2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser

The Good:
– Head-turning looks
– Excellent off-roader
– Good torquey engine
The Bad:
– Hard interior plastics
– Fuel economy not impressive
– Jiggly on some road surfaces

It would be sacrilege to talk about Toyota’s new FJ Cruiser without mentioning why it looks so weird. The retro look is based on the original 1960s Land Cruiser, which was Japan’s answer to Land Rover and Jeep back in the day, and a legend in its own right when it came to off-road capability. In a nod to the old one, the new model has a similar front-end treatment, as well as a white roof, wraparound rear windows and four-wheel-drive. The new FJ, of course, has also grown to midsize proportions, comes with two extra half-doors, and touts a CD player with subwoofer.

The head-turning exterior is suitably styled to portray a tough attitude, although we feel it looks a bit cartoonish. Our yellow tester had the standard white domed roof, as well as the little useless lights in the side-view mirrors, the shiny 16-inch alloys and the integrated side steps. It also had pieces from the accessories catalogue, namely cheesy metal-look stickers on the mirrors and the fuel-filler cap. We’d skip those wannabe-tough decals if we bought one of these.

The cheese factor continues inside, with an industrial steel-looking centre console made of plastic, as well as many other metal-look dashboard parts. In fact, the whole interior comprises of hard plastics, all in the name of toughness, and we could easily have confused this cheapness with an American vehicle. Some of the plastics in our tester already had permanent scratches on them, but at least the build quality was perfect and the matte finishing looks premium.

The interior is fully functional, featuring durable cloth seats with moderate bolstering, little armrests and manual adjustment controls for the front ones. Legroom is great at the front, and pretty decent at the back too, but headroom felt a bit limited for a vehicle this tall. Rear access is not a problem at all, although opening the rear doors require opening the front ones too, while the small rear-side windows make things somewhat claustrophobic — a small price to pay for the looks of a three-door with some of the versatility of a five-door. The washable luggage space is spacious enough, and can be increased by folding the rear seat, all accessed via a hydraulically-assisted sideways-opening rear tailgate. Many smaller storage spaces are spread about the cabin, almost none of them covered except for the glove-box. One covered cubby is actually on top of the dash in front of the driver, and opening it blocks the forward view. Two exposed cup-holders serve the front, while we only found door-mounted bottle-holders for the rear.

In terms of cabin equipment, its claim to fame is the solid stereo system, complete with in-dash CD changer, nine speakers and MP3 capability. There is even a separate dash-mounted button to turn off the sizeable subwoofer that thumps in the trunk, but wheel-mounted audio buttons are optional. Another concrete feature is its strong a/c, which is short on buttons, but big on cooling. Front airbags are standard, but side-curtain airbags are optional. Standard power windows, electric mirrors, keyless entry, cruise control, rear parking sensors and the funky three-blade wiper system are all appreciated, but certain necessities at this price range, such as a trip computer or even a retractable radio antenna, are missing. Instead, we get an aftermarket-looking gauge cluster centred on top of the dash, showing compass readings, outside temperature and tilt angles. Maybe the trip computer was hidden in that contraption, but we didn’t get that much time to play around on our two-day test.

We were more pre-occupied with the driving feel of the FJ, and it does not disappoint. The smooth 4.0-litre V6, which is a bit overworked in the heavier Prado, gives the FJ a strong power source for the road. With 240 hp on tap at 5200 rpm and, more importantly, 377 Nm of torque peaking at 3800 rpm, we managed the 0-100 kph sprint in a respectable 8.2 seconds, which is much quicker than the Hummer H3 and the Jeep Wrangler. The basic five-speed automatic shifts smoothly, and chooses gears well enough. Our rough calculations reveal a high fuel consumption number of 17.5 litres per 100 km at best, although we did drive it with a heavy foot, emptying the 72-litre tank faster.

While passing power is good on the highway, the ride itself is very truck-like. With independent suspension at the front not being enough to counteract the solid axle in the rear, the ride occasionally gets jiggly over uneven road surfaces, but never floaty like larger 4WDs. Wind and road noise is above average at 120 kph. The high ride height provides a commanding view over traffic, but visibility is still limited, with thick front A-pillars and thicker rear C-pillars. Since the spare tyre blocks the back window, the huge front mirrors aid rearward vision considerably, but they also block the forward view as they are mounted right up at eye level. At least it was easier to park than the Hummer H3 since rear sensors are standard.

Attempting to take corners at high speeds, we experienced soft steering feel and moderate body roll. The roll was surprisingly controlled however, with very little of the bouncy sway that afflicts the Hummer H3, thereby hinting at firmer suspension tuning. The beefy 265/75 tyres mounted on 16-inch alloys still squeal on quick turns, but overall it feels more stable than the H3. The ABS-assisted disc brakes work well enough and are easy to modulate. Stability control is standard and cannot be turned off, although our car’s optional traction control system did allow some sideways slide on a water-slicked road in rear-wheel-drive mode. Unlike the H3 equipped with full-time all-wheel-drive, the FJ is more like traditional off-roaders and cannot be driven in 4WD mode on dry roads as driveline-binding made it near-impossible to make turns without straining.

In any case, the FJ was made purely to hold up the original truck’s reputation. And it does that well. Ground clearance is good, as is the tyre size, with a basic transfer case featuring 2WD, 4WD and low-range modes and underbody plates are standard. A rear locking diff is available on higher model trims. Approach angles are good, but it would’ve been better if the sofa-sized plastic front bumper was smaller. In the desert, it never bogs down even though the V6 engine’s torque is nowhere near class-leading. The big tyres and short wheelbase make swift work of moderate dunes, and it is as ideal of a sand-basher as you can get at its price range.

The FJ Cruiser is definitely a better deal than its main rivals if true off-road ability is your thing. Of course, its extroverted looks mean it will also be popular among urban poseurs too, even though its hard plastic interior and blind driving position make it an annoying vehicle to take to the mall parking lot. However, whatever practicality it offers is welcome if the FJ is expected to pull double-duty as a weekend runner as well as a weekday commuter.

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