With a familiar name and throwback looks, the Toyota FJ Cruiser is set to embark on the same well-worn trail pioneered by its predecessor more than 45 years ago.
Reaching back into the automotive golden-oldie vault for inspiration has been a popular and generally successful tactic used by a number of manufacturers over the past decade.
However, Japanese-based companies such as Toyota haven’t been around long enough to make many deposits into their own heritage banks, which has kept them from exploiting this lucrative category, with one notable exception .
For years, a small-but-dedicated group of off-roaders has been worshiping at the altar of the original Land Cruiser, or FJ series as it was known, that was imported to North America from 1960-’83. These much sought-after vehicles, originally patterned after the Second-World-War-era Willys Jeep vehicles and sold all over the world, were rugged and reliable beasts of burden. As its iconic status grew, numerous aftermarket companies sprang up to provide parts and other restorative assistance for the FJ crowd.
Toyota took notice of this growing grass-roots group and a California-designed prototype appeared at the 2003 Detroit Auto Show. It was thumbs way-up all around and the new 2007 FJ Cruiser heads onto the sales floor this spring with little changed from the concept version.
The vehicle offers a strong link to the past in more than just cosmetic ways: it’s practical, too. This is not a faux-ute for the spoiled, but a true-blue crevice-crawling, boulder-bounding, body-on-frame retro-warrior that expects to be taken seriously by off-road enthusiasts. As if to punctuate its talents, the FJ Cruiser has successfully navigated California’s rock-strewn Rubicon Trail, long considered the ultimate rite of passage for any “real” SUV.
There are numerous design touches that also link the new FJ to its glorious past, especially in the grille, circular headlights, wrap-around rear glass and signature white-roofed color scheme. Overall, though, its appearance is surprisingly modern, if not slightly eccentric. For example, the rear access doors open clam-shell style for easier passenger and cargo loading/unloading and the flexible fender trim is dent and ding resistant. And three wiper arms are used to keep the curved front windshield clean.
On the inside, rubber mats replace the usual carpeting for a quick hose-out and the seat fabric is water-repellent.
The original Land Cruiser was a slow, but steady rig, while the latest iteration moves the performance bar up several notches with a 4Runner-based 4.0-liter V6 that makes 239 horsepower and a stout 278 lb.-ft. of torque.
A six-speed manual transmission is standard on four-wheel-drive models, while a five-speed automatic is optional. The only choice on rear-wheel-drive-only FJs is the automatic.
Your choice of four-wheel-drive systems also depends on the transmission. The six-speed gearbox works with a full-time transfer case that directs 60-per-cent of the power to the rear wheels under normal conditions or on a 50/50 basis when locked up. With the automatic, a part-time transfer case is employed.
The FJ Cruiser might exude a gritty, bare-bones facade, but, in reality, is one fairly well-appointed truck. The standard-equipment list includes air conditioning, eight-way a d j u s t a b l e driver’s seat, tilt steering wheel, six-speaker audio system and power windows and door locks. On the option sheet are upgrade groupings that add such items as remote keyless entry, rear parking assist, 17-inch alloy wheels, running boards, a stout roof rack and a premium sound system with a rear-mounted sub-woofer powered by its own amplifier.
It might not be everyone’s cup of SUV tea, but for hardy, hard core adventurers who fondly remember the original and crave its style and attitude, the FJ Cruiser could be an ideal match.