2013 Toyota FJ Cruiser Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
June 21, 2013

The Toyota FJ Cruiser is the real deal, pairing authentic trail toughness with modern conveniences; but families and commuters attracted mainly to its brawny, very stylish look should think twice.

The 2013 Toyota FJ Cruiser may have only limited appeal, but it's an all-star at its game. It's ready for rocky trails, yet maintains a quirky stylishness that doesn't seem out of place in town, too. There's no attempt at family practicality here; no masquerading as a plush luxury vehicle; and no nod to go-fast driving enthusiasts.

The FJ Cruiser channels the 1960s-era FJ40, but was updated with a more whimsical, almost cartoonish look that's still really cool years after the new FJ's introduction. HUMMER models came close to matching the FJ's presence, but they're history. And if MINI ever decided to make a macho true-truck off-roader, this might also be what it would look like. Inside, the appointments are intentionally stark, with body-colored panels and simple gauges and sturdy switchgear.

Built from the sturdy underpinnings of the last-generation Toyota 4Runner, the FJ Cruiser impresses off-road, with some sacrifice on the road. Skid plates protect the underbody, and components are tucked into frame rails, while the high ground clearance and short wheelbase are assets, along with good wheel articulation--and the FJ's approach and departure angles and water-fording depth (27.5 inches) are better than most other stock off-roaders.

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On the road performance is indeed compromised, but the FJ does handle streets, boulevards, and highways reasonably well. 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. Maneuverability and handling suffer, though--the combination of the tall body, the off-road hardware, and the chubby tires, as well as the 4,300-pound curb weight.

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, but there's some scruffiness and a hint of military-grade here, and it's intentional.

Considering the very utilitarian, back-to-basics look and feel of the 2013 FJ Cruiser, it comes with a surprisingly good set of interior comfort and convenience items, with many of them standard; and for those who really want to maximize the FJ's off-road potential, there are several pointed packages to do just that--and look good doing so. 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. Step up to the Convenience Package and you get cruise control, daytime running lights, a rear window wiper, and a spare tire cover, plus a rear backup camera--really a necessity if you plan to drive the FJ around town, or parallel-park.

With the Toyota Racing Development (TRD) sport package, you'll get unique alloys and BFG All-Terrain tires, among other upgrades; but those who want the trail ability with fresh styling may want to opt for the Trail Teams Special Edition Package. It includes most of the extras mentioned above but also scores you some off-road lights, an aluminum shift knob and aluminum scuff plates, plus body color-matched interior highlights. And for 2013, the Trail Teams Package is newly offered in Cement Gray.

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2013 Toyota FJ Cruiser

Styling

The 2013 Toyota FJ Cruiser has a design that looks tough, rugged, and almost ageless.

Toyota hasn't touched the styling of the FJ Cruiser since it introduced this tough off-road-oriented model more than five years ago—and that's a good thing, as the FJ arrived well-detailed and pretty perfectly balanced, design-wise, between modern and ageless.

To sum, the FJ Cruiser channels the 1960s-era FJ40, but was updated with a more whimsical, almost cartoonish look that's still really cool. HUMMER models came close to matching the FJ's presence, but they're history. And if MINI ever decided to make a macho true-truck off-roader, this might also be what it would look like. 

And in any case, we think that the FJ's in-your-face looks and retro cues like the steep windshield and old-style front end are what make the vehicle so special. The design is also practical in some areas, too. The FJ Cruiser’s side access doors, for instance, open 90 degrees in clamshell fashion for easy rear-seat ingress and egress. Additionally, a swing-up glass hatch is incorporated into the side-hinged rear door and can be opened independently for quick access to the trunk.

The chunky, almost technical look continues into the cabin which is dominated by a somewhat drab instrument panel featuring matte-metallic highlights. Traditional round gauges are separated into clusters in the dash, and meshy seating with contrasting body-color inserts establish a serious basic-truck attitude; on the bright side—and in keeping with the retro-goodness—significant portions of the dash are done in the same color as the exterior.

The Trail Teams Special Edition stands out from the rest of the lineup for 2013 because of its monotone Cement Grey exterior, with black bumpers, grille, and door handles--plus matching Cement Gray accents inside.

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2013 Toyota FJ Cruiser

Performance

Off-road prowess is the priority for the FJ Cruiser, while this tall and heavy SUV feels understandably cumbersome on the highway.

The 2013 Toyota FJ Cruiser performs to its full potential on the trail, but as you might guess from its appearance it's not always completely in its element on the tarmac.

With 260 horsepower and 271 pound-feet of torque, its 4.0-liter V-6 engine is a gem, and the six-speed manual or five-speed automatic do quite well with what it can churn out. Off-the-line performance is quick (relative to other sturdy off-roaders), while highway passing isn't quite as blistering, but it's adequate.

The rear-wheel-drive model can only be equipped with the automatic, while the all-wheel-drive model allows buyers to choose between the manual or the auto. Another boon of the all-wheel-drive model is its 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 as well as off it.

Thanks to its set of sturdy underpinnings that are borrowed from the previous-generation Toyota 4Runner, the FJ Cruiser performs exceptionally well off-road. There's enough wheel articulation to negotiate some challengine situations without making too many on-road sacrifices, and this SUV has no problem traversing through water as high as 27.5 inches. Of all stock vehicles, the FJ has some of the best approach and departure angles.

On the road, we can't gush nearly as much. The FJ Cruiser's tall tires, tall body, and 4,000-pound-plus curb weight add up to a lot of body roll in the corners. Maneuverability is disappointing, and the FJ is safe in quick lane-change maneuvers but definitely not confidence-inspiring. This is simply a vehicle that drives larger than it looks.

5

2013 Toyota FJ Cruiser

Comfort & Quality

The 2013 Toyota FJ Cruiser isn't particularly comfortable, refined, or roomy.

