A new cruiser for the kids The retro cues come shining through in the small, round headlights and thick C-pillar, but like most modern takes on classic design, the new FJ Cruiser is much larger than the original. By Karl Brauer Date posted: 12-27-2005 If your first thought when gazing at the 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser is something along the lines of, "Oh great, another retro vehicle," you're not alone. Between the Volkswagen "New" Beetle, Mini Cooper, Ford Mustang and recently unveiled Dodge Challenger, it could be argued that automakers have run out of new ideas and are simply living off their past glory. But there's a flaw in that line of thinking. Simply put, Toyota is having plenty of success with its current SUV lineup. Even the company's oldest off-road design, the Land Cruiser, continues to win awards and accolades, including Edmunds' 2006 Most Wanted SUV over $45,000. So unlike the companies building those other retro vehicles, Toyota doesn't need the FJ Cruiser to revive interest in the brand. In fact, the original FJ concept vehicle was designed at Toyota's Calty Design Research center in Newport Beach, California, and shown at the 2003 Detroit Auto Show as a pure concept study, with no serious plans for production. However, with consumers doing cartwheels around the FJ Cruiser's show stand, and the automotive press writing rave reviews, Toyota decided to put it into production six months after the concept debuted. The first prototype was built on a modified Prado (4Runner/GX 470) platform in the summer of 2004, and the final production models will be in dealerships by March 2006. The "go" to match its retro The FJ Cruiser's interior design follows the exterior's lead of being both retro and straightforward. The center stack is color-matched to the exterior color — in our case Fusion Yellow. And while the FJ Cruiser's lineage is long ("FJ" has been the Land Cruiser's internal vehicle code name for over 50 years ago), Toyota's vice president of marketing, Jim Farley, has dubbed the 2007 version "…the most distinctive and capable 4x4 in the Toyota lineup." That's quite a statement from the company building the existing Land Cruiser and 4Runner. Farley adds that the FJ Cruiser not only moves the Land Cruiser tradition forward, but does so at a starting price below $25,000 (exact pricing has yet to be announced), making it available to a far wider range of buyers. To avoid the poseur label that could have easily befallen a new SUV wearing the "FJ" badge, Toyota has outfitted the FJ with a choice of two 4x4 systems, two transmissions and two types of locking differentials. The base model offers two-wheel drive and a five-speed automatic, and in the "Pre-Runner" spirit even two-wheel-drive models can be had with an electric locking rear differential. They also come with a standard automatic limited-slip differential (Auto LSD) that reads the relative speed of the rear-drive wheels and attempts to match them (this feature can be disabled by a switch on the dash). But Toyota expects over 90 percent of FJs sold in the first year (with a production run of around 46,000 units) to be 4x4 models. The same five-speed automatic is available on 4x4 FJ Cruisers, as is a six-speed manual that includes a clutch start cancel feature. This allows you to start the engine without depressing the clutch, which can be a lifesaver when you've stalled on a steep incline and would rather not dance between the brake and clutch pedal as the vehicle rolls uncontrollably down a hill. Automatic models come with a transfer case that can be driven in 2-Hi, 4-Hi and 4-Lo mode. Manual models are always in four-wheel drive, with the transfer case offering 4-Hi, 4-Hi with locked differential and 4-Lo with locked differential. This model uses a Torsen limited-slip center differential with a static 40-60 torque split between the front and rear axles. However, up to 70 percent of power can be sent to the rear wheels, and up to 53 percent to the front wheels, depending on available traction at each end. Regardless of tranny and driveline configuration you get the same Toyota aluminum block 4.0-liter, 60-degree V6 engine from the Tacoma, Tundra and 4Runner. With dual-overhead cams, 24 valves and VVT-i technology, the engine manages 239 horsepower at 5,200 rpm, and 278 pound-feet of torque at 3,700 rpm. Note that both numbers are based on 91-octane fuel, which isn't required but is recommended. Preliminary mileage numbers are 