The on-road driving portion of the test revealed many things about the FJ and JK. First was the power: The FJ has it; the JK needs it. Yes, the JK is competent, gets you there, and never stops climbing steep grades, but the FJ just does it faster. The Toyota's additional 37 hp and 41 lb-ft of torque were enough to make the Jeep seem dismal on the long grades, and this was with stock tires and only a hard top. Add a lift and bigger rubber (as many of you will), and the JK could be a real slug without proper gearing to compensate.
The FJ's major stumble is visibility; changing lanes with the narrow vertical mirrors and massive rear roof pillars is just plain silly. The overabundance of body panels on the FJ will return again and again as a deficit to this 4x4. The JK's hard top does add power-sapping weight, but it offers security and less noise over the soft top alternative tested previously.
Do I look fat?
From top to bottom the styling of these two off-roaders had friends and foes amongst our judges. Even though most chose the looks of the JK over the FJ, there were still some complaints. The Jeep interior was purposely Spartan, which can be appreciated, but the power window controls in the center console, the lousy sun visors that leave too many cracks for the setting sun to blind the driver, and the less-than-wonderful seat material left much to be desired. As for the FJ, it is hard to get into the back seat, you feel claustrophobic when you do get in, and it doesn't have nearly enough power outlets for the modern driver. Both trucks seem obese in styling-wide, bulging, and generally big-but while the JK is a slightly chubby linebacker, the FJ is Fat Albert.
Duel In The Dirt
The real test doesn't start until we're shifting transfer cases into four-wheel drive, so let's discuss these two titans on the trail. The results can be simplified by saying that if you want to go fast, then the FJ is your ride, but if you want agility, visibility, and climbing ability, then the JK lays the smack down on Toyota's cruiser.
The sand dunes and high-speed sections again showed why the engine power of the FJ is best. However, while you would think the independent front suspension would help the FJ dominate, the Jeep's coil-sprung solid axles soaked up the ruts, dunes, and washouts quite well.
In the tight technical trails the FJ did fine, but never as good as the JK. The traction of the front and rear lockers, the wheel travel with the sway bar disconnected, and the lower gearing gave the JK superior control whether it was scrambling over loose rocky hillclimbs or tip-toeing between massive boulders. At the same time the visibility afforded by the seating position in the Jeep allowed the driver to navigate sans spotter more often than FJ pilots could.
The FJ's A-TRAC brake-based traction control just cannot replace a true locking differential because it requires the wheels to spin before it applies the brakes and transfers traction. This results in a herky-jerky dance that is more rockbouncing than rockcrawling. Plus the Jeep's lack of power was rarely noticed in the technical stuff, as the gearing easily made up for it.
So what does this all mean?
Wrangler Wrangles a win, Barely
It was much closer than anyone expected. In fact, if we didn't consider it a copout, we would almost call it a tie. But you need a winner, and we had to go with the Jeep this time.
The FJ Cruiser should have won. It has more power, better braking, costs $8,000 less (yes, $8,000!), and would be perfect for a one- or two-person family, but what on paper is a sure thing isn't so in the dirt.
The additional power of the FJ just didn't translate to the terra firma when traction and control was needed. We've said it before: Brake-based traction control is not a locking differential. The lack of visibility on the trail resulted in our driving obstacles blindly while on the throttle to get the A-TRAC traction control to kick in. This is not as much fun as it might sound.