2009 Toyota FJ Cruiser

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Trevor Wild Trevor Wild Author
July 4, 2009

Buying tip

If you’re considering either the 2009 Toyota FJ Cruiser or 4Runner but don’t need backseat space, the FJ is the better choice because the FJ Cruiser offers most of the same mechanical underpinnings as the 4Runner at a lower price.

features & specs

4WD 4-Door Automatic
4WD 4-Door Manual
RWD 4-Door Automatic
16 city / 20 hwy
15 city / 18 hwy
16 city / 20 hwy

With design cues reaching back to Toyota’s 1960s-era FJ40, the 2009 Toyota FJ Cruiser offers retro-coolness and real truck toughness.

TheCarConnection.com's editors drove the new Toyota FJ Cruiser in order to give you an expert opinion. TheCarConnection.com's SUV enthusiasts researched available road tests relevant to the 2009 Toyota FJ Cruiser to produce this conclusive review and to help you find the truth where other reviews might differ.

Retro-coolness, off-roading, and practicality don’t come together as well in any other SUV as they do in the Toyota FJ Cruiser.

As retro-cool as the exterior is, the 2009 Toyota FJ Cruiser’s interior also mixes modernity, practicality, and a dash of the past. The instrument panel follows a very basic style, with hard surfaces that are the same color as the exterior and traditional-looking round gauges; it’s very businesslike and not as gimmicky as the gauges in other retro-styled cars.

Powering the 2009 Toyota FJ Cruiser is a 4.0-liter aluminum-block V-6 with variable valve timing and that produces 239 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque. The engine is mated to either a five-speed automatic transmission or a six-speed manual transmission exclusive to the FJ.

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The FJ Cruiser is built on Toyota’s own 4Runner architecture, but with a shortened floorpan, so it's an off-roader through and through. The four-wheel-drive system on the 2009 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. Skid plates help protect the underside, and components are tucked within the frame rails. Wheel articulation is also impressive, to help soak up jarring holes and boulders without being thrown from side to side. All this makes the 2009 Toyota FJ Cruiser a serious off-roader. Approach and departure angles are among the best of any vehicle, and the FJ can ford water up to 27.5 inches deep.

Considering the FJ Cruiser’s off-road ability, the SUV is impressive when navigating highways and byways. It shows its truck roots in not offering especially responsive steering, but the ride is quite compliant. Only around tight corners does the 4,300-pound curb weight reveal itself. The V-6 doesn’t provide acceleration that’s particularly quick for passing, but it’s adequate and very torquey from a standing start. At highway speeds, there’s noticeable wind noise and some road noise.

Front seats are comfortable, and the driving position is nice and upright. Backseat space is quite limited in the 2009 Toyota FJ Cruiser and especially difficult to get to, as a step up is required before wedging behind the front seat.

The Toyota FJ Cruiser performs well in crash tests, with four stars in the federal frontal test and a commendable five stars for side impact. The typically tougher insurance-affiliated IIHS tests find top "good" results in both frontal and side impact, though the FJ Cruiser gets "poor" results in the IIHS rear-impact test. Standard safety equipment includes side curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes, and electronic stability control. For 2009, the FJ Cruiser comes standard 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. The rollover sense also signals the standard seat-mounted side airbags and side curtain airbags to deploy. Front seats get active headrests where the headrests move upward and forward to help limit the movement of the occupant's head during a rear collision.

A Toyota Racing Development (TRD) package is added to the FJ Cruiser in 2007, upping the off-road credentials of the SUV. The package in the 2009 FJ Cruiser includes Bilstein off-road shocks designed to reduce brake dive and squat, as well as enhance straight-line stability; TRD-specific 16-inch rims with BF Goodrich all-terrain tires; an all-black exterior paint scheme; and TRD performance exhaust and rock rails. Last year a handful of new standard gear was added, including an anti-theft system, an illuminated entry system, curtain airbags for both rows of seats, and sun visors with vanity mirrors.

FJ Cruisers endowed with the optional Special Edition package are a step up in off-road luxury. The package include niceties such as: seat-mounted side airbags; front and rear side curtain airbags; and a multi-informational display that includes compass, inclinometer, and temperature gauge. The 2009 Toyota FJ Cruiser Special Edition package also includes a two-in-one AM/FM audio and six-disc CD changer, quick shifter (manual transmission models only), and all-weather front and rear cargo floor mats with a TRD logo. Also new for 2009 is the addition of a rear backup camera and auto-dimming rearview mirror added to the Convenience Package.


