Review: 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
Usually, when I describe a new vehicle as "funky," people tend to assume I'm talking about a car. But you know, a sport-utility vehicle can be funky, too.
Take the 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser. It has almost cartoonish, wide-eyed styling, a surprisingly wide stance, sizable, 17-inch tires and a roof that comes in only one color—white.
And while there's something funky when all this is put together, don't think for a minute that the FJ is merely a weird, cartoon SUV.
In fact, Toyota positions the FJ, which came on the market for 2007 with a starting manufacturer's retail price of just over $22,000, as its most credible off-roader—something like Hummer's smallest SUV, the H3, and the rugged Jeep Wrangler.
The latter, in particular, is a well-known off-roader with a reputation for seemingly scampering like a mountain goat over off-road terrain.
It is this same vein of mostly male buyer that Toyota hopes to tap with the FJ, which, by the way, has an overall length and width akin to the Hummer H3.
But the FJ Cruiser has more horsepower and torque than a Wrangler and undercuts the H3 considerably in pricing. Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price for an H3 is more than $29,000.
A base Jeep Wrangler is far less. It has a starting price of just over $18,000.
Poor fuel mileage
With four-wheel drive and a manual transmission, my test FJ had a government fuel economy rating of 16 miles a gallon in city driving and 19 mpg on the highway. This is about the same rating as a Toyota Tundra full-size pickup truck with V8 and two-wheel drive.
Also note that Toyota lists 91 octane gasoline as the FJ's required fuel.
The FJ isn't exactly smooth and unfettered in its on-road ride, either. It can feel jaunty, especially on concrete with noticeable expansion cracks. And there's noticeable road noise.
A nod to history
Since 1958, Toyota has sold Land Cruiser SUVs in the United States, some of them known by FJ model names.
Even today, the Land Cruiser remains a brutish, capable vehicle, but with V8 power, comfortable accoutrements and a starting price of more than $56,000, it has moved considerably upscale.
Thus, the FJ Cruiser is designed to bring to Toyota dealerships authentic off-road capability at a much more affordable price.
Indeed, Toyota executives expect most FJs to be sold, even with options, for less than the nearly $28,000 starting price for another capable Toyota SUV, the long-running 4Runner.
By the way, you won't see a lot of FJs on or off-road. Toyota officials view the distinctive FJ as a niche vehicle for diehard off-roaders—mostly young, single guys with median household income around $55,000.
It churned through mud at a steady pace, mounted boulders without hesitation and danced skillfully through big dirt moguls. The FJ also descended hilly dirt paths with sure-footed confidence.
Behind the wheel, I relished every challenge. For one thing, the FJ never got stuck and never misbehaved.
But that's not to say the FJ 4X4 test SUV mastered the terrain in a staid, boring, way, like some upscale SUVs that take away the fun with too many fancy electronic controls and all-too-perfect, sophisticated suspension systems.
Off-road enthusiasts—and I admit I'm one—will be happy to know that the FJ 4X4 tester with 6-speed manual transmission kept me engaged, not a bored bystander.
Note the FJ's four-wheel-drive system is part-time in models with the 5-speed automatic transmission, so a driver must engage all four wheels when needed. In my test vehicle with manual transmission, however, four-wheel drive was full-time.
Drivers also can downshift into a low gear for difficult terrain and find wonderfully slow crawl ratios. These were honed during development as Toyota engineers took the FJ to the famous Rubicon Trail out West.
Intriguing engine for off-roading
Not only does this engine have a larger displacement than the powerplants in the Wrangler and H3, it includes Toyota's variable valve timing system called VVT-i that's a staple of engines for cars.
In contrast, the Wrangler, which was revamped for 2007, stays with an overhead valve engine design. Specifically, the Wrangler's 3.8-liter V6 produces 202 horsepower and 237 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm.
The Hummer H3 has 3.7-liter inline 5-cylinder engine generating 242 horses and a maximum 242 lb-ft of torque at 4600 rpm.
Don't be fooled by looks
Even the FJ's so-called "suicide doors"—side doors with rear, rather than front, hinges—closed with an impressive thud, not some loose, cheap sound, on the test vehicle.
Because there is no fixed pillar at the sides of the FJ between the front and rear seats, it's easier than expected to climb inside to the back seat. But these doors also can be difficult to maneuver between vehicles in a parking lot.
Headroom is an astounding 40-plus inches in the FJ, but three adults in back sit closely. And everyone—front and back—has a bit of a climb to get inside the 6-foot-tall FJ.
Odds and ends
To keep mud off every bit of the FJ windshield, this SUV comes with three wipers up front. There's another wiper on the rear window.
Hooks and tie-down points populate the rear cargo area, which is reached via a tailgate door that swings open to its left. This leaves a clear path for people walking up curbside to load items.
Maximum cargo space in back, with the rear seats folded, is 66.8 cubic feet, which is comparable to that in many SUVs.
Maximum towing capacity is a noteworthy 5,000 pounds. The most a Wrangler can tow is 3,500 pounds, while an H3 can tow up to 4,500 pounds.
And the reason for the white roof? On the concept FJ vehicle shown at auto shows, this roof was a popular feature for consumers.
The FJ is built at a Toyota factory in Japan.