The FJ Cruiser proves that Toyotas can be different
Words: Stephen Smith
Pictures: Stephen Smith and Supplied
If you were to employ deductive reasoning, that old philosophy chestnut, with regards to the FJ Cruiser, it might go something like this: ‘Toyotas are sensible; the FJ Cruiser is a Toyota; therefore the FJ Cruiser is sensible.’ Which is a very good example of deductive reasoning missing the mark. It may be made by Toyota, the masters of everything level-headed, but the FJ Cruiser is a peculiar, characterful, somewhat left-field vehicle. On the other hand, it’s not as practical as we’ve come to expect from the world’s biggest car manufacturer.
The FJ Cruiser is first and foremost a rugged off-roader, as I recently experienced on a foray to a remote forest for a camping weekend and birthday celebration. When the FJ Cruiser first launched in South Africa in 2011, it was heralded as a bundu basher par excellence; a vehicle that was not just competent off the beaten track, but fun too. A recent upgrade has improved the already impeccable 4×4 capabilities of the vehicle with the addition of the Crawl Control function.
For those of you who haven’t done a lot of off-road driving, picture a riverbed filled with soccer-ball-sized rocks. You can’t drive over this sort of terrain quickly and, even when you try to take it slowly, you often bump the accelerator as you crash over each boulder, which causes you to lurch forward, then stop. Probably the most difficult thing to do is to maintain a slow and steady pace, which is where Crawl Control comes in.
It’s a ‘no-feet’ system that maintains a constant vehicle speed by controlling the accelerator and brakes, so that the driver can concentrate on the steering wheel. It only works in low-range, but the driver can select one of five speeds, up to 25km/h. It also reduces the strain put on the vehicle’s drivetrain under tricky conditions, and can be used when climbing or descending steep hills, navigating mud, sand and gravel,
and when fording water.
Crawl Control joins the FJ’s long list of standard 4×4 equipment that adds up to a vehicle worthy of the Cruiser (as in Land Cruiser) name. The FJ is a part-time 4×4, meaning that it’s normally driven by the rear wheels, but when you feel the need you can select 4×4, or even 4×4 low range for serious obstacles. Ground clearance is a phenomenal 245mm, a figure that puts it near the top of the class, while the short overhangs mean that you very seldom have to worry about bashing either of the bumpers.
While its standard traction-control system is aimed at normal road usage, the FJ also features the switchable Active Traction Control technology to maximise off-road climbing ability. When wheel slippage is detected, that wheel is braked to send power to the opposite wheel for better traction. If that doesn’t work, you can select the electrically activated rear differential lock. The result is a vehicle that has immense potential for fun off-roading, without having to worry about reaching its limits.
The FJ differs from the Land Cruiser 70 and many other competitors in terms of its on-road comfort. The FJ offers a pliant, supple ride that verges on car-like, which is definitely not the norm for pukka off-roaders. The big petrol engine is also smooth and refined, working well with the five-speed automatic gearbox for good all-round performance. Just be warned – drive this engine hard and the fuel gauge will tell you all about it.
Something that’s a bit ‘out there’ is the FJ’s body configuration. From the outside it looks like it has just two doors. Investigate more closely and you’ll see a pair of small, reverse-opening ‘suicide doors’ for the rear seats. They function surprisingly well, opening wide enough for the passengers to get in and out with ease, and they also give the FJ simpler, less cluttered lines. It’s these macho, rugged lines that probably account for the FJ’s appeal and sales, and the spread of people who like the FJ is quite amazing, if responses while I was driving it are anything to go by.
While the rear doors are something of a success, the rear seating arrangement is flawed. The windows back there are small and don’t open, which is claustrophobic and also makes it useless for trips to the game reserve.
When you’ve been driving a 4-litre V6 petrol for 300km and the fuel gauge needle hasn’t really moved, you start to get nervous. Something, as they say, is rotten in the state of Denmark. Is the gauge working? Or have we been whisked away to a parallel universe where 4-litre V6s are as economical as little turbodiesels? I hadn’t been driving slowly, I’d packed my folks in the back seats, plus a whole lot of camping paraphernalia in the boot, and we barely seemed to be using fuel.
The golden rule when you don’t know the answer to something is to turn to the modern equivalent of the instruction manual – Google. And it informed us that the other notable addition to the FJ Cruiser is a second fuel tank, increasing the capacity from 72ℓ to an unpleasant-to-pay-for, but very useful 159ℓ. No wonder then that at the end of an 800km round trip we had used just over half of the available fuel. Our fuel consumption worked out to 12.8ℓ/100km, which is what you expect of a big V6 petrol.
Our weekend jaunt highlighted the pros and cons of the FJ. It’s fun and fantastically different, but it also lacks practicality in a class where it’s almost vital. As a weekend plaything it’s brilliant, but if you plan on taking the kids (or the folks) on an overland trip, there are far better cars (and Toyotas) for the job. The FJ Cruiser costs R462 000, and R485 000 for the more pimped sports model, which includes a five-year/90 000km service plan and a three-year/100 000km warranty.
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