2009 Toyota FJ Cruiser


The exterior of the 2009 Toyota FJ Cruiser is a show-car standout in a sea of conformist SUVs.

Buyers bored with bland SUVs, as well as veteran FJ aficionados, should rejoice at the 2009 Toyota FJ Cruiser’s singular exterior and rugged, functional interior.

The 2009 Toyota FJ Cruiser has rear suicide doors that operate only when the main forward doors are open. While Road & Track comments these “Honda Element-esque suicide doors lends the FJ a two-door's personality,” others criticize their marginal usefulness, seeing them as more style than function.

“Those familiar with the older FJs will immediately see the family resemblance,” claims Road & Track of what was originally a concept vehicle for Toyota that garnered rave responses at the 2003 Detroit Auto Show. In the spirit of the original 1960s FJ40, the FJ Cruiser offers narrow-set round headlamps, a white-painted roof, an upright windshield, and wraparound rear glass. Motor Trend decrees the styling “successfully conveys uniqueness and heritage—two traits currently missing in the Toyota lineup,” and Automobile Magazine, too, proclaims the FJ “distinguishes itself from its brethren with evocative styling.”

Road & Track declares “the cabin exudes simplicity, echoing the feel of the earlier FJs” when describing the mood set by “cloth seats, a body-colored radio surround and large, easy-to-operate controls,” and Motor Trend asserts “the basic cabin harmonizes nicely with the busier exterior.” ConsumerGuide considers the interior “more functional than rich. It includes washable rubberlike flooring, water-resistant fabric trim, faux metal, body-color painted accents, and some low-budget plastic panels.”

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2009 Toyota FJ Cruiser


The 2009 Toyota FJ Cruiser proves adept enough on-road, but it’s clearly designed for tough trails.

With the 2009 Toyota FJ Cruiser, on-road performance takes a backseat to off-road performance, but it’s a closer race than you’d think.

Road & Track asserts the “free-revving V-6 is up to the task of moving the FJ down the road (or trail) with ease,” Edmunds raves it is “able to get the FJ up to speed in quick fashion,” but ConsumerGuide counters that it can feel “overmatched by vehicle weight in passing maneuvers and on long upgrades.” Using the same dual-VVTi, aluminum-block 4.0-liter V-6 found in the Tacoma and 4Runner, the FJ Cruiser enjoys immediate, torquey response from a standstill but leaves some wanting more passing power. The V-6 produces 239 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque.

Interestingly, the six-speed manual that comes only with full-time 4WD achieves lower EPA mileage figures, perhaps due to powering all four wheels at all times—15/18 mpg versus the five-speed automatic (in 2WD or 4WD guise) at 16/20 mpg. Road & Track notes that “all 4wd models come equipped with a 2-speed transfer case that proves invaluable” in serious off-roading. Edmunds states “the automatic transmission shifts smoothly and accurately,” and ConsumerGuide reports “the manual has long throws but light clutch action.”

Motor Trend is critical of the FJ Cruiser’s on-road performance, stating that while the vehicle “isn't averse to being hustled…it doesn't exactly accept the invitation with a smile. Drive at 6/10ths,” they continue, “and the FJ is a peach, its communicative steering and beefy brakes feeling perfectly suited for the job. Take it to 7/10ths, however, and the stability-control nanny incessantly blinks and beeps her disapproval.” Car and Driver considers it “slightly noisy and rough-riding.”

Despite the concerns, handling is generally praised for the 2009 Toyota FJ Cruiser. “The FJ's faults are pretty easy to overlook given how enjoyable it is to drive and own,” commends Edmunds. And let’s not forget how comfortable and livable the FJ Cruiser is apart from its dual mission of on-road grocery getter and off-road dominator—especially considering the truck’s live rear axle and remarkable ability off-road. Road & Track notes it feels “slightly better than a similarly outfitted 4Runner, where the FJ Cruiser enjoys a marginally more planted and stable cornering attitude.” Edmunds praises it as “one of the best off-roading rigs you can drive off the showroom floor,” claiming it is also “surprisingly maneuverable around town.”

A “firm but compliant suspension combines with tall-sidewall mud and snow tires to flatten most road bumps with little jolt or body quiver,” says ConsumerGuide. Motor Trend lauds the FJ’s suspension compliance when compared to rivals: “Rough roads will gently bounce passengers around, never aggressively toss them like in an Xterra or H3, which feel decidedly firmer.”

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2009 Toyota FJ Cruiser

Comfort & Quality

Prospective buyers of the 2009 Toyota FJ Cruiser should beware: The FJ's reasonably good ride and quality materials come wrapped in a package with some pretty serious compromises.

