In response to the overwhelmingly positive response to the FJ Cruiser concept shown two years ago, Toyota previewed the production version of its newest SUV at the 2005 Chicago Auto Show. Considering the production model won't go on sale until early calendar 2006 as an '07 model, many were surprised at the timing of Toyota's unveiling.
The language used at the press conference hints that Toyota understands there is a core constituency of off-road enthusiasts that miss the ruggedness and capability of the old-school Land Cruisers. "The FJ Cruiser effectively fills a gap in the Toyota lineup which was once our core heritage - capable, affordable and durable vehicles that are youthful, fun-to-drive, aggressive and tough," said Don Esmond, senior vice president and general manager, Toyota Division. "The FJ Cruiser will deliver true off-road ruggedness, image and performance at a very low price, making it highly accessible for a large volume of young buyers."Does this mean the FJ will effectively replace the cute-ute RAV4? We can only hope. But considering the proliferation of every imaginable variation of SUV within Toyota's lineup lately, it's not likely.
Size-wise, the FJ is slightly larger than its closest marketplace competitor, the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited. The Toyota measures 177.6 inches bumper-to-bumper, versus 171 for the Jeep. The deliberate perception of width with the new Toy is no illusion. At 74.6 inches, it's a substantial 6.3 inches wider than the Wrangler. Its 105.9 inch wheelbase bests the Jeep by 2.5 inches.
The production version will use Toyota's new 4.0L V-6, offering a stout 245 horsepower and 282 lbs./ft. of torque. Weight figures weren't released at the debut, but we expect it to be between 3,500 and 4,000 lbs. The FJ will be offered in two and four-wheel-drive versions, with a 6-speed manual available on the 4x4 model. However, unlike the 'Cruisers of old, the new model features an alphabet soup of electronic traction and stability aids, including Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) and traction control (TRAC), an anti-lock brake system (ABS) with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) and brake assist as standard. All 4x2 models will come with a standard automatic limited slip differential (ALSD). Four wheel disc brakes will be standard. Although Toyota touts "tool-like simplicity" for the FJ, it will still feature plenty of comfort and convenience items, including standard air conditioning, AM/FM CD audio with six speakers, tilt steering wheel, four cupholders, passenger seat back pocket, and an upper dash-mounted map/glove box.
Optional equipment includes 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels, rear differential lock (Hallelujah!), electronic four-wheel traction control (on 4WD models only), running boards (Boo! Well, at least they're optional), rear sonar backup assist, front seat-mounted side airbags and front- and rear-side curtain airbags, daytime running lights, power outside mirror with image lights, cruise control, AM/FM CD audio with a six-disc changer, equalizer and eight speakers, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, multi-information display, exterior color door insert panels, privacy glass, and rear wiper.
Since the demise of the original Land Cruiser, and various other 2-door SUVs, Jeep has long had the down-to-earth compact off-road vehicle niche to itself. With the introduction of the FJ, and the rumored coming of the Hummer H4, this long-neglected segment looks like it might be heating up once again.
** Be sure to check out the June 2005 issue of 4 Wheel & Off Road for an exclusive in-depth look at the FJ Cruiser!