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Toyota brings the urban FJ Cruiser

2011-08-16 14:14

KICKING UP DUST: Chunky and bold, Toyota's new Cruiser addition - the FJ Cruiser - makes its presence known. Image gallery

Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer TOYOTA
Engine 24-valve V6 petrol with DOHC with dual VVT-i
Power 200kW at 5600rpm
Torque 380Nm at 4400rpm
Transmission five-speed automatic
Zero To Hundred 16.4 seconds
Top Speed 175kph
Fuel Tank 72 litres
Fuel Consumption 11.9 litres per 100km (278g/km CO2 emissions)
Weight 2035kg
Steering hydraulic power steering
Airbags six
Tyres 265/70R17 Dunlops
Front Suspension double Wishbone
Rear Suspension four-link with lateral rod
Service Intervals 10 000km
Service Plan 5 years or 90 000km
Warranty 3 years or 100 000km


“What’s the feminine form for Conquistador?” I mused to my driving partner. I doubt he responded. He was, at the time, trying to place the Toyota FJ Cruiser we were in on a narrow track as the dust hung thick around us. "Conquistadoress, perhaps?" I ventured, still very uncertain.

I know the environment may have been a little different. To my knowledge, I claim neither Spanish not Portuguese lineage, we were not cruising the New World of the Americas in the 15th century and there certainly wasn’t anything remotely military about our operation but I suppose, since we were mucking about in the Cruiser with only a mountainside and blue sky ahead of us, the fantasy of stopping off along the route to plunder something just seemed so attainable!

Alas, Toyota’s new-to-SA FJ Cruiser is being tagged as an urban addition to the popular Land Cruiser line-up. It's expected to spend a significant portion of its time in the concrete, glass and steel environment of our urban lifestyle but a couple of hours spent creeping up and over rock-strewn hills (and crossing a little stream) showed there was nothing wrong with the part-timer’s 4X4 abilities.


Keen followers of the Cruiser range will note that the FJ is nothing new to global markets, having been introduced in 2005 at the Chicago auto show. However, since its primary target has been the US market, a right-hand drive version (a prototype was shown at the Australian auto show in October, 2010) is late to the range, but a welcome addition all the same.

Toyota acknowledged again that its local operations had been severely disrupted by the natural disasters that hit Japan in March 2011 – the FJ Cruiser was originally scheduled for launch in June, 2011 – but Johan van Zyl, president of Toyota SA, said the recovery here was on track to be fully up to speed by September.

The fresh-faced FJ, built by Toyota’s Hino subsidiary at Hamura, Japan, borrows much of its bold styling from the FJ40 of the 1960's that it was designed to emulate. Much like its expeditioning forebear, the reincarnated version of the FJ also flaunts its bold, squared-off stance, stand-out headlights forming part of the grille, upright windscreen and white roof. The design looks rather chunky but its squat appearance and wide track (dimensions are 4.67m long, 1.83m high and 1.9m wide with a 2.69m wheelbase) give it a distinctive look that could be described as brutishly handsome. 

THEN AND NOW: Grandpa FJ40's influence on the current FJ Cruiser is clear.

There’s one model in South Africa and it has the 24-valve, four-litre, V6 with variable valve timing and outputs of 200kW and 380Nm familiar to the Toyota range. It is mated to a five-speed auto gearbox only, plainly because Toyota SA has recorded a definite shift away from manual boxes, it said. The petrol engine is thirsty but no diesel engine is under consideration, given what passes for diesel fuel in certain parts of our continent, for those adventurous FJ Cruiser owners up for doing more than a "pop down to the shops".

Of course, bearing the "Cruiser" badge, this FJ is fully designed for off-roading with its on-demand 4x4 and a rear differential activated by the punch of a button within the fascia. There are three settings – 4x2, 4x4 high and 4x4 low – to suit any road or trail conditions.


With all-wheel drive disengaged, power is channelled to the rear wheels, which also helps with the FJ’s overall fuel consumption. It’s also said to have the highest ground clearance in the Cruiser family (245mm) and, with an approach angle of 34 degrees, a breakover angle of 29 degrees and a departure angle of 31 degrees, the FJ easily trundled over some rather large boulders and up and over some worryingly steep sections. It's also fitted with a heavy-duty hook at each end for recovery purposes and rides on 17" alloys.

Despite its boulder-crushing credentials, the FJ’s road manners are impeccable. There’s no awkwardly bouncing ride or noisy interior; rather, the seats are remarkably comfortable, the ride soft and compliant, and the interior quiet enough to have a decent conversation without having to turn the entertainment all the way down. (FJ takes USB sticks and CD while providing radio channels, but audiophiles may brighten at the sound of having a speaker behind the headlining).

The FJ’s boxy design and incredibly wide C-pillar create some startling blind spots but that's eased by large wing mirrors.

It remains a high-riding off-roader so, while its V6 will take you to the corners with great intent, the FJ’s body will still lean gleefully all the way through. There’s enough grunt for hassle-free drives and, with 200kW on tap, overtaking acceleration isn't a problem either.


Other than being a part-time 4x4, the FJ Cruiser is a part-time five-seater too, with the rear bench accessible through two rearward-opening doors (similar to those seen on the Mazda RX-8). And while there’s plenty of space up front for the two main occupants, those in the rear could find some cramp setting in on a longer expeditions. At least the darkened privacy windows will keep curious onlookers – the vehicle attracts a fair bit of attention – at bay.

However, if you’re planning to travel two-up and want to use the rear space for your kit, the rear bench, which splits 60/40, can be folded forward or removed completely. Should the kit involve messy goods, the low-maintenance plastic deck is sloped for easy hosing and the FJ Cruiser’s fabric upholstery is water repellant.

The driving controls and switches are chunky and easy to spot in the bold fascia where body-coloured trim embellishes the centre console (and the doors). It looks different and, depending on the exterior colour, quite funky.

UP AND OVER: The FJ Cruiser is not just about looking good.

There are four FJ Cruiser derivatives, starting with the Base model that shows off a black grille, fabric seat covers and silver chunks in the front bumper.

The Desert Cruiser (Sandstorm only) has a nudge bar with driving lamps, all-weather carpeting and a towball; the Trail Cruiser (grey metallic only) ditches the nudge bar for a roof rack with driving lights and adds a hard spare-wheel cover. These versions are available in limited numbers at launch but a full range of options is available for FJ owners.

The Sport Cruiser (Black only) is the urban-looking FJ with loads of chromed detailing for the door releases, external mirrors, bumpers and grille, FJ scuff plates, a full wheel-cover and leather seat trim.  

The FJ’s not just about looking good, though. They all have six airbags and IsoFix anchors for the outer rear seats. Working beneath the metal are ABS with EDB and EBA, matched to vehicle stability control and off-road traction control (ATRC) that proved very useful on the slippery, rocky sections.

So, while I may not have been able to live out my all-conquering fantasies, I did get to spend some time with the funky and easy-going new Cruiser that makes retro look good and is able to stand up for itself on the rough stuff. Deciphering who, exactly, its closest rivals are was a little tougher; Land Rover's Freelander is perhaps a little too soft, although the current incarnation of the FJ40's original Defender competitor is probably worth a comparison along with the other retro classic, the (cheaper) Jeep Wrangler.

FJ Cruiser prices include a five-year or 90 000km service plan and a three-year or 100 000km warranty. The FJ Cruiser range costs:

Base  -  R435 500
Desert Cruiser  -  R450 400
Trail Cruiser  -  R451 700
Sport Cruiser  -  R457 300

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