The 2013 Toyota FJ Cruiser is a rather traditional off-roader, and unlike some modern crossover models, it doesn't achieve its ability mainly through a raft of electronic systems. While trail purists are going to appreciate that, the approach has its consequences—namely, comfort and ride quality that are decidedly below today's norm. 

Front seats in the FJ are ample for size and space but not all that supportive. The rear seats are cramped, though the rear-hinged back doors provide decent access. And entry and exit can be a little more challenging than for other SUVs, because of the tall ride height.

For storage and cargo, the FJ Cruiser is surprisingly lacking. Those expecting a reasonably large space to stash gear or weekend project pieces will find a high cargo floor and rather narrow space within the side-opening rear hatch. There are also few smaller places to stow electronics and other smaller items—let alone stow them away from sight.

The 2013 FJ Cruiser is, to put it bluntly, a very noisy vehicle inside, and perhaps a little too 'retro' in this respect. Noise and vibration from the engine bay and tires also seem to make it into the cabin much more so in the FJ Cruiser than most other vehicles in the same class. Highway trips may wear on

Depending on your tastes, the expanse of plastic on the dash, center console and door innards could look or feel cheap. It's a cool retro touch for those see it that way—and easy to keep clean. Otherwise the switchgear is plain but sturdy. 

Altogether, the refinement and ride can be a hangup; vehicles such as the Jeep Grand Cherokee are just as capable as the FJ Cruiser but are much more comfortable and easy to live with, especially if long-distance driving is a regular thing.

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2013 Toyota FJ Cruiser

Safety

The FJ Cruiser is respectable for safety, but it's not without concerns.

The 2013 Toyota FJ Cruiser isn't quite one of the top-rated SUVs, with respect to safety, but it's certainly far more secure than the old-school off-road rigs that it's emulating.

In Insurance Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) testing, the FJ Cruiser has earned top 'good' ratings for frontal, side, and rear impact, although it's lagged with only an 'acceptable' rating for roof strength--a concern, perhaps, because it's a taller vehicle. In the federal safety ratings, the FJ Cruiser hasn't been tested.

You can thank the FJ Cruiser’s long list of standard safety gear for the positive results. Items include side curtain airbags, a roll-over sensor, anti-lock brakes, active headrests and electronic stability control. Additionally, the vehicle is equipped with active headrests for the front seats: In certain rear collisions, a cable-actuated mechanism in the active headrest moves the headrest upward and forward to help limit the movement of the occupant's head.

Rearward visibility, as you might guess in just seeing the FJ from the outside, leaves much to be desired. The thick side pillar limits the view when changing lanes, and the rather narrow-windowed design can make parking a chore; even though you'd think that the corners would be quite easy to spot, they're not always, because of the seating position. Rear parking sensors are available, and recommended.

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2013 Toyota FJ Cruiser

Features

The 2013 Toyota FJ Cruiser includes more creature comforts than you might guess for such a tough, off-road-focused SUV.

Considering the very utilitarian, back-to-basics look and feel of the 2013 FJ Cruiser, it comes with a surprisingly good set of interior comfort and convenience items, with many of them standard; and for those who really want to maximize the FJ's off-road potential, there are several pointed packages to do just that--and look good doing so.

On all FJ models, standard equipment includes air conditioning, water-resistant seats, a tilt steering wheel, a rear-door-mounted full-size spare tire, front and rear-tow hooks, plus mudguards. Step up to the Convenience Package and you get cruise control, daytime running lights, a rear window wiper, and a spare tire cover, plus a rear backup camera--really a necessity if you plan to drive the FJ around town, or parallel-park.

Audio and connectivity features are really just as strong as those in Toyota's other crossovers and trucks. The standard audio system includes Bluetooth hands-free connectivity plus six speakers and ports for an iPod, auxiliary cable, or USB device, and steering-wheel controls apply to audio and Bluetooth functions. A JBL 10-speaker premium system is also on offer.

Dedicated off-roaders have plenty of upgrade possibilities. A mechanical rear diff lock, A-TRAC active traction control, and a multi-information display (inclinometer, compass, temperature) are all available, but if you opt for the All Terrain package you get all of the above plus BF Goodrich Rugged Trail tires, 16-inch aluminum wheels, Bilstein shock absorbers, a Cyclone air precleaner, and a trip computer. With the Class Four receiver hitch, you’ll be able to tow up to 4,700 pounds.

With the Toyota Racing Development (TRD) sport package, you'll get unique alloys and BFG All-Terrain tires, among other upgrades; but those who want the trail ability with fresh styling may want to opt for the Trail Teams Special Edition Package. It includes most of the extras mentioned above but also scores you some off-road lights, an aluminum shift knob and aluminum scuff plates, plus body color-matched interior highlights. And for 2013, the Trail Teams Package is newly offered in Cement Gray

5

2013 Toyota FJ Cruiser

Fuel Economy

If you're a serious off-roader, then you're probably going to be okay with the FJ Cruiser's thirst.

The 2013 Toyota FJ Cruiser is only offered with a rather thirsty 4.0-liter V-6 engine; but mileage does vary depending on whether you choose rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, stick or automatic.

With rear-wheel drive and the five-speed auto, you get 17/22 mpg city/highway and 19 mpg combined. Four-wheel drive lowers that estimate by only 1 mpg. And it would be sacrilege to get an FJ without four-wheel drive. 

The automatic transmission is really the more fuel efficient option here. Go with the manual, and mileage drops to 15/20 mpg city/highway and a combined figure of 17 mpg.

Compared to other mainstream SUVs, those are some very low numbers. But they are closer to what other sturdy off-road models like the Nissan Xterra or Jeep Wrangler return.

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