If you are of a certain age, you'll recognize the 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser as the rebirth of an icon, the Toyota FJ 40, better known in North America as the original Land Cruiser. It was a rugged, go-anywhere vehicle, a sport utility vehicle decades before the genre had a name.
You also may remember that the old Land Cruiser was the vehicle that kept Toyota viable in the North American automotive marketplace until the Japanese automaker finally figured out how to build passenger cars that Americans wanted. We don't need to tell you Toyota certainly figured out how to build vehicles Americans wanted, such as the Camry, Corolla, Tacoma, and luxurious Lexus models.
On the other hand, if you are of a significantly younger age than graybeards nostalgic for manually locking hubs, you'll see the 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser as something new and different and even unique on the road.
Or, more properly, we should say on and off the road, because while this newest Toyota was designed to appeal to a youthful and especially male audience, it also was designed to be the most capable of all Toyotas when the pavement gives way to gravel, sand, rocks and other assorted obstacles not normally found in shopping mall parking lots or between the shoulders of Interstate highways. And that's saying something, given the capability of the 4Runner and Tacoma.
The FJ Cruiser seats five. The front doors are standard, front-hinged doors. Rear-hinged access doors ease egress to the back seat and cargo area. Rear access to the cargo area is through a door hinged on the driver's side of the vehicle instead of a typical roof-hinged hatch-style closure.
We found the FJ Cruiser superb in rugged terrain but comfortable on the road. Its V6 engine is more powerful than those used in the Hummer H3 and Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon.
Powering the FJ Cruiser is Toyota's 4.0-liter V6 engine, a proven motor also used in the 4Runner, Tacoma and Tundra. The engine pumps out 239 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque, the sort of grunt that comes in handy when traveling off-road or when towing. Those figures represent 19 more horsepower and 53 more pound-feet of torque than provided by the inline five-cylinder engine the Hummer H3 and 49 more horsepower and 43 more pound-feet than the inline-six in the Jeep Unlimited Rubicon.
The FJ Cruiser is rated to tow as much as 5000 pounds, 500 pounds more than the H3 and 4000 more than the Jeep.
The Toyota V6 not only is strong, but clean and fuel-efficient as well. It earns the FJ Cruiser a LEV-II (low-emission vehicle) rating from the federal government and, depending on drivetrain configuration, returns around 16-18 miles per gallon in city driving and up to 22 on the highway.
The Toyota FJ Cruiser is quite capable off road, even more so than the highly capable 4Runner on which it is based. The FJ offers better approach and departure angles, a shorter wheelbase, and a higher ground clearance.
As mentioned, three versions are available. Those planning to do serious off-road driving will want the full-time 4x4 with the manual transmission, which features a clutchless starting feature that can come in handy for rock-crawling maneuvers.
Those looking for an automatic likely will select the part-time 4x4 with its automatic transmission. It's a good choice regardless of road and weather conditions. It's also a good choice for rugged terrain and is available with Toyota's new A-TRAC off-road technology.
Drivers who don't need to venture too far from paved roads but who like the unique design statement made by the FJ Cruiser will likely opt for the two-wheel-drive setup.
Toyota anticipates more than 90 percent of FJ Cruiser buyers will select one of the 4x4 versions.
With the automatic transmission, the system offers shift-on-the-fly selection with H2 (2WD High range), H4 (4WD High range) or L4 (4WD Low range) settings for the torque-splitting transfer case.
With the manual transmission, the drivetrain is a full-time four-wheel-drive setup with H4, H4L (locked Torsen center differential) and L4L (low and locked) settings. The H4 mode usually sends 60 percent of power to the rear wheels, but can send as much as 53 percent of power to the front wheels or 70 percent to the rear wheels as needed. An electronically locking rear differential is available with either automatic or manual transmission, or even in the two-wheel-drive version.
Also available with four-wheel drive is a computer-controlled traction system that Toyota calls A-TRAC, for Active-TRACtion. This system, which also makes steering easier in rugged terrain, can be turned on or off via a switch on the dashboard control panel. In severe off-road situations, drivers may need to engage the locking rear differential, but we found the A-TRAC system ideal for negotiating a series of serious and deep moguls in steep terrain when we did our off-road test drive.
With the manual transmission, the FJ Cruiser has an off-road crawl ratio of 41.84:1 and has proven itself capable to traversing California's rugged and world-famous Rubicon Trail.
Toyota anticipates that many FJ Cruiser owners will want to explore away from pavement, but most miles will be racked up on city streets and suburban highways, where we found the FJ Cruiser to be comfortable, even when we sat in the back seat. One thing we did notice, however, was that the big roof rack that's available as an accessory can create a lot of wind noise at Interstate speeds. We still think lots of people will want one, however, if for no other reason than it looks so cool.
The FJ Cruiser is Toyota's newest sport utility vehicle and its most capable when it comes to getting where you want to go when there's no pavement beneath your tires. Like Hummers and Jeep Wranglers, the FJ Cruiser isn't for everyone. Not everyone will appreciate its heritage, whether in the iconic design cues brought forward in a thoroughly modern vehicle or in the way this vehicle lives up to the Land Cruiser's much deserved reputation for getting across deserts, up mountains and through swamps and jungles on continents around the globe. But for those whose lifestyles include exploring, whether it be sandy beaches, mountain trails, secluded lakes, busy ski hills or even the urban jungle, the FJ Cruiser provides Toyota quality at a competitive price and wrapped in a unique design, inside and out.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Larry Edsall filed this report after driving the FJ Cruiser in the hills west of Los Angeles and in the desert around Palm Springs, California.