Fit and finish
In July of 1951 Toyota test driver Ichiro Taira drove the precursor to the Toyota FJ, a BJ prototype, up to checkpoint number six on Mount Fuji – the first motor vehicle to climb that high. Overseeing the test were members of Japan's National Police Agency – which immediately placed an order for 289 of these vehicles.
Thus was established the roots of a vehicle that, three years later, adopted the name "Land Cruiser" – the most famous of which is undoubtedly the FJ40 that was built from 1960 until 1984.
But with the Land Cruiser growing larger and more expensive as the years progressed, the need to fill the slot that was vacated resulted in the 2003 unveiling of the FJ Cruiser concept vehicle at the 2003 North American International Auto Show with the final production version introduced at the same venue two years later.
2013 Toyota FJ Cruiser
Although it looks unique among Toyota models, the FJ Cruiser shares its basic platform architecture with two other models from the Japanese manufacturer – the larger Toyota 4Runner and the more luxurious Lexus GX 460.
There's a double wishbone independent suspension setup with coilover shocks and a stabilizer bar up front, while the solid rear axle is located by a four-link suspension with a lateral (Panhard) rod with coil springs and a stabilizer bar. Skid plates for the engine, transfer case (on 4x4 models) and fuel tank are standard. 17-inch steel wheels are also standard and are wrapped in Bridgestone Dueler H/T 684II P265/70R17 all season tires.
The result is 7.87 inches of front and 9.1 inches of rear wheel travel. With standard 32-inch tires, ground clearance is 9.6 inches (8.7 inches for 4x2 models) while approach and departure angles are 34 degrees and 31 degrees, respectively, for the 4x4 model, and 32/30 for the 4x2. Maximum towing capacity for those so inclined and with the optional Class Four receiver hitch is 4,700 pounds.
The only engine offered is an all aluminum 4.0-liter DOHC V6 generating 260 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 271 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,400 rpm. With the 4x4 automatic transmission configuration it's rated by the EPA at 17/20/18 city/highway/combined by the EPA while our observed fuel economy was 17.1 mpg in primarily suburban driving - not bad for a vehicle of this type but still not all that great.
The six is mated to either a a five-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission in either a rear-wheel 4x2 or part-time 4x4 setup or a six-speed manual transmission that is configured with a full-time 4x4 drivetrain.
One of the coolest features of the FJ is the throwback styling that mimicking many of the FJ40's styling cues and making it easy to pick out – especially when adorned in a hue Toyota refers to as "Magma" - in crowded parking lots. That's not to say that a special color is even necessary, as its overall height of 72 inches is anywhere from 6 to 8 inches taller than most vehicles in this class
Also differentiating it from the sea of similarly-sized SUVs is its slightly-rounded blocky shape and, up front, a pair of two, round 5-inch headlights that flank a rectangular grille with "TOYOTA" spelled out in block letters – making it the only vehicle from the Japanese manufacturer to sport the name, rather than the corporate logo.
Not only does the FJ present an overall rugged appearance, this is bolstered by a number of nuances: the corners of the body are chamfered for better clearance, fender flares are flexible to resist damage, side mirrors feature illumination markers and there are three wiper blades to clear the narrow windshield while the FJ's raised air intake and protected electrical components can keep out water at up to 28 inches in depth. Maximum towing capacity, for those so inclined, is 4,700 pounds using a Class Four receiver hitch.
Inside there are more thoughtful touches. The primary controls are within easy reach of the driver and are large, providing a reassuring grip even when wearing gloves while all major controls mounted in a center dash panel that's painted to match the exterior color scheme. And while the steering wheel only offers a tilt function, it's controlled by a handy lever located to the left of the steering column.
The seats are firm and supportive and the seat covers are constructed of fabric treated with a breathable resin that sheds liquids while even the seams are treated with sealant to prevent penetration. Floor surfaces are covered with what Toyota describes as "an easy-to-clean rubber-like material."
