So Now That They've Built It, Will 'Wheelers Come?
It caught the eye of the motor press three years ago in Detroit, and it's tantalized the Toyota faithful ever since. Sporting myriad FJ40 styling cues-an upright posture, round headlights, two-tone paint and wraparound rear glass-Toyota's cool concept evoked the bygone days of Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom in a hip, retro package, and it's been the subject of much industry rumor and reader interest ever since ("Is Toyota ever going to build that thing?"). Three years later, the faithful have been rewarded for their patience. On sale in spring 2006 for the 2007 model year, the Toyota FJ Cruiser should be appearing in dealer showrooms right around the time you read this.
While it boasts new sheetmetal and interior trim, the Cruiser is not all new per se. Based on a stretched Land Cruiser Prado (non-U.S. 4Runner) chassis, the 105.9-inch-wheelbase FJ shares much of its componentry with the current-generation Tacoma/4Runner. Motive power comes from the aluminum alloy GR-FE 4.0L V-6 rated at 239 hp at 5,200 rpm and 278 lb-ft of torque at 3,700 rpm, and either the A750E five-speed automatic or RA61F six-speed manual transmission. Transfer case choices are likewise identical to the 4Runner's-either the part-time VF2A or full-time VF4B gearbox; the full-time unit gets a Torsen center differemtial, both are engaged by an honest-to-goodness lever on the transmission hump, and low range for either case is 2.57:1. Ring-and-pinion gearing is 3.73:1 for the automatic version, 3.91:1 for the grindbox.
The Cruiser's suspension incorporates double-wishbone IFS with coilover shocks, and a solid rear axle located by a four-link and panhard rod. Claimed suspension travel is close to 8 inches for the front and over 9 for the rear. For more serious trail use, the rear differential can be outfitted with an electronic locker, which can be operated in either four- or two-wheel drive (at speeds of up to 30 mph). Also available as an option is the ABS-actuated Active-Trac traction control system (more later). Rolling stock comprises 17x7.5-inch steel wheels (!) wrapped in 70-series (32-inch-tall) Bridgestone Dueler HT tires. Aluminum rims are an option, but who wants those when you've bashed one on a rock?
Despite its commonalities with the Tacoma platform, the FJ has its own distinct chassis dynamics-and its own ride and handling characteristics, as we learned during a recent on-road test flog. Highway acceleration from a standing stop was a breeze with the five-speed (we're not too not big on the six-speed, truth to tell; too much work and it's easy to miss a gate), though the V-6 occasionally strained to keep the revs up on long inclines; happily, the wide-ratio 750E is happy to drop a gear, with little torque-converter windup needed for upshifts. Steering feel seemed more spot-on than the Tacoma's-thanks to variable gearing in the rack-and-pinion?-and stability in corners, while still a tad spongy, was arguably more solid than the pickup's too, most likely a function of the wider footprint of the Bridgestone HTs and the added weight over the rear axle. Some wind noise around the A-pillar was not a surprise, given the vertical windshield line, and we wouldn't have minded a couple extra inches of ride height to peer over the hood (that Tacoma DNA again), but in all, our brief time on four-lane highways and backcountry roads was a pleasure-not to mention an ego boost, considering how much attention the vehicle garners when tooling in traffic. Our FJ test unit was noticeably tight too, with none of the interior squeaks and rattles commonly encountered with pre-production vehicles, a sign which augers well for the build integrity of first-gen production models.
Off the pavement, we put the FJ's trail manners to the test, and weren't disappointed, on a slow-speed meander over rocks, in water, and through numerous off-camber hills, ruts, and notches. When engaged, the pushbutton Active-Trac system acts as a sort of faux center diff-lock, distributing torque front to rear in a 40/60 split under normal use. When wheel slippage is detected, brake sensors adjust fluid pressure to the spinning wheel, slowing the rate of spin by applying light braking and allowing torque to be transferred to the wheel that has traction. The system takes a bit of getting used to-it makes a lot of noise, and you need to stay heavy on the throttle-but it is undeniably effective, particularly at the front end where it's most needed. More than once along our test course we found ourselves engaging the A-Trac to get us through deeply eroded two-tracks that proved too formidable for the rear locker alone after we'd stuck a wheel in the air (best of all for purists, you can disable the A-Trac whenever you want).
