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November 1, 2011 > Auto Review: Toyota FJ Cruiser

Auto Review: Toyota FJ Cruiser

Reporting for Duty

By Steve Schaefer

The Toyota FJ Cruiser is a modern interpretation of the legendary FJ40, but it is essentially Toyota's version of the Hummer. So, it may look blocky and tough, but it's got modern Toyota guts and interior. The inside panels are upright and some wear body color, like a Jeep.

The windshield is so short and wide that it needs three wipers! The driver's side gets a dash-top glove compartment - not recommended for storing your spare Milky Ways.

The low roofline obscures traffic lights that hang above, so you sometimes find yourself craning your neck to see one change to green. A separate side visor neatly complements the front visor when it's pulled into duty.

The ride is firm but smooth and the big SUV is easy to drive. Parking takes extra care because of a huge blind spot created by the stylish but wide side pillars.

The interior controls look heavy and chunky but actually feel like lightweight plastic - a bit of an illusion. White on black gauges impart a businesslike feel as does the genuine 4WD lever (no pushbuttons), while the leather-wrapped steering wheel provides just a touch of upscale feel.

My Toyota FJ Cruiser test vehicle arrived in Army Green - nonmetallic, regular old green. The wheels were steel - painted utilitarian flat black. The rest of the trim was blacked out, too. It's part of the 2011 annual Trail Teams Special Edition. While most FJs I've seen are in bright primary colors with jaunty white roofs, this one looked like a mean, fighting machine. Inside, the seats and door trim wore special complementary green fabric.

Under the hood, cyclone pre-air cleaners trap sand and dirt. The standard Off-Road Package beefs up chassis performance with trail-tuned Bilstein(r) shock absorbers, rear differential lock and the active traction control (A-TRAC) system, engine, fuel tank and transfer cases, skid plates, rock rails, plus Toyota Racing Development (TRD) alloy wheels and BFG All-Terrain tires with wheel locks.

A 4.0-liter V6 with 260 horsepower and 271 lb.-ft. of torque gives the car plenty of punch, but it's pretty quiet to the ear. The FJ Cruiser gained a more powerful and more efficient engine last year, along with a change to regular-grade fuel. The EPA gives the car, with four-wheel drive and automatic transmission, 17 City and 21 Highway (avg. 19 mpg). The EPA Green Vehicle Guide ratings are 5 for Air Pollution and just 3 for Greenhouse Gas.

You can have this rugged off-roader in four-wheel or two-wheel drive (if you plan to stay in town most of the time). The 4x4 model offers a choice between a six-speed manual transmission and an electronically shifted five-speed automatic transmission; the 4x2 model is equipped exclusively with the five-speed automatic. My tester had the automatic, which varies the shifting pattern based on road conditions and driver input.

The FJ's tough, wide stance is based on a boxed steel ladder-braced frame to which the welded steel body is mounted. Skid plates for the engine, transfer case (on 4x4 models only) and fuel tank are standard.

You ride high in this transport device - like you would in a 4-Runner - and feel like you're looking over the ordinary cars out on the road. With the FJ Cruiser's standard 32-inch tires, ground clearance is 9.6 inches (8.7 inches for 4x2 models). The "utility" part of the Sport-Utility Vehicle means a rear door that opens horizontally - like the door of your house - and second row seats that fold down for maximum utility.

You need to order Upgrade Package 3 ($3,650) to get all the Trail Teams stuff. That includes more than just green paint - you also receive illuminated round markers on the mirrors, a backup camera in the rearview mirror, an electronically controlled locking rear differential, active traction control, remote keyless entry, an upgraded JBL 11-speaker audio system (with a monster subwoofer in back), leather steering wheel, privacy glass and more.

The FJ Cruiser comes with Toyota's STAR Safety System(tm) that includes Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), Traction Control (TRAC), an Antilock Brake System (ABS), Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist (BA). The roll-sensing side curtain airbags can detect a potential rollover and signal the VSC system to help reduce a lateral skid. In addition, the rollover sensor can signal the standard seat-mounted side airbags and side curtain airbags to deploy.

2012 FJ Cruisers start at $26,800 for the two-wheel-drive model. The automatic-equipped four-wheel-drive model begins at $28,390. My 2011 tester topped out at $31,775. All prices include delivery charges.

I'm not one for big off-road vehicles, but this one was fun - and I thought I saw people looking at me and thinking, "What did that guy do to his car?"

Preview: the 2012 Trail Teams Special Edition is Radiant Red!

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