The Toyota FJ Cruiser is the rebirth of the original Toyota FJ 40, known in North America as the original Land Cruiser. It was a rugged, go-anywhere vehicle, a sport utility vehicle decades before the genre had a name.
The FJ Cruiser was designed in Southern California. The design evokes the heritage of the FJ40 and other early Land Cruisers without being retro. This is no simple cloning of a nearly half-century old design. Instead, what Toyota wanted to do was to project how the original Jeep-like FJ would have evolved had it remained in production all these years. The engineering and manufacturing of the Toyota FJ Cruiser are done in Japan.
Early FJs and Land Cruisers were patterned on the World War II Jeep. Rugged and reliable, Toyota Fijis and Land Cruisers became the vehicle of choice for explorers, ranchers, missionaries, United Nations peacekeepers, merchants or anyone else who needed to drive through places such as Australia's Outback, Africa's plains, across Asian steppes, through South American jungles or anywhere else where roads were virtually nonexistent, with trails as harsh and challenging as the natural environment.
Exterior styling cues from the original FJ brought forward on the FJ Cruiser include a narrow slot of a second grille built into the front lip of the hood, the trio of windshield wipers at the base of an upright windshield, the round headlights and the metallic-colored enclosure that frames them and the main grille (with Toyota in simple gothic letters, instead of the interlocking oval emblem that adorns the face of other modern Toyotas), the white roof, the wraparound rear windows and the spare tire mounted on the back of the vehicle.
The FJ Cruiser shares much of its under structure with the Toyota 4Runner four-door SUV and Tacoma pickup truck, but you'd never guess that to look at the FJ with its wide, turtle-shell body design.
Short front and rear overhangs allow serious off-road maneuvering. The 4x4 versions offer 9.6 inches of ground clearance, with optional underbody armor to provide extra protection against rocks and other obstacles met on unpaved trails.
Viewed in profile, the most noticeable aspects of the FJ Cruiser are its upright windshield, tall and protective body sides, short windows and very wide C-pillar on either side of the cargo area.
Though it may look like a two-door, the FJ Cruiser actually has four doors, with the rear side doors opening rearward to create a good-sized opening for access to the back seat and cargo area. The rear door also opens wide, and features a backlight glass that can be flipped up when the door itself is closed.
The FJ Cruiser features an interesting color palate, including Army Green, a bright yellow (Sun Fusion), a silver (Titanium Metallic), the difficult-to-describe Black Diamond, the very literal Brick, plain Black, Silver Fresco Metallic, and Iceberg White. The paint color covers only the hood, fenders, body sides, C-pillars and rear door. In homage to the old FJ40s, all FJ Cruisers have white roofs.
Like the exterior, the interior of the Toyota FJ Cruiser reflects the character of the early FJ 40s, especially when equipped with the optional body-colored door panel inserts. The standard dashboard looks like an extruded aluminum beam, with audio and climate controls set into a body-colored panel in the center.
If you want leather seats, you don't want an FJ Cruiser, which comes only with water-resistant cloth upholstery and rubberized floor and cargo mats. The expectation is that people who drive FJ Cruisers will get them dirty, and want the easy cleanup provided by such materials.
The seats have active headrests. In certain rear collisions, a cable-actuated mechanism in the headrest moves it upward and forward to help limit the movement of the occupant's head, potentially reducing whiplash injuries. For 2011, new folding rear headrests improve rearward visibility.
Switches for various mechanical systems are set in a panel just ahead of the shift lever. Not only are they conveniently placed, but there are dummy switches to ease installation of aftermarket equipment such as auxiliary lighting or locking axles for extreme off-road use.
The driver faces white-faced gauges (speedometer, tachometer, engine temperature, voltage and fuel level) that are easy to read. In addition to the regular glove box ahead of the front passenger seat, there's a smaller covered storage box on top of the instrument panel in front of the driver. This area can be fitted with an accessory Garmin Quest 2 navigation unit that can be removed from the vehicle for hiking or other activities.
Cup holders are provided in the center console and all four doors. A 12-volt outlet is mounted on the switch panel ahead of the shifter; and a three-prong, grounded 115-volt power outlet in the cargo area with a switch for either 100 or 400 watts of output (the higher figure available when the vehicle is at idle).
The rear seatback splits 60/40 to optimize cargo carrying options. The rear-seat cushion tips forward and can be removed to provide a few more inches of cargo area behind the front seats. Rear-hinged rear side doors give easy access to the back seat and cargo area; for 2011, that access has been improved on the passenger side, with a front passenger seatback that folds farther forward.
The standard audio system includes a CD player and iPod and MP3 capability as well as two ceiling-mounted speakers designed to enhance the sound experience within the FJ Cruiser. The Upgrade Package includes an audio system with pair of 2.6-inch speakers mounted on the rear pillars.
Because the FJ Cruiser has wide C-pillars that may interfere with the driver's rearward vision, a rear sonar system and a rearview camera are included in the Convenience Package, to warn the driver of the proximity of objects when the transmission is in Reverse. We had no trouble parking the FJ in urban settings on our test drive, nor did we have to move into strange positions to see stoplights through the upright windshield.