FJ an off-roader with city style
WITH an eight-speaker sound system that includes two speakers hidden in the roof lining and a thirsty petrol engine, Toyota's FJ Cruiser is unlikely to appeal to the cockies, miners and workers that cemented the original LandCruiser's legendary status in the bush.
Instead, the FJ Cruiser – its design is a retro interpretation of the original FJ40 that endured for decades from the 1960s – is aimed squarely at the fashion conscious younger generation more interested in standing out from the crowd than rounding up sheep.
In some ways, then, it was ironic that the launch of the FJ Cruiser took place predominantly on dirt roads and rough tracks in South Australia's picturesque Flinders Ranges.
Then again, Toyota was trying to prove the FJ Cruiser isn't just about the looks.
Indeed it is a super capable off-roader, with a high 224mm ground clearance and the ability to ford water up to 700mm deep.
Peering through the narrow and upright front windscreen over the undulating dirt roads surrounding Wilpena Pound gave me a good chance to experience the ability first-hand.
So steep are the hills and dips it easily tackles that sometimes the narrow, forward-flung windscreen can force you to stoop down for a better view; the windscreen is so wide it needs three windscreen wipers to cover its width.
Indeed vision is not the FJ Cruiser's strong suit.
The oversized rear pillars create a decent blind spot, something alleviated somewhat by the large side mirrors. The spare tyre on the swing-out rear door also cuts off rear vision, although reversing is easy thanks to the camera built into the rear vision mirror and the rear parking sensors.
Inside, the utilitarian, retro-styled exterior theme is carried over, with oversized door handles, ventilation controls and colour-coded plastic panels that bring a semi-industrial theme.
Seats are water resistant and parts of the interior can be hosed out, reinforcing the legendary LandCruiser toughness – and, no doubt, its resistance to modern Gen Ys who want a practical car they don't have to baby.
You can almost live with the heavy swinging rear door (housing a full-sized spare and reversing camera) given it has a separate opening glass hatch that allows smaller items to be thrown in without the effort of levering the door open; speaking of which, unlike the RAV4 soft-roader, the door is hinged on the left meaning it opens into the traffic when parallel parked.
The sound system delivers above average sound, although you get the impression the roof mounted speakers are more about marketing hype than the latest in audio engineering.
The auto gear lever sits almost phallically proud above the centre console with its cupholders and handy storage binnacles; there's also a separate glovebox in front of the driver that's handy for valuables and other odds and ends.
Select D for Drive and there's the full 200kW of power to play with from the 4.0-litre V6 also used in the Prado and HiLux.
Press the accelerator and the near-two-tonne FJ Cruiser launches intently and accelerates strongly with a purposeful drone from the exhaust.
Changes from the five-speed auto are smooth enough, although it's not a transmission that readily adapts to hilly terrain or more vibrant driving, instead sometimes making do with darting between gears for the condition at hand.
Off-road the ride is fairly impressive for what is a relatively short off-roader; Toyota Australia fitted slightly firmer springs to better match it to Australian conditions and improve control in the rough stuff. No complaints there. It copes brilliantly with big bumps and washouts, quickly recovering and looking after the smaller lumps and thumps.
Great ground clearance means the chances of coming into contact with nature underneath are lessened, although there's also solid steel protection from taller rocks, logs and ledges.
Steering has also had weight added for Australia, although there's still no sporty feel to it, with a wooliness in tighter conditions. Granted most of our drive was done on dirt, but a short bitumen stretch highlighted this car has that wallowy 4WD feel to it.
Ultimately that sums up the FJ Cruiser. While it's superbly equipped to tackle the rough stuff (thirsty petrol engine aside) it's less convincing on bitumen. And while our drive didn't get remotely close to anything resembling a city – or even a town – it's clear the FJ Cruiser's manners are far from exemplary when it comes to disciplines such as cornering.
Still, it's the looks and funky design that will ultimately secure many a deal for the FJ Cruiser.
That and its relatively tempting $44,990 (plus on-road costs) price that includes Bluetooth, reversing camera, rear parking sensors, USB audio input, six airbags and stability control. – drive.com.au
Toyota FJ Cruiser
Price: $44,990, plus on-road costs
Engine: 4.0-litre V6
Power: 200kW at 5600rpm
Torque: 380Nm at 4400rpm
Fuel consumption: 11.4L/100km
For more motoring check out Drive.com.au.