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Toyota found inspiration in its past for the name and styling of its latest four-wheel drive, the FJ Cruiser. Everyone remembers the Defender-esque FJ40 Series LandCruiser, right?
The first FJ40 series was a rugged, no frills, go-anywhere workhorse that spread throughout the bush like wildfire back in the 1970s and '80s. It was instrumental in forging Toyota's enviable reputation for reliability in Australia.
The new FJ Cruiser isn't really all that new, having been on sale in the US since 2005. That said, it first saw the light of day as a concept vehicle, built not by Toyota, but Pikes Peak hero Rod Millen, back in 1999.
The lack of a right-hand drive version has meant the Australian and Japanese domestic markets have had to wait until now before getting their hands on this back-to-the-future off-roader.
There'll only be one model on sale here in Australia, powered by Toyota's 4.0-litre VVT V6 – which makes 200kW (at 5600rpm) and 380Nm (at 4400rpm) – matched to a five-speed automatic transmission. Unlike the current Prado, which shares much in common with the new FJ Cruiser in terms of mechanicals, there's no DAT, Crawl or Multi-Terrain System – Toyota speak for its electronic off-road driving aids.
With the FJ Cruiser you get Toyota's tried and proven no-frills 4WD system with low-range and traction control plus a locking rear differential. That should please the purists.
With 380Nm of torque there's plenty of punch from the V6 and you don't need to rev it right out to keep the thing moving. Use the engine torque for best results and the side benefit will be a real-world fuel consumption figure somewhere near Toyota's 11.4L/100km claim.
Underneath the funky design, the Cruiser is underpinned by some of the best running gear going around, thanks in part to the current-generation Prado being the donor platform. It doesn't have the electronic wizardry of the Prado; rather the FJ Cruiser relies on more traditional mechanical technology. With approach and departure angles of 36 and 31 degrees respectively, and ground clearance of 224mm, the Cruiser is endowed with impressive off-road ability.
Driving conditions varied on the local launch from bitumen to a 12km-long off–road section that took over an hour to negotiate. In both scenarios the FJ performed admirably. On-road, it felt more planted and direct in the steering than a Prado, and, compared with a Prado (which rolls around on its springs like a drunk), the FJ Cruiser feels flatter and more car-like. Toyota's Aussie engineers have put their stamp on the Cruiser's on-road traits, opting for stiffer springs, different dampers and larger section tyres; the softer-sprung US model wouldn't have cut it in outback Australia.
Back in the 1970s the word refinement wasn't used in the same sentence as the FJ40 LandCruiser. Trying to get a boxy, upright body style like the new FJ cruiser to push through the air without sounding like the windows are down must have been a nightmare for engineers. They have had some success. Under 100km/h it's not bad; above that speed the wind noise around the A-pillars and external mirrors becomes intrusive.
Size-wise, the FJ Cruiser fits between the stubby three-door Prado and the longer five-door model. With a starting price of $44,490, it undercuts the Prado GXL petrol auto by almost $19,000, and a Hi-Lux SR5 dual-cab 4X4 petrol by nearly $10,000. The pricing and the styling, Toyota feels, are enough to ensure there will be no cannibalisation of its own brand. And, it's priced favourably against Jeep's Wrangler and Land Rover's Defender. Fuel consumption is a fairly high 11.4L/100km.
Inside, there's plenty of plastic, and an absence of the sort of creature comforts you expect to find in a modern four-wheel drive, re-enforcing the ruggedness and no-frills nature of the original. You sit in bucket seats covered in a tough, water-resistant cloth, and, depending on colour choice there are body-coloured plastic highlights in the centre of the dash and on the door trims. Heating controls are large and prominent; the same goes for the audio system.
The FJ Cruiser is fitted with all the safety gear you'd expect from Toyota – unlike the original, which had nothing. You get six airbags, including full-length side curtain airbags, electronic stability control, traction control, on- and off-road anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution and brake assist. Reversing sensors are standard, too.
With a high waistline and a low roof, the new FJ looks like a chop-top from the outside, and feels like one when you climb inside. Designers used cardboard to reduce the window size on a Prado to see if the new design would deliver the looks without restricting vision. Tick one for the designers, because it's pretty good.
Once you're seated inside it doesn't take long to get used to the slit-like front windscreen. Vision rearwards isn't very good, but the inclusion of a standard reversing camera helps.
Unlike the original, the new Cruiser is a five-seater and, keeping true to the original design, has two large front doors. To gain access to the second row of seats there are smaller forward-opening 'or suicide' rear doors and no external door handles.
Access to the second row seats is better than I expected, with the suicide door opening wide enough for easy entry. With the addition of the Australian-specified grab handle on the back of the front seat, the design really allows for more than just occasional use. Families dropping the kids off to school would find using the doors tiresome but, as one Toyota executive pointed out, with Kluger, Prado and dual-cab Hiluxes in the company's line-up, there are plenty of family-friendly alternatives.
It's a little light–on in the standard features department. There's no cruise control and only one 12-volt power outlet, no reach adjustment for the steering wheel, and there's only an auto-down function for the driver's electric window – but at this price, something's got to give. It delivers the basics: no more, no less.
On-road ride quality
No diesel engine variant
|Country of manufacture||Japan|
|Available from||March 2011|
|Priced from||$44,490 (+ORC)|
|Number of cylinders||4|
|Engine size||4.0 L|
|Claimed max power (kW)||200 kW @ 5600 rpm|
|Claimed max torque (Nm)||380 Nm @ 4400 rpm|
|Claimed fuel consumption||11.4 L/100km|
|CO2 Emissions||267 g/km|