2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
January 2, 2006

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Do you remember when you saw your first Honda Element out on the streets? You might think that the Toyota FJ Cruiser looks a little bit goofy in that same, oddly proportioned way. To the uninitiated, the FJ might look a little bit like the Element crossed with a Hummer H3, but take another long look at it and the FJ’s shape makes a lot of sense — it’s distinctive, fashionable, and functional at the same time, with just enough retro so that, if you squint hard enough, you might see the old 1960s-era Land Cruiser FJ40.

 

While Toyota of course made and imported cars as well through the ’60s, the automaker really built its name in the U.S. and other overseas markets with the FJ40. The early SUV model found fans throughout the world because of its simplicity, off-road ability, and decent (at least then) on-road ability. That, and it was more reliable than anything else at the time that could boast that level of off-road prowess.

 

Straight from concept to production

 

Toyota brought out a concept called the FJ Cruiser at the 2003 Detroit show. Here we are, not even three years later, and the FJ is an in-the-flesh production vehicle. What’s more not much at all has changed from concept to production. Kudos to the huge automaker for being able to rush a stellar product to production when it sees the market potential.

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The FJ might boast completely new sheetmetal and an interior that’s bolder than anything we could have expected, but its mechanical layout is very familiar. The FJ is built on a stretched version of the Land Cruiser Prado — the smaller Land Cruiser model that’s sold in other parts of the world and that the current 4Runner is also based on.

 

The FJ Cruiser’s standard (and only) engine is the same 4.0-liter aluminum-block V-6 with variable valve timing that’s offered in the 4Runner, Tundra, and Tacoma . Here it makes 239 horsepower and 278 lb-ft of torque. The engine’s mated to either a five-speed automatic transmission (again shared with the 4Runner) or a six-speed manual transmission exclusive to the FJ. Like previous Toyota trucks, manual-transmission FJs have a clutch-start cancel button that allows the vehicle (and engine) to be started in gear.

 

Most FJs will be equipped with a full-time 4WD transfer case with high and low ranges, but for street poseurs there’s also a model with just rear-wheel drive.

 

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On manual models there’s a Torsen-style center differential that runs on a static torque distribution of 40/60 front/rear and can be engaged in either range to help get maximum traction on extremely slippery or uneven surfaces, sending up to 70 percent of torque to the back or up to 53 percent to the front. For automatic transmission models, there’s something called the automatic disconnecting front differential (ADD) to aid in torque distribution. Finally, there’s an available electronically actuated locking rear diff, which when engaged will deactivate the A-TRAC traction aid. A-TRAC uses the brakes to help reduce wheelspin and redistribute torque, achieving the equivalent of a locked center diff and limited slip front and rear diffs.

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Seriously off-road able

If you didn’t catch what all that meant, we can attest the FJ Cruiser is amazing off-road. The A-TRAC system works quickly in even the most precarious, slippery situations off-road, and it’s likely that people will rarely if ever need engage the locking rear differential and override it.

 

Thanks to a short wheelbase, wide track, and very small front and rear overhangs, the FJ Cruiser is laid out in a way that makes that off-roading all the easier, and makes boulder-hopping a reality. Approach and departure angles for the 4WD are 34 and 30 degrees, respectively, maximum fording depth is 27.5 inches. Skid plates help protect the engine, transfer case, and fuel tank, and vitals are tucked neatly inside the protection of the frame rails. In our very demanding, boulder-and-trench course we saw plenty of use for the skid plates, and we even teetered on the frame rails at one point with absolutely no trouble or crunching sounds.

 

On that subject, suspension articulation is extremely impressive, and it provides great reach while off-roading with decent control on the road. Considering the on-road performance that we’ll get to later, it’s about the best optimization of ride/handling/articulation we could imagine without an active roll-bar system.

 

Just as seeing the FJ for the first time is a novelty, climbing in for the first time is a rather strange experience. The windshield is a little farther ahead than you might expect it from the seat, and you have a view out and over the hood, reminiscent of older Land Rovers. At the same time, the vehicle feels wider even inside than it looks like it might be from the outside — perhaps a trick of the narrow grille and headlights?

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Retro-futuristic and rugged inside

1999 Ford Windstar Teksport

1999 Ford Windstar Teksport

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You can never forget the outside color of the FJ that you’re in, as there’s plenty of interior trim painted the same as the exterior, including the entire center stack, where most of the controls are neatly laid out with dials and knobs that will be familiar to Toyotadrivers yet refreshingly different in execution. There’s an optional multi-display on top that features an inclinometer, compass, and outside temp gauge.

 

Front seats were very comfortable, in a nice, breathable (and waterproof) fabric and we noted that drivers of a wide size range were able to get comfortable behind the wheel.

 

Our least favorite experience with the FJ was getting into the back seat. The FJ has rear-hinged rear (suicide) doors, which you open only by reaching inside six inches or more for a lever, rather than grabbing a sill catch. The doors should promise easier loading for large objects and easier entry/exit, but there’s a rather large step up required and then you have to turn around and squeeze in to what’s a smaller than expected seat space. It’s not a friendly place for adults on longer trips.

 

We have a feeling the back seats will be down for much of the time anyway. The cushions are removable, and the 60/40 setup folds down into a near-flat position for a continuation of the nice, rubberized hard-surfaced cargo area.

