Baby boomer 4WD enthusiasts would probably remember with a degree of nostalgia the introduction of the short-wheel-base Toyota Landcrusier FJ40 in 1960. Now they, and a whole new generation of four wheel drivers, can marvel at the latest FJ Cruiser which truly captures the 50-year heritage of its legendary predecessor, but with the latest in technology and engine performance to boot…and, would you believe, at a price tag under $50,000? Beach fishermen Australia-wide swore by them, and no Top End buffalo hunter worth his salt would be without one, albeit with the roof, back and doors removed, and leaving a windscreen that could be folded down or totally removed.

In fact, the FJ40 series was so popular with farmers, commercial hunters, fishermen and just plain 4WD enthusiasts that the series continued — with minor modifications, updates and engine variances — right up until 1984. For 11 years in the late ‘70s and through the ‘80s, I owned an FJ40 ute with the then latest V6 4.2L petrol engine. What a vehicle that was. Over the years it carried many a tinnie up top — too often dripping with saltwater — and had the tray replaced twice as a consquence.

In April 2011, Toyota Australia released to Australia a 21st-century version of the FJ40 — simply called the FJ Cruiser.

This modern FJ Cruiser captures the 
50-year heritage of its legendary predecessor with its body-on-frame structure, short wheelbase, stocky appearance and the arrangement of its headlights and grille.

It will be the only Toyota vehicle which uses the name Toyota spelled out across the grille, instead of the corporate emblem.

Boxy-shaped vehicles seem to be increasing in vogue, and you definitely get that with the FJ Cruiser’s near-vertical windows, but it also features wrap-around rear windows; plus the smaller rear doors open in reverse, accessing the back row of seats. There is surprisingly-more leg room with these seats than you might expect.

We took the FJ Cruiser for a drive around some bush tracks on the outskirts of Darwin. The Top End wet season was still with us and finding water and greasy tracks was not hard.

It’s true that the FJ Cruiser has loads of character, and is a lot of fun to drive. It’s a real eye-turner and will definitely satisfy those people who want a modern vehicle with the amazing offroad capabilities of Toyota’s legendary off-roaders.

It’s quiet and has all the oomph you’d imagine with a 4.0L V6 petrol engine. It also handles as well as you’d expect of a modern 4WD from Toyota.

I like the size of the vehicle too. It’s not as big as it looks in some of its photos. I reckon it’s comparable to a Prado size-wise, and its boxy shape ensures there’s heaps of interior space. It’s certainly very comfortable to drive, and for the passenger too, whilst the back seats are fine. As with the Prado, it’s size will appeal to female members of the family who might otherwise be daunted by a much-larger 4WD. It’s true that the FJ Cruiser has loads of character, and is a lot of fun to drive. It’s a real eye-turner and will definitely satisfy those people who want a modern vehicle with the amazing offroad capabilities of Toyota’s legendary off-roaders.

This uncompromising 4WD has received several accolades, including: in the United States, the FJ Cruiser has recently been awarded for its quality and its value; in the JD Power and Associates 2010 Initial Quality Study, it was rated at the top of the Compact Crossover/SUV segment; and it was also named best-in-class for mid-size SUVs in the 2010Intel Best Overall Values of the Year Awards.

As with its historical predecessor, there’s no doubting that this spunky new FJ — with a 200kW, 380Nm 4.0L petrol engine, dual-range transfer case and large wheel articulation —  is designed for the serious off-road enthusiast. I’m sure it won’t tarnish the original FJ40’s reputation as a 
get-there-and-get-back, no-frills and no-punches-held vehicle for serious off-roading. As a kid, I always wanted one, and I was rapt when I could finally afford a tidy second-hand FJ40 series ute, bought at a Darwin auction in 1979.

I must admit that, when I jumped in, I checked to see if the FJ comes with automatic gear change. It does: a five-speed automatic transmission and 
part-time 4WD system with a dual-range transfer case. Auto 4WDs have come a long way in recent years, and I’ve done enough seriously-tough bush work to know that they are far more an advantage than a disadvantage. The main thing is that, in city traffic, where most 4WDs spend most of their time anyway, you just can’t go past an automatic transmission. And it’s also something that will appeal to the woman in the family.

The shape of the FJ lends itself to fitting large cabin windows which provide excellent, allround vision.

Taking into consideration the fact that the FJ is priced at what you would call “budget” for a 4WD (under $50,000), it has plenty of great Toyota features that just might surprise you. These include: cruise control, ISB port for phone and iPod, 3.5mm input jack for other MP3 players, Bluetooth for hands free calls and audio streaming, and all audio controls on the steering wheel. There is a multi-information display and an 8-speaker audio system with CD stacker and central locking. Six cabin airbags cater for driver and passenger safety, which is just fantastic, I reckon. There are rear fog lamps, privacy glass, rear parking sonar, and air conditioning. Bloody hell, there’s even a camera monitor screen built into the driver’s reversing mirror. That means you can look at the morror and what’s on the camera at the same time…brilliant!

I must say it pleases me to see the new FJ Cruiser coming onto the market. In reinterpreting its classic FJ40, Toyota has created a whole new vehicle that will appeal to younger drivers who know nothing about the old legend that was the heartbeat of rural Australia.

The FJ40 look might date back half a century, but the technology and driving performance of this latest Cruiser are very much state of the game. The 4.0L petrol engine, with variable valve timing on both the intake and exhaust camshafts, provides an optimum combination of power and economy. Maximum output is 200kW and 380Nm, and it features a cool five-speed automatic transmission and part-time 4WD system with a dual-range transfer case.

Double-wishbone coil suspension at the front and coils at the rear provide large wheel articulation and impressive fording capability, while there is excellent ground clearance.

According to Toyota’s promo material: “With the FJ’s mantra of style and substance, Toyota has opted for a no-frills interior, including moulded floors for easy cleaning. The FJ Cruiser is designed for serious 4WD enthusiasts, owners who want to do more than cruise down the highway in their sporty off-roader.”

FJ Cruisers for Australia are produced in Japan.


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