Two things we didn't need to worry about were undercarriage scrapes and rocker-panel damage; the FJ comes standard with frame-mounted rock rails and full skidplating to the engine, transfer case, and fuel tank. And if all else fails and you need the strap, the FJ has twin tow hooks up front, and two recovery points set into the integrated rear hitch. Critiques? We'd like to see a slightly more aggressive tire and some beefier long-travel shocks to take full advantage of the suspension's flex-ability ... but that's why we have a 4x4 aftermarket, and the list of parts you'd need to turn the FJ into a truly exceptional out-of-the-box trail rig is short indeed. In stock trim, it's still quite capable.
In keeping with its 40-series heritage, the FJ's interior is relatively Spartan-cloth seats with no power adjustments, hosable rubberized flooring throughout, and oversized door handles and AC controls that will appeal to minimalists. However, this is a Toyota, so a few trick options are available, such as a bumpin' eight-speaker 400-watt six-CD stereo with a pushbutton rear subwoofer and a pair of high-range speakers integrated into the headliner. You can also get a dash-mounted "multi-information display" comprising a compass, an outside temperature gauge, and-yes-a good ol' fashioned inclinometer for sidehill freaks (dude, are we rolling yet? Check the Lev-o-Gage!). We were tickled by this homage to the late '80s, but we'd probably opt for a factory in-dash Nav system; a portable Garmin Quest 2 is currently an available option.
So what does all this style and utility cost? As of press time, Toyota reps were short on specifics, though they conceded that a "mid-20s" base price would be the likely target-a good benchmark, as it would keep the FJ squarely competitive with the Nissan Xterra and Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. Toyota plans to manufacture 40,000 units at its Hamura, Tokyo, assembly plant for the coming model year-and even in the midst of sluggish SUV sales, we suspect they may need more than that to keep up with demand. Keep an eye on these pages in the coming months-we've got some plans for the FJ that we'll share with you shortly.
Vehicle/model: 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser
Base price: N/A
Type: 1GR-FE 60-degree V-6; aluminum alloy block and heads
Bore x stroke (in): 3.70 x 3.74
Displacement (cu. in./liters): 235/4.0
Compression ratio: 10.0:1
Valvetrain: DOHC with VVT; four valves/cyl.
Aspiration: Sequential EFI
Mfr's rated peak hp @ rpm: 239 @ 5,200
Mfr's rated torque (lb-ft) @ rpm: 278 @ 3,700
Mfr's recommended fuel (octane): 91
Transmission (tested): A750E five-speed automatic
Ratios: 1st: 3.520:1, 2nd: 2.042:1, 3rd: 1.400:1, 4th: 1.000:1, 5th: 0.716:1, Rev: 3.224:1
Transfer case: VF2A electronic part-time two-speed
Low range: 2.566:1
Axle ratio: 3.727:1
Crawl ratio: 33.66:1
Front/Rear: Double-wishbone IFS, stabilizer bar, coilover shocks/solid axle, four-link, gas shocks
Travel, f/r (in): 7.9/9.1
Axles/differentials, f/r: Open SD20NF with auto disconnect/open B200A with optional B20N electronic locker
Type: Variable-gear power rack-and-pinion.
Turns, lock to lock: 3.0
Turning radius (ft): 41.8
Front/Rear: 12.8-inch ventilated discs, four-piston calipers/12.3-inch ventilated discs; single-piston calipers; four-wheel ABS
Brake swept area per ton (sq in): 115.0
Wheels: 17 x 7.5 steel
Tires: P265/70R17 Bridgestone Dueler HT
Base curb weight (lb): 4,290
Wheelbase (in): 105.9
Overall length (in): 183.9
Width (in): 74.6
Height (in): 71.6
Track, f/r (in): 63.2/63.2
Minimum ground clearance (in): 9.6
Ramp breakover angle (deg): 27.4
Approach/departure angles (deg): 34/30
Claimed fording depth (in): 27.5
Payload (lb): 1,325
GVWR (lb): 5,570
Max towing capacity (in): 5,000
Max cargo volume (cu ft): 66.8 (rear seats folded)
Headroom, f/r: 41.3/40.3
Legroom, f/r: 41.9/31.3
Seating capacity, persons: 5
EPA mileage rating, city/highway (mpg): 17/21
Fuel capacity (gal): 19.0