The 2009 Toyota FJ Cruiser’s style dictates a difficult climb into the backseats, but the interior’s pure Toyota in quality.

Reviewers generally praise the up-front portion of the FJ Cruiser’s cabin but are critical regarding the rear of the cabin. “The seats are all-day comfortable,” ConsumerGuide says of the front, with “good headroom and legroom for six-footers.” Car and Driver warns that “back-seat room is good but not as spacious as one might expect,” “Seating in front is very comfortable,” reports Edmunds, “but getting into the rather cramped rear compartment requires a high step up and a contortionist dance, even with the rear doors open.” Edmunds chimes in, commenting that “rearward-opening doors aren't as convenient as one might think.” Edmunds concludes, “an FJ isn't the best choice” as “a children-schlepping vehicle.”

This is a Toyota, after all, and typical Toyota attributes such as “obvious build quality, and amazing versatility” (Car and Driver) still apply. “The FJ's retro-looking dash is color-keyed to the exterior," notes Edmunds, “and most of the controls are straightforward and functional.”

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2009 Toyota FJ Cruiser


The 2009 Toyota FJ Cruiser offers solid occupant protection, but its design creates major visibility problems.

The scores are there, but the 2009 Toyota FJ Cruiser’s safety grade is docked for poor visibility. For 2009 the FJ Cruiser receives roll-sensing side curtain airbags, as well as active headrests for the front seats.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the FJ Cruiser its top “good” rating for frontal offset and side impact collision occupant protection. Edmunds points out that in “National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash tests, the 2009 Toyota FJ Cruiser earned a top five-star rating for driver safety in head-on collisions. Front passenger protection rated four stars.” Additionally, front and rear passenger side impact protection earns a perfect five stars.

The FJ’s stout Toyota 4Runner frame performs very well in crash testing. Combined with a litany of safety features, the two should both help prevent accidents and cushion the blow—should the driver of an FJ experience one. Car and Driver reports the FJ Cruiser comes standard with stability and traction control, anti-lock brakes, dual front airbags, front-seat-mounted side impact airbags, curtain airbags with a rollover sensor, front-seatbelt pretensioners, and a tire-pressure monitoring system.

Automobile Magazine notes with “the spare tire taking up much of the tailgate, it's advisable to order the optional rear parking sensor.” Practicality has to take a backseat with a style as radical as the FJ Cruiser’s; nowhere is this more obvious than from the view out, which Motor Trend likens “to wearing a football helmet, with a wide, truncated slot straight ahead and two big blind spots in the periphery.” Despite the optional backup camera, the FJ’s poor visibility outward can be seen as a design that reduces safety.


2009 Toyota FJ Cruiser


One trim level, three drive systems, and a host of options make the 2009 Toyota FJ Cruiser easy to personalize.

The 2009 Toyota FJ Cruiser can be ideally outfitted for off-road driving, but more traditional features take a backseat.

Of the drive systems in this off-road-capable beast, Car and Driver deems it an “odd arrangement” that “FJ Cruisers with a manual transmission get full-time four-wheel drive, and automatic-equipped models get a simpler part-time four-wheel-drive system or rear-wheel drive.” Available in just one trim level, the FJ Cruiser, Car and Driver notes, starts at $23,230 for a rear-wheel-drive example with an automatic transmission (the only one available), $24,410 for a manual 4WD version, and $24,820 for an automatic, which utilizes a part-time 4WD system.

The 2009 FJ Cruiser comes with a host of safety items, including side curtain airbags that inflate not only in a side collision, but also if the vehicle’s sensors sense an impending rollover. A six-speaker CD MP3 audio system with auxiliary jack, electronic stability, and traction control are also standard. Kelley Blue Book describes the operation of its favorite features on the FJ Cruiser. The Subwoofer Switch is a “subwoofer on/off button” that “makes it easy to optimize the listening experience when switching from talk to rock, for instance.” And A-TRAC, a step above the standard stability control, automatically applies the brakes to a spinning wheel, forcing “torque to the opposing wheel” and boosting the “FJ Cruiser’s off-road capability.” Calling the Toyota “decidedly purpose built,” Kelley Blue Book also points out that every FJ is equipped with water-resistant seat fabric and rubber flooring. In the cargo area, “convenient hooks and tie-downs add functionality,” they remark.

Options packages are specific to 4WD and 2WD models and include items such as larger wheels and tires, 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. For dedicated off-roaders, there is a rear differential 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 BFGoodrich 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.

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