinometer, compass, temperature), big BF Goodrich Rugged Trail tires, Bilstein shock absorbers, a Cyclone air precleaner, and 115V/400V power outlets.

For 2011, the FJ Cruiser takes even better aim at its target audience with a Trail Teams Special Edition, in Army Green with black bumpers, grille, and door handles. This model also gets an easy-clean cyclone pre-air cleaner, to capture grit, plus stronger 12-volt and 120-volt outlets, water-resistant seats, and rubber-like flooring, in addition to all the equipment of the Off-Road Package. Inside, the JBL premium audio system is included.

9

2011 Toyota FJ Cruiser

Styling

There's nothing quite like the FJ Cruiser; while it's no longer fresh, it's still a styling standout.

Toyota hasn't changed the look of the FJ Cruiser since its introduction, quite a few years ago, and that's a good thing. There are few vehicles that nail a blend of retro and contemporary so well, and it serves to produce an almost ageless design. Looking a bit like a vintage 1960s-era FJ40, crossed with modern cues from the 4Runner and Land Cruiser, with a MINI Cooper-like edge, the FJ Cruiser has a lot going on, design-wise. Yet it all works, with an overall appearance that isn't at all derivative and doesn't feel like it's trying too hard to reach to the past.

Inside, Toyota keeps it simple, with a basic, almost drab instrument panel, punctuated with matte-metallic highlights. The dash has a chunky, technical look, with traditional round gauges separated into clusters, while meshy seating and contrasting, exposed body-color inserts establish a serious basic-truck attitude.

7

2011 Toyota FJ Cruiser

Performance

The 2011 Toyota FJ Cruiser is surely focused toward off-roading, but it's not completely inept on streets and highways.

The 4.0-liter aluminum-block V-6 makes 260 horsepower and 271 pound-feet of torque, and it feels very strong from a standing start either with a five-speed automatic transmission or a six-speed manual transmission—and with the upgraded engine it received last year, it now can muster faster highway passes. The four-wheel-drive system on the FJ Cruiser 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. Automatic and manual versions of the FJ get a full-time four-wheel drive system, while manual versions get a part-time one.

The 2011 FJ Cruiser is built from some of the same components as the last-generation Toyota 4Runner, so it shines off-road—especially when considering its shortened wheelbase and additional ground clearance. Skid plates protect the underbody, and components are tucked into frame rails. Suspension tuning aims to get good wheel articulation without making too many on-road sacrifices, and the FJ can ford up to 27.5 inches of water; approach and departure angles for the FJ are among the best of any stock vehicle.

Considering that, on-road performance isn't quite the afterthought you'd expect. The FJ does quite well, even on the highway, provided the path is relatively straight, but in any corners its height, tall tires, and hefty 4,300-pound curb weight get in the way of any attempt to change direction quickly. Maneuverability remains disappointing, though; the FJ doesn't turn around as easily as you'd expect, and it feels wide in anything but full-width parking spots.

5

2011 Toyota FJ Cruiser

Comfort & Quality

The 2011 Toyota FJ is very versatile, but there are some serious compromises in comfort and refinement in the name of off-road ability.

If you're considering the 2011 Toyota FJ Cruiser on the same list as more conventional (though off-road-capable) SUVs like the Jeep Grand Cherokee or Nissan Pathfinder, you might need to recalibrate. For carrying backseat passengers, or for ride comfort on long trips, there are far better choices.

With a cramped backseat, and difficult access back there due to small rear-hinged back doors, it's best to think of the FJ as a vehicle for two plus gear. Up in front, most will find the driving position and front seating comfort to their liking, In back, yes, it's small and disappointing, and only kids will be able to fit comfortably; the huge step up to get in can be a hindrance, too. Those looking for a lot of storage compartments for smaller items and electronics might also be a little disappointed.

