Retro styling is the big thing these days, what with the rebirth of the Hemi engine, the soon-to-be resurrection of the Chevrolet Camaro and even the Dodge Challenger. But there are few manufacturers that can pull a retro SUV out of their hat. Enter the Toyota FJ Cruiser, a modern version of the safari-ready FJ40 Toyota Land Cruisers of the 1960s. The new FJ is a very modern SUV with a pedigree that evokes memories of the rugged vehicles built for duty of the harshest kind, an early version of today’s SUV that was at home on the Australian Outback or leading survey parties across the uncharted wilderness to establish new tendrils of civilization.
The new FJ Cruiser is a curious beast in the land of modern SUVs. It draws a mixed bag of reactions — most either love the bold new design or scratch their heads in wonderment. In other words, if you drive one, you will be noticed.
I recently observed this firsthand while running the Cruiser through its paces while attending my daughter’s wedding. During the four-day weekend, I added more than 500 miles to the odometer, and the FJ Cruiser was considered trendy enough to be valet-parked in the high-roller enclave amongst the Ferraris and Lamborghinis at the wedding site — a rather posh resort north of Santa Barbara that Oprah likes to frequent. Not bad at all for a set of wheels most anyone can afford.
Perhaps it was the retro-styling that caught the eye of the resort staff — design elements such as the big 5-inch round multi-reflector halogen headlights on either end of the business-like wire mesh grille, the flat windshield or the novel white-roof treatment.
The mid-size FJ Cruiser is powered by a potent high-compression, 24-valve 4.0-liter V-6 that gets you up to freeway speed quickly with 239 hp and 278 lb-ft of torque. The one drawback is that this high-compression engine requires premium fuel. However, you won’t find yourself pushing the gas pedal as much as you might think, as the V-6 is very responsive and — depending on your choice of transmission — provides effortless passing power. Effortless, that is, if you choose the five-speed automatic transmission that we tested. Also available is a six-speed manual transmission (available only on 4WD models) and a choice of rear-wheel drive or 4WD.
Standard equipment includes skid plates for the engine, transfer case and fuel tank, tow hooks and mudguards — all befitting the off-road heritage of its predecessors — in addition to 17-inch wheels shod with 32-inch tires and a full-size spare tire riding on the back door. You’ll also find a number of other items that you won’t encounter in the older Land Cruisers, like power windows and door locks, an AM/FM/CD sound system, a tilt steering wheel and some handy water-resistant upholstery.
One important feature is the Star Safety System that includes Vehicle Stability Control, Traction Control, ABS with Electronic Brake-Force Distribution and Brake Assist. All the better to keep you rolling when the off-road exploring gets interesting.
At 6 feet 4 inches tall, I found there was plenty of headroom up front, and ample room for adults in the rear bench seat. Entry to the rear seats is made easier with the novel clam-shell doors, and the one-piece rear door opens wide for easy loading — in this case four tuxedos and a very important wedding dress, which rode atop enough luggage to last an extended weekend. No complaints here. Those riding in the back seat did note, however, that the side pillars made the rear seating area a little claustrophobic, but overall the experience was quite comfortable. If young ones are part of your daily cargo, rest assured that ISO-FIX Child Restraint System Anchors are included for the outer rear-seat locations. Rear cargo tie-down hooks are also standard, although we didn’t require them on this trip.
Fuel economy for this 4,000-pounder (depending on options) ranges from 16-18 mpg in town and 19-22 mpg on the highways, and our extended weekend averaged out at 17.8 mpg, which included a lot of around-town commutes. Our calculator says that the 19-gallon fuel tank should give you a range of some 300-420 miles.
We towed a Hi-Lo Anniversary telescoping trailer to check off-the-line performance and handling characteristics. The FJ Cruiser was a good match for the trailer. With a 5,000-pound tow rating, this SUV should prove very popular with young families hauling a small trailer, and the SUV ground clearance will make this new entry a very popular exploration vehicle once unhooked.