For a company that's prided itself, in the most part, for sober design and rock-solid reliability, the FJ Cruiser is a shock to the system. As far as we're concerned, it's a well executed tribute to the FJ40 Land Cruiser that made its name in Australia thanks to its work on the Snowy Mountain Scheme, which was not only an engineering marvel, but came to define a new era of (European) multiculturalism after World War II.
Unlike its inspiration, the FJ Cruiser actually has four passenger doors, although the rear two are small and cleverly disguised. In a layout that's not too dissimilar to that used on the rather sportier Mazda RX-8, the FJ Cruiser does without a pillar connecting floor to ceiling behind the front doors. This means that the rear doors are hinged backwards and that they lock in place by latching to the front doors. As long as you're fine with the rather steep ascent into the FJ, entry to the rear pews is quite easy.
Click through for a complete look at the FJ Cruiser.
The short, wide, upright windscreen is an essential element in the car's styling and necessitates the use of three (yes, you read right) windscreen wipers. This, along with the tall wing mirrors, generates quite a bit of wind noise at freeway speeds and can't be great for the car's aerodynamics. The rear windscreen pops up independently, allowing you to throw grocery bags and the like into the 990-litre boot without having to wrestle with the heavy side-opening tail gate.
Unlike some of today's four-wheel drives, like the Land Cruiser, Grand Cherokee and next-gen Patrol, the FJ's interior has been designed specifically with the rigours of criss-crossing the continent in mind, rather than the needs of Mosman mums and Toorak dads. There isn't even a scintilla of carpet on the floor, just a hardy mixture of rubber and plastic that can easily be vacuumed or washed out. With the latter in mind, the seats are clad in a breathable, quick-dry fabric.
The concept car that previewed the FJ Cruiser featured a dashboard beautifully crafted from metal. The process of changing the show car into a production-ready vehicle thankfully didn't do much to harm the exterior, but the dash didn't fare quite so well. In place of metal, there's swathes of silver-painted plastic, as well as body colour highlights on the dash and doors. It all feels wonderfully hardy and all of the controls (except the audio head unit) are chunky, oversized and generally easy to find.
Finding the perfect driving position is a little tricky as you can only adjust the angle of the steering wheel. Passengers up front should have no complaints about space and it's surprisingly good in the rear as well, with a decent amount of leg, head and shoulder room, so long as you're only seating two back there.
In Australia, there's just one specification available. It comes standard with air conditioning, 17-inch alloy wheels, central locking, electro-chromatic rear vision mirror, front electric windows (the rear windows don't open at all) and rear fog lights. Safety features include six airbags, stability control and anti-lock brakes. An inclinometer, temperature gauge and compass sit atop the dashboard.
Rear parking sensors are augmented by a reversing camera that's hidden in the spare wheel carrier. Images from that camera are displayed in a corner of the rear vision mirror and, while it's a must have on this type of vehicle, it feels a little undersized. There's also a wand-operated cruise control system that unfortunately doesn't inform the driver of when it's in charge of the car's speed, merely if the system is on.
The stereo head unit is a mid-spec unit that should be instantly familiar to anyone who's driven a recent Toyota. It has a 4.3-inch colour screen that's not in the slightest bit touch sensitive, instead it's operated by the three buttons on either side of the display that correspond to various on-screen functions.
It's able to swallow up to six audio CDs, has an auxiliary jack and iPod-friendly USB port, and also comes with Bluetooth for both hands-free and wireless music streaming. Buttons on the steering wheel spokes allow the driver to quickly change stations/tracks and volume, switch audio source, and access some basic phone functionality.
The eight-speaker sound system includes regular door-mounted speakers, as well as a set of Exciter speakers in the roof that use the ceiling lining as their diaphragm. This, according to chief engineer Akio Nishimura, helps spread the sound evenly around the cabin. That may be true, but unfortunately for the driver the system produces a bass heavy sound that's hollow throughout the rest of the audible range. As with many wagons, audio quality improves considerably if you're seated in the rear.
On the road
The FJ Cruiser shares much of its frame and underpinnings with the rather more sedate Prado. That car, while highly capable off-road, feels like an old-school four-wheel drive on it — think body roll equal to Bibendum's and a suspension that's stuffed full of marshmallows. Thankfully, these wrongs have been corrected on the FJ.
Sure, if you chuck it into a corner at speed, the body will roll, but it's in a controlled and predictable manner. The ride is unsurprisingly comfortable, as there's not only generous helpings of suspension travel and also plenty of air in those tyres. On bitumen the steering is light and doesn't talk much, but in its preferred habitat it's plenty talkative without wanting to yank your thumbs off at every pebble you pass over.
Despite lacking some of the electronic aids, such as electronic KDSS (Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System), multi-terrain and crawl control systems, found in its larger Prado and Land Cruiser siblings, the FJ Cruiser is supremely capable off-road. Indeed, thanks to its short front and rear overhangs, it bests its stablemates with a 31-degree departure angle and 29-degree break-over angle; the 36-degree approach angle is nothing to be sniffed at either.
The standard five-speed automatic transmission is mated to a part-time four-wheel drive system. The driver can change between high-range rear- and four-wheel drive on the go, and when stopped can also choose to go into low-range four-wheel drive for rougher, steeper tracks.
A 4-litre V6 with 200kW of power and 380Nm of torque married to a five-speed automatic transmission is the only drivetrain offered and does an admirable job of hauling the 2-tonne wagon around. Developed with North America in mind and with no plans to put it on sale in Europe, the car was never engineered to utilise one of Toyota's diesel engines.
During our time with the FJ Cruiser, it drank at an average of 13.6L/100km. Split out, it sipped at a rate of 11.9L/100km on the highway, while in the city and suburbs consumption rose to 16.9L/100km. A 72-litre tank is fitted.
For many off-roading enthusiasts the lack of a diesel engine option will be the killer blow, which is a shame really, because the FJ Cruiser is an honest four-wheel drive with plenty of character.