- Handsomely retro design
- Stylish, back-to-basics interior
- No-compromises trail ability
- Docile enough for daily driving
- Lack of maneuverability
- Poor visibility
- Difficult backseat access
- Noisy highway cruising
If head-turning style and true trail toughness are priorities, the 2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser stands above most SUVs—although families and city commuters need not apply.
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.
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.
2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser
No other SUV on the market can match the panache of the Toyota FJ Cruiser, guaranteeing owners will standout wherever they go.
The Toyota FJ Cruiser’s styling hasn’t changed much since its launch half a decade ago, but that’s a good thing as the in-your-face looks and retro cues are what make the vehicle so special. The lines are inspired by the 1960s-era FJ40 but have been updated with a cartoonish look that’s somewhat comical yet still very cool. The only thing that comes close to matching the FJ Cruiser in terms of styling would be a HUMMER, but since they’re no longer sold the Toyota is now a relatively unique option in the new car market. The design is also practical in some areas. 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 trunk.
The design is also practical in some areas. 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 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.
2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser
The 2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser is great for off-roading but the tall ride height and extra girth makes it somewhat inept on streets and highways.
The 2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser’s 4.0-liter V-6 engine is a gem, offering up 260 horsepower and 271 pound-feet of torque and coming matched to either a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic depending on which spec you choose. The torquey engine enables strong off the line performance and confident highway passing. However, with more than 4,000 pounds to carry, even in the FJ Cruiser’s lightest rear-wheel-drive configuration, don’t be expecting sports car like acceleration numbers.
Just note that the rear-wheel-drive model can only be equipped with a five-speed auto, while the all-wheel-drive model allows buyers to choose between the manual or the auto. The manual is easily more fun and allows you to make the most of the V-6 engine, though the auto is not a complete dud as it does allow pseudo manual control of the gear changes.
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.
The FJ Cruiser performs exceptionally well off-road, thanks in part to its shared underpinnings with the previous generation Toyota 4Runner. Suspension tuning aims to get good wheel articulation without making too many on-road sacrifices, and the SUV has no problem traversing through water as high as 27.5 inches; its approach and departure angles are among the best of any stock vehicle.
Back on the road, the FJ Cruiser’s tall tires and height combined with its heft means you’re going to encounter a lot of roll through corners. Maneuverability remains disappointing, and the vehicle feels wide in anything but full-width parking spots.
2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser
Comfort & Quality
While very capable off the road, the 2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser is far from being the most comfortable or refined vehicle in its segment.
The 2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser may be a great looking vehicle that’s very capable off-road, but unfortunately those same qualities also make it somewhat less comfortable and less refined than most of its rivals. Vehicles such as the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Nissan Pathfinder 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.
The rear seats in the FJ Cruiser are cramped, though the rear-hinged back doors provide decent access. The tall ride height makes getting in and out harder than you’ll find with most other SUVs, and the FJ Cruiser's big size also belies a lack of storage. You will be disappointed if you’re looking for a vehicle with a lot of storage compartments for smaller items and electronic gear.
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. During highway driving this conspires to wear you down.
The expanse of plastic on the dash, center console and door innards feels cheap but the toy truck-look does match the exterior styling and the surface materials are easy to keep clean.
2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser
The 2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser scores reasonable marks in independent crash-testing, though the vehicle is not without its safety shortcomings.
While there are no crash-test results for the 2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser from the federal government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has tested it and finds it to be near the top of the pack when it comes to mid-size SUVs.
The insurance-funded group found the FJ Cruiser to score the top rating of ‘good’ in its frontal offset crash-test, side-impact test, and in rear crash protection. The only area where the Toyota didn’t score top marks was in the roof strength test, for which it received an ‘acceptable’ rating.
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.
One major gripe we had was rearward visibility, which is quite poor due to the FJ Cruiser’s tall, rather narrow-windowed design. Parking can be quite the chore, so we strongly recommend the optional rear parking sensor system.
2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser
For a vehicle targeted at the great outdoors crowd, the 2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser has a lot of creature comforts.
Despite its utilitarian look and feel, the 2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser comes with a surprising amount of creature comforts, many of them standard. And for those buyers who really do want to go off the beaten path, Toyota offers some great packages and options to improve the FJ Cruiser’s off-road capabilities even further.
Standard items include air conditioning, water-resistant seats, a tilt steering wheel, a rear-door-mounted full-size spare tire, front and rear-tow hooks, plus mudguards. An available Convenience Package adds cruise control, daytime running lights, a rear window wiper, and a spare tire cover. This package also includes a rear backup camera integrated with an auto-dimming rear-view mirror--a must for people with parking anxiety.
When staying on pavement, owners benefit from plenty of audio and connectivity features. The standard audio system includes six speakers and has ports for an iPod, auxiliary cable, or USB device. The steering wheel also integrates audio system and Bluetooth controls for added ease of use, and if you want you can upgrade to a 10-speaker JBL sound system.
For dedicated off-roaders, there's a standard rear diff 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 BF Goodrich 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. Add the Class Four receiver hitch and you’ll be able to tow up to 5,000 pounds.
For 2012, the FJ Cruiser’s Trail Teams Special Edition Package that was introduced last year gets a new color, Radiant Red. This package includes most of the items mentioned above but also scores you some off-road lights and body color-matched interior highlights.
Finally, there’s the Toyota Racing Development (TRD) sport package. It gets you some unique alloys and BFG All-Terrain tires, among other upgrades.
2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser
The 2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser’s gas mileage is dismal for a mid-size SUV but this is typical of most serious off-roaders.
There’s only one engine available with the 2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser but your mileage can vary depending on whether you have a rear-wheel or all-wheel-drive model and whether you choose the auto or stick.
The rear-wheel-drive FJ Cruiser, which only comes with a five-speed auto, will see you return 17/22 mpg city/highway and 19 mpg combined. Add all-wheel-drive and you’ll see the highway figure drop just 1 mpg. Given the marginal difference in fuel economy between the two, we strongly recommend you opt for the added traction of all-wheel-drive.
Contrary to what you’ll find in most other vehicles, the auto is the more fuel efficient option here. If you choose the manual, you’ll see your mileage dip to 15/20 mpg city/highway and about 17 combined.
Those are pretty dismal numbers for a mid-size SUV, especially if you’re only using it to cart the kids to soccer or picking up the groceries, but if you need a serious off-roader the FJ isn't any worse of a choice than similarly-capable models like the Xterra or Jeep Wrangler.