Have you ever had a first impression of something only to find your perception changes after getting to know it? Sure you have and I just had that very experience with the 2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser. I suppose a bit of an explanation is in order here. Last fall, when I visited the IMPA Test Days, I had 3 vehicles I was psyched to check out on the off road test track. The H3, the Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon and the FJ Cruiser. The Rubicon is a full on off road beast and the Hummer folks had brought an H3 with all terrain tires and fancy paint straight off the SEMA show floor. The FJ Cruiser that that Toyota sent was wearing plain old all season tires. Talk about bringing a knife to a gun fight. Needless to say, the impression left by the FJ that day was severely hampered by tire choice. Fast forward 8 months and I’d just spent a week in a Rubicon and had the opportunity to get it dirty for the camera. When I picked up the beige FJ from Toyota Canada, it was wearing some all season boots. So much for our planned photo shoot in the mud! I was disappointed.
What happened during our week with the FJ Cruiser was very interesting. Every single time I got behind the wheel, I found something else that I liked. The truck grew on me in a way that no other vehicle ever has.
When approaching the retro styled FJ, perhaps the first thing one notices is how large the vehicle really is. From a distance, designers have captured the spirit of the vintage FJ that inspired this body and that includes visual size. While looking compact from a distance, up close the FJ is huge. Parked beside a first generation Nissan Xterra, the Toyota is 2 or 3 inches taller! Climbing behind the wheel (using the side step rails is a must) and looking out, one is reminded again of the size. The shape of the hood means that the front corners are way out there and close quarters maneuvering promise to be an adventure. Thanks to the large c-pillar towards the rear of the car, rearward visibility is challenging during lane changes and when parking. Reversing into a tight spot requires concentration and a certain amount of faith. Fortunately, Toyota has included an audible reverse sensor to tell drivers when to stop. Thankfully, they have also included an off switch for the device, but most drivers will probably appreciate the aid.
Regular readers know that I quite enjoy big vehicles and it might sound so far like I’ve counted a few strikes against the FJ Cruiser. Nothing could be farther from the truth though, as the challenges I’ve described are more like character traits. They become part of the allure of the vehicle.
The FJ Cruiser is motivated by a 4.0 liter dual cam V-6 that generates 239 horsepower and a hefty 278 ft-lb of torque. What that means is that while the FJ will never be a speed demon, it has lots of oomph to do a bit of work and it leaves feels downright quick off the line. That quickness is accentuated by the wonderful sound from the exhaust. Engineers have done a great job tuning the exhaust to have a nice vintage rasp to it that often entices the driver to apply a little extra throttle just to hear it growl. Our tester had the 5 speed automatic, which shifted smoothly and always knew what gear to be in. The 6 speed manual would be my transmission of choice, if only to hear the engine note as working through the gears.
With the automatic, we accumulated just over 650 kilometers during our week with the FJ and managed to eek out 13.25 L/100 KM (17.75 mpg). While this is obviously a thirsty number, I was impressed that the FJ was the first vehicle we’ve driven in ages that was actually right on target with the government test numbers. This was accomplished with quite a heavy foot, so I would expect that the mileage could be improved with a bit of driving strategy.
Out on the road, the FJ is surprisingly quiet and free of wind noise on the highway. The ride is just stiff enough on the highway to remind one that this is a truck and has off road roots. Get off the highway and onto a twisty country road however and the FJ takes on a whole new personality. Where the Hummer and the Rubicon would wallow and hammer their way through the curves while plodding along at a snail’s pace, the FJ Cruiser comes alive and eats up the road. The FJ corners surprisingly flat and actually feels lively hustling down the fun stuff.
Perhaps my early indifference towards the FJ Cruiser is because I was attempting to compare a street cruiser to a couple of rock crawlers. The sporting character of the FJ Cruiser on road would be accurately compared to something like the Infiniti FX-35, except that the FJ offers a whole bunch more versatility than the FX. As our week with the FJ went on, I found that I couldn’t wait to get behind the wheel and looked for every opportunity to take the long way home.
In our next segment we’ll head inside and explore that versatility.