 

As you might expect from a vehicle for people with active lifestyles, the FJ Cruiser has plenty of cargo options and cubbies. There are four main tie-downs in the cargo area, and there are additional storage places in the cargo area and in front — along with six cupholders.

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2000 Ford Windstar Solutions Concept

2000 Ford Windstar Solutions Concept

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With its flamboyant looks, you might also expect the FJ driving experience to be a little thrashy and unruly. But you’re very isolated from engine and wind noise, and the 4.0-liter V-6 is unusually smooth and flexible for a truck engine, revving high if needed, otherwise chugging out the torque, and it worked seamlessly with the five-speed automatic in our test vehicle. It’s not quite as versatile as the 4.0 in the Xterra, but much better than the 3.5-liter five in the HUMMER H3. One serious bummer is that the FJ must be fueled with premium for top performance.

 

As a first impression, the FJ feels a little heavier and grown up than its outward image preaches. There’s not much to fault. It rides well, brakes well for a 4300-pound vehicle, and maneuvers and as well as you would expect, if not better.

 

The FJ’s handling isn’t particularly responsive, but it’s good enough to hustle down a twisty road at surprising speeds, and it feels better balanced than the 4Runner. Equipped with tires that have tall, yielding sidewalls, the FJ’s delayed turn-in takes the most time to get used to. Move the steering wheel quickly back and forth through low-speed esses, and you can literally feel the sidewalls flop from side to side. There’s plenty of grip beyond that, though, from the 265-width tires; it’s just not particularly communicative. You can’t get into too much trouble either, as the VSC system quickly intercedes when you’re closing in on the limits.

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Tweeting in the ceiling

Considering, again, the focus on younger buyers, the standard audio system is quite impressive on its own. The system has a CD player with MP3 and WMA capability, along with tweeters integrated into the ceiling, using the headliner as a diaphragm. There’s also an auxiliary mini-jack for portables. There’s also an FJammer audio package, which adds two additional speakers and a subwoofer.

 

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1999 Ford Turing Ka

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Much like the Xterra, the FJ is full of great little design details that you’d otherwise only see on…concept cars. For instance, there are three wiper arms, and the washer uses a diffused spray pattern rather than jets. Outer turn signals are built into the rearview mirrors, but unlike those on most SUVs here they’re not susceptible to being crushed with slight contact — important when offroading is part of the regimen.

 

There won’t be a conventional in-dash navigation system, but a Garmin off-road-oriented navigation system will be offered, mounted on top of the dash, as a dealer-installed option.

 

A Toyota marketing honcho said that they want the FJ to be compared with the HUMMER H3 and also the Xterra. HUMMER, Nissan, and Toyota have each done such a great job positioning these vehicles that they really each have a distinctive look and feel. Just in terms of performance, the Toyota closely rivals the Xterra, while purely for looks, the FJ takes on the H3.

 

On that subject, Toyota is expecting Scion demographics for the FJ. We were told that weekend-adventurer men in their 20s and 30s will be the target buyer. I’m not entirely a believer — everyone I know who goes off-road uses old CJs and Troopers and Defenders. Toyota expects one-third of buyers to be under 30 years old, a very high ratio for a vehicle in this price range.

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2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser

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Thrashed off-road, or the next hot commuter?

I have a sneaking suspicion that, instead, like the Xterra, most FJs will remain spotless and pristine in their suburban driveways for their first few years, and then they’ll see the bulk of their off-road use with their second and third owners.

 

Toyota is expecting to land the FJ at dealer lots with a target price in the mid-twenties, which is to say that most well-equipped FJs will be significantly more.

 

When you consider that Toyota plans to sell 93 percent of these as 4x4s, and only 32 percent in base trim, it’s likely that most FJs will be around the $30k mark, or considerably higher. In addition, Toyota is predicting that 68 percent will go for some sort of immediate upgrade or add-on; anticipating this, the automaker will offer a line of hardware and accessories through dealerships, much like Scion has been doing.

 

All FJs will be built in Hamura, Japan, and curiously the truck will not be available to buyers in Japan. We were told that some Toyota executives and engineers in Japan had found a way to sneak a few away for themselves.

 

In the U.S., Toyota is hoping that 46,000 customers will want an FJ Cruiser of their own. We don’t think that’ll be a problem based on the looks we were getting while testing the FJ in Southern California.

 

Perhaps with just a little bit of jealousy of Toyota dealers, I say they have another hit on their hands.

 

 

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2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser 4x4
Price:
$30,000 (est. as equipped)
Engine: 4.0-liter V-6, 239 hp/278 lb-ft
Drivetrain: Five-speed automatic or six-speed manual, rear- or four-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 183.9 x 74.6 x 71.6 in
Wheelbase: 105.9 in
Curb weight: 4290 lb
Fuel economy (EPA city/hwy): 17/21 mpg (automatic)
Safety equipment: VSC stability control, anti-lock brakes, electronic brake force distribution, Brake Assist, front dual-stage airbags; driver/front passenger side airbags (optional); anti-lock brakes (optional)
Major standard equipment: Air conditioning, power windows/locks, tilt steering, water-resistant seats, rear defogger, skid plates, full-size spare, AM/FM/CD/MP3 sound system w/mini-jack input
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles comprehensive; five years/60,000 miles powertrain

 

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