Up front, as well as in back, there's plenty of hip, leg and shoulder room for two passengers, although a third passenger could squeeze in the back seat, if necessary.
The rear seatback splits 60/40 with folding and removable bottom and back cushions that fold nearly flat – converting the 27.9 cubic feet of storage behind the rear seat to a voluminous 66.8 cubic feet.
Despite the ample room, however, all is not perfect. The narrow windshield and wide A-pillars limit the driver's view out the front, while the narrow side windows, small rear window, rear-mounted spare and huge C-pillars limit views out the vehicle's sides, three-quarters, and rear.
This being the case we'd recommend getting one with the optional Convenience Package that includes a rearview mirror with an integrated backup camera.
On the road
While the FJ Cruiser certainly comes with its share of off-road credentials (something we admittedly weren't able to take full advantage of), we were both surprised and impressed with the way it handled in ordinary around-town driving. Not only is it fun to look at, it's a lot more fun to drive than we anticipated.
With an overall height of 72 inches and 9.6 inches of ground clearance with a concurrent high center of gravity, you'd expect a fair amount of body lean when cornering, and there is. But thanks to the high-sidewall all-season tires the overall ride is not only smooth, but when combined with the substantial suspension travel allows the FJ Cruiser to soak up practically any and all road imperfections while tracking nicely down the road, thank you very much. Braking is excellent and it's easy to modulate the pedal while the steering wheel delivers.
Inside there's very little road noise and, even when you put your foot into it, the only engine noise is a mild drone from the exhaust. In short, it's a vehicle you can not only take off road, but also one that can be used as a daily driver. The only shortcomings we see would be in urban settings where not its size but driver visibility– especially in parking situations –would be a concern along with its ocean liner-esque 40.7 foot turning diameter.
Equipment and pricing
For 2013 the FJ Cruiser comes in one trim level and three powertrain configurations: rear-wheel 4x2 or part-time 4x4 with automatic transmissions or full-time 4x4 with a manual transmission.
They also come with the requisite power features (windows, locks, mirrors) air conditioning, all-weather flooring and seat fabric, lift-up rear liftgate glass with release lever, variable wipers and an audio system that includes iPod connectivity, hands-free phone capability and Bluetooth technology. Obviously, there's also a full-size spare in back.
Stand-alone options include alloy wheels, running boards and a locking rear diff (automatic 4WD only).
The previously noted Convenience Package also includes privacy glass, keyless entry, cruise, rear wiper, spare tire cover and aluminum outside mirrors. There's also an upgrade package that adds, among other things, an electronic rear diff, JBL sound system, leather steering wheel, a cool floating ball upper dash display with compass, inclinometer and outside temp as well as rear parking assist sonar.
Finally, an off-road package brings Bilstein shocks, electronic locking rear diff, active traction control and the cool dash display to the party, while the TRD Package offers special alloys, BFG all-terrain tires and high-speed-tuned TRD Bilstein shocks.
New car pricing, including an $845 destination and handling charge, begins at $27,990 for a rear-wheel-drive automatic and can top out at over $37,000 for a 5-speed manual full-time 4x4 without any of the TRD goodies.
Our Magma tester, automatic 4x4 had a base price of $28,620.00. Adding the Convenience and Off Road packages along with running boards, cargo net, first aid kit, roof rack and all weather and cargo mats brought the total MSRP, including delivery, to $33,272.00.
The Bottom Line
Truth be told, we didn't expect to like the FJ Cruiser as much as we did. Other than some droning from the exhaust when you push it, the interior is surprising quiet. And even though there's quite a bit of body lean in corners, the ride is otherwise fairly soft and well controlled.
But all isn't perfect as its limited visibility and large turning diameter make maneuvering and parking in urban areas a challenge.
The bottom line, however, is the fact that buyers seeking both quality and reliability in a proven off-road vehicle that can also easily be used as a daily driver won't go wrong in picking Toyota's FJ Cruiser.