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The Toyota FJ Cruiser has changed very little since its introduction five years ago, and during that time the range of serious off-road-worthy models hasn't changed much. Hummer is now gone, and Jeep has honed its Wrangler, but the FJ Cruiser remains one of the better bets for off-road toughness and trail prowess.
The FJ blends retro and contemporary so well that its design should be quite ageless. 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 looks ripe for the trail, yet like a stylish accessory that would make as much of a statement parked in front of an outdoor outfitter as in front of Urban Outfitters. Inside, the appointments are intentionally stark, with body-colored panels and simple gauges and sturdy switchgear.
The 2012 FJ Cruiser is built from the sturdy underpinnings of the last-generation Toyota 4Runner, with off-road ability the priority. Especially when considering its shortened wheelbase and additional ground clearance, it shines off-road. Skid plates protect the underbody, and components are tucked into frame rails. On the trail, you'll find good wheel articulation, without making too much of a sacrifice on-road, and the FJ's approach and departure angles and water-fording depth (27.5 inches) are better than other stock vehicles.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. Its 260-horspower, 4.0-liter V-6 provides strong performance from a standing start, whether with the five-speed automatic or six-speed manual, though it's not as quick on the highway.
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. 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.
Safety is relatively strong among off-roaders; the FJ Cruiser hasn't been rated by the federal government, but it achieves mostly 'good' ratings from the IIHS. The side-curtain airbags are roll-sensing and tied with the stability control to work preemptively.
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. Last year Toyota increased the FJ Cruiser's standard tech features, adding 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.
- Handsomely retro design
- Stylish, back-to-basics interior
- No-compromises trail ability
- Docile enough for daily driving
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- Lack of maneuverability
- Poor visibility
- Difficult backseat access
- Noisy highway cruising