Ride quality is just okay, seemingly capable of soaking up minor imperfections here and there but becoming harsh and bouncy on the worst road surfaces; on rough surfaces, there's a lot of sideways 'head toss' that could be fatiguing. Refinement in general is also something that you shouldn't expect very much of in the FJ Cruiser. The engine is coarse and vocal during acceleration, and at highway speeds, a combination of tire noise and a slightly boomy engine note conspire to wear you down.

7

2011 Toyota FJ Cruiser

Safety

Respectable but not excellent is the best way to sum up 2011 Toyota FJ Cruiser safety.

If you look at crash-test ratings, the 2011 Toyota FJ Cruiser is respectable but no standout for safety. That said, if you look at its list of features, it's all there. Side curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes, active headrests, and electronic stability control are all included, along with roll-sensing side curtain airbags that can detect a potential rollover and signal the Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) system to help reduce a lateral skid—and even deploy the side bags for a rollover.

The insurance-funded IIHS has rated the Toyota FJ Cruiser 'good'—its best score—in frontal and side impact, as well as the seat-based rear-impact test, but it only earned an 'acceptable' rating in the new roof strength test—which seems especially important for tipsier off-road-oriented SUVs. In the former federal tests the 2010 and earlier FJ had earned four- and five-star ratings for frontal impact and a top five-star showing in all aspects of side impact.

Given the FJ Cruiser's tall, rather narrow-windowed design, you'd be correct to guess that outward visibility isn't that great. It can be challenging, and for a better look out during parking, we recommend the optional rear parking sensor system.

9

2011 Toyota FJ Cruiser

Features

he 2011 Toyota FJ Cruiser provides a lot of interior comfort and tech features to complement the expected array of off-road-useful hardware.

The 2011 FJ Cruiser models come surprisingly well-equipped inside, for vehicles that you might think look serious, back-to-basics, and ready for serious trail. All FJ Cruiser models include a good set of interior comforts, along with the bones for real off-road ability, but packages and options help boost the off-road credentials.

Toyota has upped the FJ Cruiser's standard tech content this year, and its set of features is very impressive and should appeal to younger buyers who want to go everywhere but stay connected and entertained. Audio systems have been reconfigured for 2011; all FJ Cruisers now include iPod connectivity and XM satellite radio, in addition to a USB port, Bluetooth audio streaming, and a Bluetooth hands-free system with steering-wheel controls. In addition, there's a new JBL premium audio option.

For dedicated off-roaders, there's a standard rear diff 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 BF Goodrich 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.

For 2011, the FJ Cruiser takes even better aim at its target audience with a Trail Teams Special Edition, in Army Green with black bumpers, grille, and door handles. This model also gets an easy-clean cyclone pre-air cleaner, to capture grit, plus stronger 12-volt and 120-volt outlets, water-resistant seats, and rubber-like flooring, in addition to all the equipment of the Off-Road Package. Inside, the JBL premium audio system is included.

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.

The Toyota Racing Development (TRD) sport package remains available, too. It comes with Bilstein off-road shocks designed to reduce brake dive and squat, as well as enhance straight-line stability, also including TRD-specific 16-inch rims with BF Goodrich all-terrain tires; an all-black exterior paint scheme; and TRD performance exhaust and rock rails.

5

2011 Toyota FJ Cruiser

Fuel Economy

The 2011 FJ Cruiser isn't at all green, but if you're a serious off-roader you could certainly do worse.

Fuel economy ratings for the 2011 Toyota FJ Cruiser—at 15 or 17 mpg city and 20 or 22 highway—are lackluster, if you compare them to those of most newer, more carlike crossover models. Considering its relative lack of passenger space, it's far from a green option for carrying the kids to soccer practice or taking a highway trip.

On the other hand, if you need a serious off-roader and nothing else works, the FJ isn't any worse of a choice for the environmentally concerned than any other hard-core off-roaders like the Xterra or Jeep Wrangler.

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7.4
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Styling 9.0
Performance 7.0
Comfort & Quality 5.0
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