A question has been asked of us many times, and it goes something like this: "I need a new car and I want something with four-wheel drive that is fun to drive. I can't decide between the FJ Cruiser and the Jeep JK Wrangler. Which would you recommend?" Well, folks, here is your answer.
We decided to round up one of each and run them through a battery of tests looking at everything from daily street driving, power and braking, general looks and finish, and of course off-road performance. The judges were spread over a range of ages, occupations, and family status, bringing to the test many different "would this fit my family and lifestyle?" questions. The goal was simple: to answer the question, "Which one would Petersen's 4-Wheel & Off-Road recommend and why?"
In This Corner: The Fierce FJ Cruiser!
The Silver Fresco Metallic '09 Toyota FJ Cruiser in our brawl came with a 4.0L 1GR-FE 24-valve engine with variable valve timing resulting in 239 hp and 278 lb-ft of torque and requires premium 91 octane gas. The engine feeds a five-speed A750F automatic with a 3.520:1 First gear and a 0.716:1 overdrive. The transfer case is a part-time VF2A with a 2.56:1 low range.
The FJ has a double wishbone (A-arm) with coilover independent front suspension with an S20DNF axle. The rear axle is a B20N solid axle using a four-link with a Panhard bar and coil spring suspension. Both axles have 3.727:1 gears and disc brakes, and the rear has a selectable locking differential. The axles also have Toyota's A-TRAC brake-based traction control, which applies the brakes to any spinning wheel, effectively shifting power to the opposite wheel with traction.
The FJ weighs 4,295 pounds and is sitting on a 105.9-inch wheelbase and 265/70R17 BFGoodrich Rugged Trail tires (303/4 inches tall). Toyota claims 16 mpg city, 20 highway; we averaged 15.53 over five fuel-ups during the test. The FJ Cruiser comes with a fullsize spare tire.
In This Corner: The warrior Jeep Wrangler!
We had to decide between the two-door and four-door Wrangler, but because of the popularity of the four-door and the fact that the FJ has four doors, we went with a '09 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon.
The Wrangler has a 3.8L 12-valve V-6 gas engine that's rated at 202 hp and 237 lb-ft of torque and only requires regular 87 octane fuel. Behind this is a four-speed 42RLE automatic transmission with a 2.84:1 First gear and a 0.69:1 overdrive followed by a NP241OR Rock-Trac part-time transfer case with a 4:1 low range. Axles are Next Generation Dana 44s with 4.10 gears, disc brakes, and selectable locking differentials.
Suspension is a four-link with a track bar and a coil spring setup front and rear, all controlled by monotube gas-charged shocks.
The Jeep weighs 4,340 pounds and rides on 255/75R17 BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain tires (31 inches tall) with a 116-inch wheelbase. Jeep claims the Wrangler gets 15 mpg city, 19 highway; we averaged 13.73 over five fuel-ups and various street and off-road testing.
Our test Wrangler was also outfitted with a hard top, Detonator yellow paint, and premium cloth interior. The Wrangler comes with a fullsize spare tire.
The test of these two off-road ninjas was run very similarly to our 4x4 of the Year test. The first day involved street and highway driving interrupted by some inspection of the trucks up on the rack at Off Road Unlimited, followed by four days of trail testing. The inspection gives us a chance to compare and contrast the underbellies of each. This is when we noticed that the ground clearance of the JK and FJ was within 1/8 inch at the front axle, but in the rear the Jeep had over 2 inches more clearance.
Both trucks have very impressive skidplates; however, the tie rod, steering stabilizer, and plastic front air dam on the Jeep are all quite vulnerable, whereas the low-hanging radiator on the FJ requires protection up front. The Jeep does have more impressive-looking recovery hooks front and rear, but the FJ's would work if need be.