“I like it,” the man behind the counter at the takeaway shop said as he smiled and gestured at the Toyota FJ Desert Cruiser. “It’s just … What is it?”
His ignorance can be forgiven, partly because he made very good sandwiches, but also because the FJ looks unlike any vehicle in the market and, more importantly perhaps, unlike any Toyota we’ve seen in SA for a long time.
As one CAR staffer put it, no longer can we mumble about boring shapes and interiors, and a lack of excitement from Toyota while regurgitating the virtues of its products’ quality and reliability.
The front-end sports two round headlamps, a raised bonnet (both inspired by the 40 Series Land Cruiser), wrap-around lights and a chunky bumper – a theme continued at the rear. Our Desert model’s two-tone paint fi nish (sand with white roof) adds to the retro theme and it also sports a nudge bar with spot lamps, side steps and tow bar. Simply put, with lines penned by designers at Toyota’s design centre in California, the FJ Cruiser looks cool. But, is this “newfound” playfulness more than skin-deep and, especially for a manufacturer keen to build its passenger-car market share, will South African buyers like it?
The latter remains to be seen if you consider the fate of General Motors’s similarly positioned Hummer H3 that never enjoyed great success and was subsequently discontinued. But, the former is easier to answer and could see the FJ enjoy the following in South Africa that it has garnered oversees.
Don’t be fooled by the FJ’s coupé-like profile; it is a five-door, five-seat SUV and features neat clamshell rear doors giving commendable access to spacious rear seats. However, the lever to open the rear doors can only be reached by opening the front door and the small side windows make it feel claustrophobic in the back.
Inside, the exterior’s retro theme is continued with body-coloured sections on the slab-like facia as well as on the doors. The shallow windscreen requires three wiper blades to clean it and we have concerns over the upright glass being susceptible to stone chips (the test vehicle already had a few when it arrived at our offices).
The cabin is full of neat storage spaces, including large cupholders and bins in the two rear doors, and a rather shallow storage space on top of the facia in front of the driver. We were disappointed by the small cubbyhole, especially since there seems to be a large unused space behind the facia in front of the passenger. Luckily, the cabin only appears spartan as the FJ comes equipped with a long list of standard features.
The rest of the cabin is practical and comfortable. It is very well insulated from wind, road and engine noise, and the front seats are especially supportive – making it a comfortable vehicle on long distances. The floor is moulded from rubber for easy cleaning and the seats are covered in waterrepellent cloth and feature a urethane film beneath, which is both waterproof and breathable.
Access to the luggage area is by way of a large, outward-swinging tailgate that also houses the spare wheel. The small rear window can be opened independently. The only concern is a slightly too-high loading height.
Space for luggage is ample and the rear seats can be folded flat or removed to allow the loading of larger objects. The rubber flooring did see our luggage move around a bit while driving, so we suggest placing a mat at the back before going to the shops.
The FJ shares its 4,0-litre V6 petrol engine with other local Toyotas, but here it develops 200 kW and 380 N.m of torque (compared with the 175 kW/ 370 N.m of the Hilux and Fortuner and 202 kW/381 N.m of the Land Cruiser Prado).
The engine makes use of variable-valve timing and power delivery from the free-revving unit is very linear. On our test strip, the FJ clocked a 0-to-100 km/h time of 8,57 seconds and finished the kilometre sprint in 29,91 seconds at a speed of 170,1 km/h. These are impressive times for a vehicle that tips the scales at 2 040 kg. The FJ gathers pace with deceptive ease…
This impressive performance does come with a fuel-consumption penalty. The official claimed consumption figure is 11,9 litres/ 100 km, but on our fuel route it returned a staggering 17,2 litres/ 100 km, giving the FJ a range of only 419 km on the 72-litre fuel tank. Perhaps the addition of a D-4D turbodiesel is in order?
All FJ variants shift through a five-speed automatic transmission, which they share with the Prado. The gearbox makes use of Toyota’s AI Shift Control with Flex Lock-Up, which measures road conditions, power requirements and driver inputs to adjust gear selection and shifts when driving off-road.
Under normal conditions, drive is delivered to the rear wheels, but all four wheels and low-range can be engaged with a shifter next to the gearlever. The car has a selectable rear diff-lock and has another switch that includes a limited-slip function for the front diff. It also employs Toyota’s Advanced Traction Control (A-TRAC) system: by employing the ABS module to brake a spinning wheel on an axle, it allows some of the torque to be channelled to the other wheel, which hopefully is on terra firma. This electronic trickery mimics the behaviour of a limited-slip diff on both axles.
The FJ is extremely capable offroad, offering ample ground clearance and approach and departure angles, and crawls up and over most obstacles with ease.
But, perhaps the FJs biggest trump card is its on-road capability. It makes use of double wishbone suspension at the front and a four link setup at the back, which soaks up bumps and potholes with a deft touch. It has surprisingly limited body roll, although it did pitch a fair bit under braking and the rear squirmed excessively during our emergency-braking procedures – probably the cost of an otherwise compliant ride. The steering is very light and vague, not unlike most SUVs in the FJ’s price category.
The FJ adds a fun design to tried-and-trusted underpinnings and, therefore, has a lot counting in its favour. It is, however, not without fault: it is too large to be a practical city dweller, while the lack of conventional rear doors limits its suitability for overlanding.
That said, it offers great performance (at the cost of large fuel bills), good comfort along with a spacious cabin and, at the price, a high specification level. It looks far more utilitarian than it actually is and leaves a rival such as the archaic Jeep Wrangler in its dust.
It impresses with its on-road manners and all of its off-road capability. While it’s a niche product, Toyota should remain bruise-free as the FJ is set to become a “volume” seller locally.