18/22 for the automatic 4x2, 16/19 for the 4x4 with manual transmission and 17/21 for the 4x4 automatic. All models offer a 5,000-pound towing capacity, and our automatic 4x4 test vehicle got to 60 mph in 7.8 seconds. Not flying, but neither does it feel slow in normal, everyday driving. Not your soccer mom's SUV Mounting the spare on the outside of the rear hatch maintains the FJ's cargo space and adds to its rugged appearance. It also adds to the FJ's rear visibility issues. With those mileage figures, along with its premium fuel recommendation, the FJ Cruiser may not be as popular with suburban moms as SUVs were in the days of sub-$2-a-gallon gasoline. Throw in a nearly inaccessible rear seat, even when utilizing the small reverse-opening rear doors, and you have a rather inhospitable vehicle for soccer practice drop-offs or local mall runs. Yet Toyota isn't worried, as the automaker is sincere when it says the vehicle is designed for young (and kudos to Toyota for not saying "the young at heart") single males who can appreciate the FJ's extreme off-road capabilities. Beyond the two-speed transfer case, available locking differential and 17-inch wheels wearing 32-inch tires, all 4x4 models offer 9.6 inches of ground clearance, 34-degree approach and 30-degree departure angles and a 27.4-degree break-over angle. Skid plates for the engine, transfer case and fuel tank, along with 8 and 9 inches of front and rear suspension travel, respectively, would certainly go to waste on Rodeo Drive (though we're sure at least a few will end up there, nonetheless). We personally tested all of these items in some of the most aggressive off-road driving we've yet experienced. The articulation of the double A-arm front suspension and four-link rear suspension was truly amazing to behold (whether riding in the cabin or watching from outside). Our test car also had Toyota's optional A-TRAC system, which can be activated with a switch on the dash and offers much of the same effect as a locking differential — without any binding during tight turns at low speeds. In the months leading up to the FJ Cruiser's launch in March you'll hear much ado about the vehicle's off-road prowess. It may come off as hype, but trust us when we tell you — it isn't. Prowess has a price Toyota claims the FJ is capable of fording up to 27.5 inches of water. With the FJ Cruiser hopping rough terrain like a frightened gazelle, you might expect on-road driving dynamics akin to a wounded ostrich. But if you've experienced any of the current-generation Land Cruisers, you know Toyota expects more from even its most capable boulder bashers. The FJ, like the Land Cruiser, is a highly affable mode of transport, even if you never go off-road. Seat comfort is superb, with supportive bolsters and a soft yet durable cloth. And despite its breadbox design there is little wind noise at speeds above 50 mph. Steering response and braking confidence (it stopped from 60 mph in 126 feet) are also on par with even the most carlike SUVs currently available. Slalom speed was a mediocre 56 mph, but that's more a reflection of Toyota's overly aggressive stability control system than the FJ's lack of handling prowess, as it's really quite good — for a 4,300-pound SUV. But as already mentioned, don't look to the FJ as your minivan replacement. While second-row seating is spacious enough, getting into those seats requires both a high step-up and a contortionist dance, even with the rear doors open. And rear visibility is tanklike because of the wide C-pillar and tiny corner window that proves as effective as a solar-powered flashlight. We should further point out that front visibility also takes a hit due to the high hood line, making both parking maneuvers and off-road obstacle-spotting a tricky prospect. We do approve of the interior design, which stays true to the original FJ philosophy by being straightforward and functional rather than overly stylized and littered with gimmicks (OK, the inclinomoter in the optional dash-top gauge cluster may be a little cheesy). We do wish Toyota (along with Acura and Jaguar) would lose the bulky gated shifter design, and the color-matched center stack may not work for everyone. But kudos to them for supplying an MP3 auxiliary input on even the base audio system, and for offering an optional power outlet package with a 115-volt, three-prong A/C outlet in the cargo area. More to come Ground clearance measures an impressive 9.6 inches, and the solid axle