Today's Drive: 2014 Toyota FJ Cruiser

The spiritual heir of a cult classic

A vehicle that can go anywhere, anytime has captured peoples’ imagination since the creation of the original Willys Jeep. After WWII, Toyota set about making their own, and it’s efforts resulted in the Land Cruiser. The Land Cruiser series is Toyota’s longest running in the company’s history.

Early Land Cruisers were basically just bigger clones of the Jeep with a six-cylinder engine. But, after a few quick improvements, Toyota had the FJ40 model. The FJ40’s reliability and longevity has led to it gaining massive popularity across the globe, especially in places with rugged terrain or extreme temperatures.

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When production of the FJ40 ended in 1984, Toyota shifted the image of the Land Cruiser line to a larger, more luxurious SUV. However, by the mid-nineties, Toyota felt they were losing touch with the young, adventurous demographic and sought to create a spiritual successor to the FJ40. The rugged, retro-styled FJ Cruiser was the fruit of that labour.

Vehicles inspired by the Willys Jeep have changed and evolved in a number of different directions. Therefore, the FJ Cruiser competes with an interesting collection of rivals, including the Land Rover LR2, the Nissan Xterra, and the modern incarnation of the original, the Jeep Wrangler.

The real news for 2014 is that this year is FJ’s last year — Toyota announced that it will stop producing FJ worldwide likely due to declining interest over the years.  This is unfortunate because the FJ is such a unique vehicle with a character that can’t be matched by today’s modern and smooth SUVs.

Design
Since its introduction in 2006, the FJ Cruiser has changed very little visually. It is defined by its short and stocky stance.

The grille/headlight arrangement and vertical windshield with three wipers are a couple design cues from the original FJ40. The FJ Cruiser is also the only current vehicle to have the name “Toyota” spelled out across the grille instead of the emblem.

The FJ Cruiser notably has reverse-opening rear doors which do not have handles on the outside. High strength steel was used so the FJ Cruiser has adequate side impact protection without the need for a door pillar.

With a length of 4,670 mm (183.9 in), the FJ Cruiser is the longest compact SUV sold by Toyota in North America. Therefore, it sits between the smaller RAV4 and the midsize Highlander in the lineup in terms of size.

As its base, the FJ Cruiser uses a body-on-frame truck-style structure. Many of its mechanical components have been sourced from other Toyota products. For example, its engine and transmission are shared with the Tundra, Tacoma and 4Runner and suspension parts can be found in the Hilux, Tacoma, 4Runner and the Lexus GX.

The cabin features many elements focused on improving off-road practicality. All surfaces are washable and durable, making clean-up after heavy outdoor use a breeze.

Performance
Hidden beneath the long flat hood is a 4.0-litre V6 that produces 260 hp and 271 ft-lbs of torque. There is no other available engine but you do have the choice between either a five-speed automatic transmission or a six-speed manual.

Models with the manual have a full-time 4WD system with a rear differential lock and a two-speed transfer case. Automatic models employ a part-time 4WD system with a automatic disconnecting differential and two-speed transfer case.

Also, FJ Cruiser’s with the automatic have the option of 4-wheel Crawl Control, which allows the driver to focus solely on steering while the system operates the acceleration, brakes and the traction control to maintain a slow speed while ascending or descending steep terrain.

While the FJ Cruiser is mechanically capable and has an impressive 245 mm (9.6 in) of ground clearance, its front and rear overhangs only allow for a 34 degree approach angle and a 31 degree departure angle. This unfortunately means that it’s not as useful as some of its rivals when it comes to hill-climbing.

The Toyota FJ Cruiser is most at home running over wide open trails. Regardless of the surface, be it hard packed dirt or loose sand or snow, the FJ Cruiser will just power through making you feel invincible. Potholes, logs and rocks don’t pose much of a threat and you can leave civilization quite far behind. Also, the air intake is set high in the engine bay, allowing you to ford substantial water hazards as well.

The car is surprisingly fun to drive, mainly because its character is unique and has that rugged feel you don’t feel any more in today’s modern SUVs.

Environment
The cabin inside the FJ Cruiser is spacious and functional and all of the controls are large and easy to operate in a hurry or with gloves on. To help with off-road navigation, there is an interesting and handy instrument pod on the dash with a compass, outside temperature gauge and an inclinometer.

The steering wheel also feels comfortable and sturdy in your hand. The shift lever is within easy reach and features a large ergonomic knob.

The bucket front seats have wide, flat cushions with backs featuring small bolsters. They provide an elevated seating position, giving good visibility out front. But, the narrow windshield can limit how high taller drivers can look, making traffic lights a tad difficult to see when up close.

Looking behind or over your shoulder is not any easier. The full-size spare tire mounted to the rear door restricts visibility out back and the massive ‘C’ pillars create a sizable blind spot. Thankfully, Toyota has fitted the FJ Cruiser with a standard backup camera integrated into the rearview mirror to aid one of those issues.

Like all vehicles of this size, there is plenty of room. However, accessing the rear seat is not easy thanks to the narrow rear “suicide” doors.  But, they are split 60/40 and fold nearly flat if you need additional cargo space.

Features
Ranging in price from $33,540 to $41,925, the FJ Cruiser is available in four models, including the limited edition Trail Teams Special Edition version.

Standard equipment includes illuminated entry, cargo and map lamps, power windows and locks, and air conditioning.

Additional features, available as options or on higher trims, include keyless entry, cruise control, 120 V power outlet and rear privacy glass.

Fuel efficiency numbers (L/100km) for the manual transmission are 13.8 city, 10.3 highway and 12.2 combined. The automatic transmission returns 12.7 city, 9.5 highway and 11.3 combined.

Thumbs Up
The FJ Cruiser can handle just about any terrain an outdoor enthusiast can attempt to traverse and is backed by Toyota’s excellent build quality. It is still one of the most unique vehicles in the market.

Thumbs Down
The FJ Cruiser is far from the most fuel efficient vehicle, nor is it a civilized SUV in comparison to modern SUVs.

The Bottom Line
The Toyota FJ Cruiser is a worthy successor to the legendary FJ40 Land Cruiser and this is your last year to get it.

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