There are half-second moments, as an auto reviewer, when you’re fairly sure you’re going to total a vehicle and lose your job. Climbing a nearly vertical rock face in the 2010 Toyota FJ Cruiser, I was sure I’d driven myself into one such disaster.
I’d taken the uber-capable FJ Cruiser rampaging through the backwoods between a 2010 Jeep Wrangler and a lifted ‘88 Bronco. The FJ had proven itself not only the best looking but also the most capable of the 4x4s — nimble, powerful and settled as a tank over rock rivets and desert gullies.
Then it happened. I was about halfway up a 30-foot rock face when the Jeep ahead started sliding back down, all four wheels spinning rocks and dirt at the FJ’s retro-styled windshield. My career, I figured, would end with the Jeep slamming into the front of the brand-new FJ or with the FJ slamming into the Bronco.
Let me pause here to say that the FJ’s transmission, brakes and suspension are well suited around town as well as on the trails. The mighty 260-horsepower V-6 plants all four wheels firmly on concrete or sand.
The Tonka-looking FJ zips around parking lots and four-way stops with the ease of a Camry, all while looking like a distant Hummer relative. Actually, the FJ’s grandfather, Toyota’s original FJ 40 was climbing mountains decades before the Hummer was an embryo in GM’s engineering womb.
Trucky as it looks, the FJ has none of the heavy swaying that comes standard with most SUVs. After hours of rigorous off-road testing and a week of daily driving, I can’t think of an SUV better calibrated for both trail riding and urban maneuvering. Slam on the brakes at 60 mph, and the FJ stops quicker than most sedans (127 feet). Meanwhile, the bobbing compass atop the dash assures you that the 4x4 is ready to romp anywhere that a trail wanders off the road.
Back on the trail and watching the Jeep slide toward me, I was calculating just when the FJ would also slide back into the Bronco. To my surprise, the FJ’s tires planted like tree trunks into the side of the sandstone slope, thanks to beefy tires and four-wheel disc brakes.
As the Jeep got its footing and ascended the ledge, I was amazed with the FJ’s 270 foot-pounds of torque, which towed it up the embankment with minimal wheel spin.
If you submerge the FJ in mud or sand, simply push the differential lock button in the center console and the FJ shifts into 50/50 front/rear locked power distribution. With the rear differential locked, the FJ drives with the invincibility of a tank.
When circling, the FJ’s turning radius is a bit larger than a Jeep Wrangler’s, but so are its backseat and the cargo hold. Speaking of the inside, it is there that the FJ really outpaces its trail competitors. The FJ is clearly designed with camping in mind, but it’s also quiet and civilized enough on the highway to take a cross country road trip or maintain a cell phone conversation.
All in all, Toyota’s FJ Cruiser combines timeless safari styling with a low starting price and class-leading off-road performance. Whether you’re stuck in the mud, or in a freeway traffic jam, the FJ can drive you out of almost any situation. My only recommendation: keep your distance behind Jeeps.
Hidden under the FJ’s industrial interior are technology goodies like rear backup camera,
an electronic limited slip differential and optional subwoofer.
© 2010 John Dickerson