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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.
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.
- Retro-contemporary exterior
- Simple, stylish interior
- Uncompromised off-road ability
- Handles well enough on-road
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- Horrible outward visibility
- Not very maneuverable
- Noisy highway cruising
- Difficult backseat access