The original FJ40 Land Cruiser seemed almost built for the New Zealand we used to be. But with retro themes designed for the American market, Steve Vermeulen suggests the latest Toyota FJ Cruiser is an example of form over function.
For those old enough to remember the original FJ40 Land Cruiser that inspires the Toyota FJ Cruiser’s styling, you’ll also know the elder FJ was an iconic piece of Toyota’s heritage in New Zealand.
With spectacular off road ability and bullet-proof mechanicals, what more could the Kiwi farmer ask for? It was deservingly a hit.
Now though, the design – primarily penned for the bling-fixated American market – straddles the line between being a fresh-faced tip of the hat to its forbearer and becoming a caricature of the icon. One that inevitably compromises the vehicle, especially for anyone who does a bit of towing.
Underneath the bright yellow paint and hot wheels body styling is a slightly shorter wheelbase version of the Land Cruiser Prado. The engine and drivetrain too are shared with the Prado and with a 200kW V6 petrol on board developing 380Nm of torque you are far from wanting for grunt.
It’s an eager, free-revving engine that’s quick in getting power to all four wheels via the electronically controlled four-wheel drive system. There’s genuine off roading talent at your disposal here should you need it and water fording or navigating thick mud is all in a day’s work for this work horse. So where’s the problem?
Firstly, the FJ is very restrictive in terms of rear visibility, the high shoulder line, low roof design and small porthole rear side windows aren’t conducive to reversing a trailer. A saving grace is the standard reversing camera, which you really have no choice but to rely on if you wish to see anything approximately behind you.
I have towed with the less rugged Highlander SUV and don’t recall as much movement at motorway speeds, either. In the FJ’s defense, the conditions were blustery and I slipped a little higher than the legal 90km/h tow limit, but perhaps that shorter wheelbase and tall centre of gravity have induced some instability at speed?
Unburdened by a trailer and handling is suitably competent for a vehicle of this size. It doesn’t change directions at the drop of a hat and ultimately the longer wheel base Prado is more accomplished, but while the body rolls around the wheels do stay planted, this of course is aided by an overt ESP calibration.
Practicality also suffers for the design, the rear doors are rear hinged “suicide” doors. They look fantastic, but lifting kids or equipment in/out requires leaning awkwardly over into the car, it’s a back injury waiting to happen. Meanwhile the rear luggage compartment is generous but remember the side swinging door won’t open fully if you’re parked too close to the garage wall.
You aren’t hard done by on specification. Standard equipment includes a colour-coded, retro-themed dash facia, cruise control, USB/iPod compatible audi and Bluetooth hands-free compatibility, an accessory meter (includes compass, outside temperature and inclinometer), the full complement of modern safety features including front, side and curtain airbags, and there’s plenty of hidden storage units for loose items. Disappointingly however the steering column is adjustable for tilt only, not reach, talk about taking ‘retro’ to extremes.
It’s a cool SUV for those who want to flaunt that tough truck styling. But you’ll have to accept plenty of compromises if this is a regular tow wagon.
It’s a shame, as a modern FJ, with more going for it than just faultless off-road nouse, would absolutely capture Kiwis hearts. We love the look, but times have changed. Unless you insist on the heritage look, there’s more suitable SUVs for the everyday.
Contact your nearest Toyota dealer if you'd like to find out more about the FJ Cruiser.