Leave it to Toyota to rekindle memories of days gone by. A brief stint in an FJ Cruiser turned back the hands of time to some forty years ago; sitio Balucuc, remote Pampanga-Bulacan border. Bouncing along on NIA irrigation roads, the thought of a hostile reception upon reaching remote constituencies rumored to be NPA sympathizers, to put it mildly, was not top of mind. Keeping to one's thinly padded seat, shouting at top of lungs to hear each other over the din of the tires crushing dirt, whining transfer case and wind blasting air con, was THE matter for survival. Never mind how heavily sprung the clutch was or how long of throw the agricultural 3-speed crank of a shift lever was. My view of the road was hampered through the upright windshield between the 10 and 2 o'c clock position UNDER the steering wheel rim. This was the original Land Cruiser. The year was 1970 and my uncle was campaigning in the boondocks to be elected as a Constitutional convention delegate. We all know what happened to that Constitution, but who would have guessed that the Land Cruiser would give birth to this?
White roofed toy, like MINI
One look at the Toyota FJ Cruiser in any of the available bright colors to choose from [but only white for the roof], and the word 'toy' comes to mind. With countless SUVs around, there's a lot unconventional about its window rake, window size, its rear door config and the one and half doors per side. The last time we saw anything like this on the street, it was when the Hummer and the Honda Element were in vogue, circa early noughties.
For genuine off roading
The FJ Cruiser is a descendant, mutant if you will, from the iconic FJ40 series 1960 Land Cruiser, which, in turn, stayed in production up to the mid-eighties. Like all the 55, 60, 70, 100 and 200 series Land Cruisers, along with the Prado/Lexus GX470 and 4Runner, the FJ, like any Land Cruiser offspring, has genuine off road capability bred in. There's long wheel travel to maximize articulation of the solid rear axle and short overhangs for better off-road attack angles. There's a proper transfer case as well as a proper ladder frame chassis. Diff locks and limited slip. Hose down interior. Large knobs, the better to grip with gloved hands.
Strangely, fun to drive
With genuine rock climbing abilities such as CRAWL brake and throttle control, its got the soft springing and easy power steering assistance that is the only acceptable way for off roading. On tarmac, the same off-road spec chassis of the FJ rides like an old school Expedition; quiet, well cushioned by fat tires and lots of weight supported by tall springs. The corollary to all this is a bit more pitching/wallowing if driven like a hot hatch on paved roads, though its never going to be as bone jarring as the Land Rover Defender or as floaty as a 60's Fairlane.
The FJ is powered by the torquey Toyota 268 PS 4-liter V6 one finds in some Lexus models, and is known to do 8kms/L in gentle town driving. Over here, It costs as much as the smaller Toyota RAV 4 owing to our free trade treaties with Japan. Ingress and egress to the rear is compromised despite or maybe even because of the clamshell one and half doors on both sides, but its still a cavernous place to be. And cavernous best describes the interior feel ushered behind ultra-wide 'C' pillar, blacked out corner windows and the small slot of a rear window, which, just like the narrow side view mirrors, take some getting used to. As befits its North American SUV appeal, there's terrific manual air con, a Fortuner like audio pack and a video display built-in the rear view mirror for the must have rear view camera.
Coming a long way
Perusing the details of the interior and exterior, there certainly is quite some amusement digesting the design touches of such an urbanized off road tool but for me the amusement was more de ja vu. The original FJ40 of my high school days had a straight six guzzler of a carb fed 105 hp 3.8 liter OHV engine, 3 on the floor, a high mount steering wheel, Willys Jeep window frame hinges and small glass aperture sizes all around, with painted metal here, there and everywhere. The back had a lift gate back window, on split lower twinned doors. It had a whinny transmission, huge knobby tires and the ride can best described as a choppy gallop. The under dash Denso air con can, in no time, freeze your knees along with the rest of that sun baked all metal interior. Up to ten years ago, the FJ40, was the favorite platform for conversion to bank armored vans.
Big big diff
In the FJ, you never have to deal with any kind noise, unless all the air con vents are in full gale blast freeze mode or you are flogging the V-6/conventional auto – beware of the 120km/h speed limit alarm - to a speed limited end-of-speedo 180km/h. The back lit instruments are smallish and may seem to have come from a smaller Toyota model, but I've not seen it anywhere else but here in the FJ. The tempomat cruise control stalk and the tilt stalk for the steering wheel sprouting from the 3-spoke wheel look utterly vintage suspended from the cliff of a dashboard with plastic panels masquerading as body color painted metal. And as if to further mock its FJ40 origins, one sits on well padded but rather flat seats with views of the road through an upright windshield, way above the steering wheel.
Who would want one?
So who would buy the FJ Cruiser? The young big bucks income earner who does the occasional off-the-beaten track weekend adventure, just like its US market target audience? Not too many here would admit to being one of them. How about the serious off-roader? Well most of them, from either the environs of Pinatubo or the sand dunes of La Paz, Ilocos Norte, have their highly modified monster truck FJ40's that are built to win prizes in tough off road competitions. Maybe as a trinket for themselves or their family?
LC fans like LR fans?
Perhaps the latter is where the FJ Cruiser appeal lies. It's akin to a family I know, who, besides being regular imbibers of Johnnie Walker Green at the Polo Bar are better known in construction circles as die hard fans of the Land Rover Defender. This family slavishly adore the LR Defender even if their daily drive, incognito of course, are Isuzu Troopers. Yes, it can only be Toyota Land Cruiser loyalists who would appreciate the FJ cruiser as the alternate, more urbane and usable toy to their 'regular' mountain climbing vintage FJ. One thing for sure, you'll never see these guys driving a Honda Element.
Hurry, while supplies last
So, the FJ40 LC has come a long way. Progress has made it more fun and more comfortable, very much the anti-thesis of the original Land Cruiser. I look at the FJ Cruiser as the 'relaxed' retirement version, a reinterpretation rather than a nostalgic revival of the hard working FJ40 LC. Much as I prefer the Land Cruiser Troop Carrier anytime, which are strictly for the Australian and South African market, the FJ Cruiser has no announced replacement for the North American market, the world's biggest SUV market. Anticipating a shortage of that rare commodity of fun in a daily-drive SUV, FJ Cruiser sales promptly, ramped up.