Introduced at the end of 2006, this is the last year for the Toyota FJ Cruiser, the reincarnated FJ40-series Land Cruiser that will shortly journey to Takama-ga-hara, the Plain of High Heaven. In its first model year, we drove it to SEMA and found it, shall we say, coarse. It bobbled on the freeway and droned in the cabin, its boxy interior providing four bounce-boards for unpleasant frequencies. Tall mirrors helped one work around the eclipse of vision aft of the B-pillars, but navigating traffic required forethought and technique. Its turning circle was measured in kilometers. For the first two years of its life, it needed premium gas. It may have been fun to look at, but we couldn't wait to get out of it.
That's not the case anymore, and now the FJ Cruiser is poised to join a long list of vehicles that got better and better, then got axed.
The current FJ is rugged, and surprisingly it's not really all that coarse dynamically. We drove into the California desert, spent nearly a week playing around off-road, drove it back and then did a lazy Sunday drive to Santa Barbara, all in amiable comfort. That could have to do with our Ultimate Edition being fitted lots of Toyota Racing Development parts, like the TRD coils wrapped about Bilstein shocks affixed to handsome 16-inch TRD wheels on 265/75 R16 BF Goodrich All Terrain T/A tires. The bellow from the TRD-engraved tailpipe is totally copacetic at steady throttle, but gets a touch frenzied if you bury the accelerator.
Moving is not a problem, though. The 4.0-liter V6 puts out 260 horsepower and 271 pound-feet, not a raging amount of go for a 4,343-pound truck, but plenty to do whatever you need to do as long as you remember you're in an SUV. (When the FJ first came along, it had 239 hp / 278 lb-ft).
Beyond its quadratic styling – that we still think looks good – the FJ remains full of quirks, like the three miniature windshield wipers, the sun visors for the side windows, the backup camera screen in the rearview mirror, the fact it's available in two-wheel drive and, on the 4x4 versions, with a six-speed manual transmission.
It still feels like Toyota knew this was only going to be a fling and not a love story, so it didn't lavish its heart nor its wallet on the relationship. The FJ Cruiser only ever received incremental improvements, the interior is barely different now than it was in 2007. You can't get factory navigation or automatic climate control, the audio system's dot matrix and glowing orange display take us back to 90s-era Sony Walkmans, and the giant HVAC dials are useful for those who wear wearing welder's gloves while they drive.
The interior is likely a big part of the reason sales have declined from more than 56,000 in its first year to just over 13,000 for the last two years. It can't be the off-road ability – the FJ digs dirt like hippos love mud. In addition to the trail-specific suspension, there's a two-speed transfer case, locking rear differential, hill descent control, a quarter-inch aluminum skid plate and rock rails outside, the triptych of compass, clock and inclinometer completing the feature set inside. It will do its fair share of rock crawling, and it will happily dine on rocky stretches of desert and covers pure desert ground with the calm of an ostrich.
We'd take the manual, preferring to have full control in the tricky bits, but the five-speed automatic puts on a good performance.
Many complain about interior room, but we didn't find it problematic. Once you get past the shoebox ambience, it's easy to get in through the giant front doors, and although your grandfather might make a mess of getting into the back seats, we couldn't see how it would be a problem for anyone purchasing the FJ Cruiser for its intended purpose – off-roading. Open the rear-hinged back doors, slide the front seats up, haul in. A deep cutout in the back of the front seat left swinging-knee room for us, and that was with the front seat as far back as it would go. Bonus points for the genuinely adjustable armrest on the driver's seat, a feature we're not used to seeing outside of a Land Rover.
There are only 2,500 Ultimate Edition FJ Cruisers on offer this year, all in Heritage Blue and sporting the white headlight surround mimicking the FJ40 face that launched a squillion off-road adventures.
With the Hummer H3 gone and the FJ Cruiser in hospice, the Jeep Wrangler will once again be left alone in the US market as the ideal post-nuclear, go-anywhere truck for the misanthropic survivalist. One of the most popular games in the off-road party is to take sides as vehemently as Union and Confederate when it comes to one's choice in rig, but no matter which side you're on the party is a lot more fun when there's more choice. For that reason and more, and turning 180 degrees from our first experience in 2006, we say it's a shame the FJ has to go.
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