Vince Pornelos / Vince Pornelos | June 25, 2014 13:00
It took Toyota Motor Philippines quite a while to bring in this: the unabashedly macho Toyota FJ Cruiser. Thanks to the Japan-Philippines Economic Parnership Agreement (JPEPA) - the FJ Cruiser, a vehicle previously available only through gray market importers, is now officially being offered at Toyota dealerships nationwide.
The FJ Cruiser, however, is already on its final run of production in Japan after having been on sale in the U.S. (it's biggest market) since 2006. Is this a case of too little too late?
Let's find out.
The Toyota FJ Cruiser itself is styled as a retro SUV; a model that harkens back to the days when a mullet was popular and you ordered beer, not light. The FJ Cruiser takes its name and styling from the Toyota Land Cruiser 40 series, otherwise known as the FJ 40.
The front is unmistakably FJ with the round headlamps mounted inside an oval grill assembly and flanked by orange signal lights. The retro touches continue to the white tub roof (a Land Cruiser hallmark), the tailgate mounted spare tire, the large vertical truck-style wing mirrors and many other details.
Size-wise, the FJ is one of the largest (if not the largest) SUVs that technically still fits into the compact SUV category. Indeed that sounds odd but at 4671mm the FJ is only slightly longer than a 5-door RAV4 though it is much shorter than the Land Cruiser Prado. It is also one of the widest and tallest in the class at 1905mm and 1829mm, respectively.
Unlike most SUVs offered in the country, the Toyota FJ Cruiser has an unusual door configuration with two main doors for the driver and passenger, a tailgate and a pair of suicide-style (coach) doors to facilitate easy ingress and egress for the back seat. In off-roader terms, this layout is essentially the same as an extended cab pick up.
The dashboard is quite cool, and even features a similar shade of Army Green as the exterior of the car; a color that, simply put, is apt given the intended terrain of the FJ. The dash itself is as vertical as trucks can be with the typical off-road style. It's a bit on the plasticky side but always purposeful, particularly with the triple gauges for the compass, thermometer as well as the inclinometer and tilt gauge.
Even with big guys in the front and in the back seat, legroom is very adequate, though the back seat could be a little claustrophobic on long drives. Also (and if you're a hardcore off-roader you might yell sacrilege) a worthy accessory for the FJ that I could advise would be a pair of stepboards; sure it's cool to not have them, but they'll be useful for getting in and out of the FJ especially if your height is below 5'10" (maybe).
Powering up the FJ Cruiser makes for a neat rumble from the engine up front; a 4.0 liter V-6 VVTi 1GR-FE engine that makes 268 PS and 366 Newton meters of torque. That engine is matched with a 5-speed automatic that shifts rather smoothly. Being a true 4x4, there's a secondary lever for the transfer case so the driver can activate either 4WD Low, High or 2WD.
In the city, the FJ is surprisingly good. Normally a wide SUV is hard to maneuver around places like Manila with its tight streets, but the FJ can easily be guided around. What you do have to look out for are the flanks when you're changing lanes as the vertical side mirrors take a little getting used to. Should you get an FJ, we recommend you get a pair of small convex mirrors that you can stick on the upper corner of the mirrors; it just makes it easier.
The FJ's highway manners are pretty surprising as well. The FJ is smooth, stable and rather confident when changing lanes. Sure, the all-terrain (A/T) tires standard with the FJ Cruiser are considerably noisier than the normal highway tires (H/T) that you get with other SUVs, but it's a worthy compromise in my book; more on that later.
Fuel economy, as expected, is not stellar. On the highway it can consistently do 9.5 kilometers per liter (light traffic, 99 km/h average) and it can even do up to 12.1 if you're really frugal and lightfooted (75 km/h average). In the city expect that figure to drop somewhere between 4-5 kilometers per liter though (moderate to heavy traffic, 15-20 km/h average).
What the FJ was truly intended to do was take the road less (or never) travelled, so off-road trails like Tanay shouldn't be that big of a problem. Unlike crossovers, the FJ is an SUV through and through, riding on a chassis similar to that of the Land Cruiser Prado series. The suspension, chassis and powertrain were all engineered to take command of any driving situation after having been tested in some of the trickiest off-road trails in the United States like Moab and the legendary Rubicon trail. A 34-degree approach angle, 30-degree departure angle, 244 millimeters of ground clearance (higher than all 4x4 pick ups in the market) and can wade through up to 700mm of water. All these things combined, plus the all-terrain tires, make for an SUV that is as tough on the trails as it looks... and it can do it all in comfort.
After spending some time aboard the Toyota FJ Cruiser, a model that Toyota Motor Philippines only started bringing in last year, I can safely say that the world deserves more automobiles like this; cars that are pure of purpose and unapologetically cool. Sure, there are some little niggles and it does feel a little plasticky, but very few SUVs out there can actually match the FJ Cruiser in terms of design, capability or even outright character.
It's sad that Toyota still hasn't come up with a successor to the FJ after production is stopped this year, but at least the local market was able to get a taste of owning an official FJ Cruiser for the gray-market quashing price of PhP 1,798,000 thanks to something called JPEPA.
Now we wonder what else Toyota or any of the other Japanese car manufacturers can bring in under JPEPA...