uses a Panhard rod to enhance off-road prowess. There's already talk of a "Moab" special-edition model that will feature the talents of Toyota's in-house tuner division, TRD. Beyond that there will be a full line of accessories covering everything from roof racks to rock rails to locking storage boxes and a removable Garmin "Quest 2" navigation unit. And that's just from Toyota. More than 60 aftermarket companies have already been given full access to preproduction FJ Cruisers, and you can bet they are all hard at work on their own lines of baubles and bolt-ons. One thing's for sure, if Toyota only produces 46,000 in the first year and the price starts at less than $25,000, there will be more demand than supply, which will inevitably mean dealer markups and eBay auctions. So, from that perspective, the FJ will be just like every other retro vehicle of the last decade. What Works: Extreme off-road ability, comfortable and supportive front seats, retro styling that captures the spirit of the original. What Needs Work: Limited visibility fore and aft, rear-seat entry hindered in spite of reverse-opening doors, styling may not work for everyone. Bottom Line: If you never go off-road you'll like it; if you always go off-road, you'll love it. Second Opinion Senior Editor Ed Hellwig says: I'm a big fan of the original FJ40. Jam a 350 Chevy under its hood and you've got yourself the coolest 4x4 on the road. When Toyota rolled out the FJ Cruiser concept not too long ago, I was iffy on its prospects. It had some of the FJ40's styling cues, but the rest of it looked a little cartoonish. The production version is surprisingly faithful to the concept for better or worse and there's no doubt it turns heads on the road. The design part of the equation mattered a lot less, however, than how the new FJ performed. If it couldn't live up to the look then it wouldn't have much to go on. After spending the better part of three days behind the wheel there's no doubt in my mind that it has all the right hardware. From the big, torquey V6 to the manual-shift transfer case, the FJ Cruiser is a real 4x4. It blew threw any trail we could find with ease, from fast washes to technical hill climbs, it never flinched. And with generous suspension travel and stiff springs it didn't bottom out either, something that can't be said of most stock trucks and SUVs. It's plenty fast on the street, too, with solid highway passing power and a well-sorted transmission. Outward visibility isn't great and the steering is on the vague side, but the rest of the cabin is comfortable and easy to live with. Ultimately, I wouldn't buy it based on looks alone, but for the thousands of others who snatch one up anyway they're going to love them. Senior Content Editor Erin Riches says: Nissan touts the Xterra as a tough, affordable SUV with "everything you need, nothing you don't." That phrasing rolls off the tongue nicely, but when you're talking about a vehicle you drive every day, you might want to take back some of that "nothing you don't." No surprise then that despite its rugged intentions, the Toyota FJ Cruiser goes well beyond meeting your needs: Three front windshield wipers, gratuitous side mirror lights that don't signal your turn or illuminate puddles, and styling so irresistibly retro that every Range Rover driver you meet is ready to abandon his elite safari vehicle for a Toyota that's one-fourth the price. Climb inside the FJ, though, and it feels immediately less practical than the Xterra. The driving position is very similar to the Hummer H3's and that means you're sitting up high in a wide box of a vehicle with a short glass area and lousy rear visibility. Getting into the backseat is a hassle, thanks to reverse-hinged rear doors that can only be opened when the front doors are open, and rear legroom is tight. Of course, if transporting passengers is more novelty than necessity, you'll get over these shortcomings. Aside from its styling advantage, the FJ handles better on pavement than the Xterra. Its steering is quicker and more direct, and the ride isn't quite as bouncy. Take a corner hard and the FJ's truck origins come through loud and clear, but for the most part, Toyota's budget off-roader is perfectly at home in the suburbs. And that's a good thing, because I passed a restored '70s-era FJ with knobby off-road tires and its driver wouldn't turn his head. He's not going to buy the 2007 FJ. The guys in the Land Rovers are going to buy them for their kids.