The Toyota FJ Cruiser is far from cute and barely qualifies as handsome. But you don’t have to look twice at Toyota’s off-road traveler to know that this tough-looking hombre stands ready to tackle the toughest terrain.
The FJ Cruiser is a boulder-bounding, body-on-frame retro-warrior that, as part of its early development, tamed California’s rock-strewn Rubicon Trail, long considered the ultimate rite of passage for any “real” off-roader.
Now well into its fourth season, the FJ remains one of the few vehicles that caters to enthusiasts who actually enjoy getting their vehicles (and themselves) filthy dirty in their search for adventure well off the beaten path. And one excursion into said terrain will quickly convince you that — when the going gets steep, slippery, muddy and generally impassible — the FJ likely a good friend to have along.
Reaching back into the design vault for inspiration is a tactic employed by several automakers. In Toyota’s case, it was the original and still highly prized FJ-series off-roaders that was imported to North America from 1960-’83. Patterned after the World-War-II-era Willys Jeep, the FJ was notable for enduring most any kind of punishment and indignity their owners could dish out.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News & Observer
The numerous styling touches that link the FJ Cruiser to its glorious past include circular headlights, wrap-around rear glass and signature white-roofed paint scheme. Overall, though, its appearance is surprisingly modern, if slightly eccentric. For example, a pair of handy side access portals open clamshell style for easier passenger and cargo loading/unloading, while the flexible fender trim resists damage and provides door-ding protection. And there are three wiper arms that are used to keep the curved windshield clean.
On the inside, rubber mats replace the usual looped carpeting for a quick hose-out and the seat fabric is water repellent.
For the 2010 model year, Toyota saw fit to update the standard 4.0-liter V6 with a number of tweaks, including a more modern valvetrain, which means a 20-horsepower bump (to 259) and a slight improvement in fuel economy (now 17/20 mpg, city/highway, up from last year’s 16/20 rating).
A six-speed manual transmission is standard on four-wheel-drive models, while a five-speed automatic is optional. If you choose the rear-wheel-drive version (although we’re not sure what the point would be), the automatic is your only choice.
Four-wheel-drive selection varies depending on the transmission. The best setup is reserved for the six-speed-manual models that works with a Torsen limited-slip center differential and a two-speed transfer case to direct 60 percent of the power to the rear wheels under normal conditions or on a 50:50 basis when the center differential is locked up. With the various traction and differential locks engaged, the FJ only needs but one of its massive 32-inch tires contacting the ground to deliver traction. This off-roader will make an ear-to-ear-grinning beginner look like a seasoned boulder hopper.
The basic equipment list gets you air conditioning, steel wheels (alloys are optional), eight-way adjustable driver’s seat, tilt steering wheel, six-speaker audio system and protective skid plates.
An optional Off Road Package — which seems redundant given that the FJ is already an off-roader — includes heavy-duty shocks, rear-differential lock, alloy wheels with all-terrain rubber and additional front and rear skid plates.
The Off Road Package can be enhanced with a Trail Teams Special Edition that features a backup-camera monitor built into the rearview mirror, illumination markers for the power side mirrors, all-weather floor mats, premium audio system with built-in subwoofer as well as other niceties.
The $25,000 (base price) FJ Cruiser doesn’t try or even pretend to be a sport ute for the masses. But for hard-core lovers of grit, grunge and gravel, this Toyota demonstrates that obstacle-defeating brawn trumps skin-deep beauty every time.