The FJ Cruiser – Toyota’s homage to the Land Cruisers of old – has been around for seven years now. But thanks to its quirky and anachronistic looks, as well as its solid off-road underpinnings, it remains a very good 4×4 proposition, both on dirt and tarmac.
It’s difficult to believe that the FJ Cruiser has been around for seven years now. Of course, it hasn’t been available in SA for nearly that long. For some reason, the FJ was only released in SA in 2011.
Regardless, the FJ Cruiser isn’t a new vehicle by any means. But in my opinion, it has held up remarkably well. It doesn’t look dated, and a big reason for this, I think, is that its design is a throwback to the Land Cruisers of old. Its old-school looks and design cues pilfered from early Toyotas have inoculated it against the accelerated ageing problem that modern vehicles tend to suffer.
The fact is that the FJ isn’t the same sort of SUV offering as vehicles such as the Land Cruiser 200, Prado and Fortuner. It isn’t a 4×4 that evolves, with new generations being released every five or seven years. The FJ Cruiser is a one-off, which makes it a bit of an instant classic.
And it isn’t only the traditional looks that make it so desirable. Underneath its shiny metal exterior lurks a very competent 4×4.
Only one engine derivative is on offer – a four-litre V6 mill that develops 200 kW of power and 380 Nm of torque. It isn’t a particularly advanced or technologically impressive engine, but it offers good levels of power and torque, and is very refined.
The engine suits the character of the FJ very well. Somehow, I don’t think an FJ with a clattering oilburner under the bonnet would be as desirable or fun to drive as this one.
The downside of that four-litre mill, though, is a rather nasty fuel bill. The FJ is one thirsty 4×4. With the slightly updated FJ that was released last year, Toyota addressed the issue – to a certain extent. There’s not much you can do about fuel consumption, but the company at least reduced the number of times you need to visit the fuel pump. The size of its fuel tank has been more than doubled, meaning the vehicle can now take 159 litres of petrol (it could previously accommodate 72 litres).
I once drove the FJ from Johannesburg to Cape Town, and the number of times I needed to stop for fuel was annoying, so this bigger tank is a welcome addition. It’s especially useful if you are travelling to overland spots where petrol stations aren’t frequently encountered.
It also has a positive psychological effect. The FJ might be as thirsty as ever, but since you are visiting the pump less often, it seems more frugal!
What about the rest of the vehicle? The drivetrain is at home both on road and off. The engine is mated to a five-speed automatic gearbox that makes the vehicle pleasant to drive on tar. In fact, the FJ is arguably the most refined and driver-friendly of the hardcore SUVs. The powerful and smooth engine, auto ’box and relatively short wheelbase makes it easy to manoeuvre in traffic.
It’s good to have all that power on tap. The FJ accelerates incredibly well. Of course, it is a pukka 4×4, so it doesn’t boast impeccable on-road handling, but it remains composed enough through the corners.
And off road? The FJ Cruiser doesn’t look particularly capable in this respect – at least not compared to the hardcore Land Cruiser 70-Series. It perhaps seems a little too shiny and showy. But looks can be deceiving.
The FJ Cruiser is a phenomenally capable 4×4. Of course, it has low-range gearing and a rear diff lock, but it also has excellent ground clearance (245mm) and manageable dimensions. Unlike the long-wheelbase Cruiser, the FJ feels fairly nimble on a tight 4×4 trail.
Another nice feature is the new Crawl Control function – a “feet-off” system that helps take the vehicle over severe or slippery terrain.
A speed-selector dial on the new overhead console provides the choice of five speeds. The system automatically maintains a low uniform vehicle speed uphill and downhill by controlling both engine output and brake hydraulic pressure, allowing the driver to concentrate fully on steering the vehicle.
Does the FJ have shortcomings? Well, there’s that fuel consumption, and the vehicle remains a bit impractical for families. Front-seat accommodation is spacious and airy, but the rear feels cramped and claustrophobia inducing.
You also need to open the front doors in order to open the rear “suicide” ones – something that can quickly become annoying.
Overall, though, the FJ Cruiser remains a special 4×4. It isn’t as practical as a diesel Fortuner or Prado, but, despite its age, it remains cool, capable and contemporary.
Who knows how much longer Toyota will be offering the FJ? So buy one while you can. It is undoubtedly a future classic.