Tested: Land Cruiser FJ V6

27 November, 2013 | by Lance Branquinho

This car, or 4×4 rather, is the antithesis of all things Toyota and therefore most interesting. To me, at least.

When you think of Toyota, that most iconic of Asian auto brands, the cogent associations are mostly ‘conservatively styled’, ‘functional’ and ‘utterly reliable’.

In the last decade (and we don’t mean the last two years since 86 debuted) Toyota’s product portfolio has been page after page of Sanlam life annuity prospectus-type boredom: a probability of good consequences, but also a tally of decisions taken at the cost of your own sense of being.

Perception of Toyota products as being unbreakable but boring is a curious one, because since 2006 there has been a particularly mad Toyota SUV in production which is contrarian to all conventional perceptions of the brand.

THE CRUISER LIKE NO OTHER

You’ve obviously clicked a link to get here and seen the embedded gallery, so no surprise: we are on about the FJ-Cruiser.

It has only been available in RHD markets since 2011, so yes: the retro-styling theme does appear a touch at odds with the current market and design trends. It’s worth remembering this vehicle was originally purposed as a compact 4×4 to pay homage to the legendary Land-Cruiser FJ nameplate and executed at the zenith of that retro styling obsession that engrossed the automotive industry in the early 2000s.

As a relatively ‘old’ product there are many elements of FJ which are laughably timeworn, despite some attempt at mitigating its aged design by virtue of a 2013 facelift. In principle the entire design is an ergonomic disaster, something one would never have expected from Toyota.

All those retro details (the original FJ-type grille, round headlights, bulbous rear) result in a vehicle which has a tremendously unbalanced relation of glass to metal surfacing, and yes: that does make it look quite novel in the sense of an oversized Tonka toy. Once you add people inside, though, the opportunity cost becomes quite apparent as FJ has field of view limitations and a sense of cabin claustrophobia similar to a budget Discovery channel mini-sub.

As such the reversing camera (an element added with the model year 2013 update) is a godsend, but it remains a comically cramped cabin which is rather difficult to see out of. Succinctly: FJ-Cruiser’s cabin is reminiscent of that other overdesigned but awfully packaged mid-sized 4×4 wagon from General Motors that is no longer with us, the Hummer H3 – a surfeit of plastic surfacing, flat-slab geometry, chunky controls (which actually work rather well) and as much visibility as a machine gun bunker.

If there is a redeeming element to the FJ’s cabin it’s the rinse-down loadbay rubber surfacing, perfect for stowing heavy-duty items – with sharps edges – on long journeys over broken terrain without ruining the trim.

FUNNY LOOKING BUT WHOLLY FUNCTIONAL

So, FJ-Cruiser: an ornate styling execution with some tangible cabin comfort and packaging debits, but, how does it relate as a mechanical package, a driving machine, and perhaps most importantly: as a Land-Cruiser?

On-road the hydraulic power-steering does a credible task of warning you that the ladder-frame Prado chassis is about to go wandering into another lane, a state of affairs countered with little drama. The short(tish) wheelbase and wishbone front-suspension make FJ quite a bit more agile than its outlandish Moab-terrain styling details would suggest.

Unfortunately FJ is only available with a single engine option, Toyota’s uncharacteristically hooliganisque but also rather thirsty 4-litre V6 petrol. Running 200kW and 380Nm to all four-wheels with performance spaced by five automated transmission ratios, it’s neither a fuel fairy nor a gallon goblin.

Range, always an issue with the 72-litre tank, has ballooned to in excess of 1000km with the additional of a supplementary 87-litre 95 unleaded stowage chamber. Be warned, though, to fill it to capacity is 159-litres, which could come close to blacklisting your credit worthiness in one refuelling stop. I know it nearly did mine…

Performance? Well, FJ’s swift enough to cruise in the right-hand lane of the N1 without too much intimidation from Germans sedans to move over, but yes: the five-speed auto is quite antiquated in its shift regime and throttle interface. That 1990s term “kick-down” acceleration is of literal application, as FJ’s five-speed auto executes fifth-to-third shifts with the subtlety of a rugby free-kick-crash-ball movement.

Admittedly, FJ’s not the best of transport solutions for on-road use. Despite being Fortuner-sized its blind-spots are terrifying when attempting to park (mitigated, slightly by the rearward field-of-view camera) and despite some accelerative verve from that oversized petrol V6, it feels ponderous. When asphalt degenerates to gravel, or more specifically, gradient rich broken terrain, well, there FJ becomes a most happy thing, channelling all its retro Land Cruiser heritage.

With 25mm more ground clearance than Fortuner (totalling 245mm), 34-degrees of attack, 31- in terms of departure and an astounding 29-degrees of break-over angle clearance, FJ’s hugely capable of crossing obstacles more challenging that the Virgin Active’s lawn kerbs.

I know what you are thinking, though: “It’s petrol, so great in sand, but in slow, deliberate crawling terrain, it probably runs away a bit on throttle, doesn’t it?” Well, no. Toyota’s low-range crawl-control throttle modulation feature, migrated from the Land Cruiser 200-series, ensures you can set your rate of chosen progress (8-kph) and then focus solely on steering through forbiddingly treacherous off-road terrain. It works terrifically too, when you eventually find the button to activate it, due the odd novelty of having most of FJ’s 4×4 controls located in a roof-panel, aviation-style.

That last detail, for me, is crucial to understanding FJ’s sense of being. How thoroughly un-Toyota is it to locate the 4×4 interface of a Land-Cruiser in the roof panel? Or sign-off an exterior design dictated by retro styling features at the cost of ergonomics and passenger claustrophobia?

From the thirsty petrol powertrain, to the haphazard ergonomics, FJ is completely and wholly at odds with everything we associate with Toyota. And that’s why I love it. It shows that deep within the corporate conservatism that is Japan’s most influential automaker is a yearning to continue its heritage of doing rather odd things, rather well.

In many ways, with its striking design, commendable off-road ability and fair on-road pace, FJ Cruiser could be classed as the poor man’s Mzansi Range Rover Sport of sorts. But of course, you could never say that in decent company.

Specs: 4-ltre V6 petrol, 200kW, 380Nm, 5-speed auto, 0-100kph in 7.6 secs, 13.8l/100km, R485 200

     

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