2013 Toyota FJ Cruiser

Improving On Its SUV Ancestor

No off-roaders worth their salt would ever disrespect one of the great granddaddies of the SUV scene, the Toyota FJ40 Land Cruiser. Introduced in 1960 (with design elements dating back to WWII) it was simplicity personified, a rude-and-crude, take-anywhere rig. Despite occasional susceptibility to rust, this backcountry bruiser was just plain tough, taking on all sorts of rough-and-tumble terrain, and then begging for more. Enter the 2013 Toyota FJ Cruiser.

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Carrying On A Legacy

Toyota sold more than a million of the quintessential two-door battlewagon known as the FJ40 worldwide, and more than 300,000 Land Cruisers scrambled Stateside. Many FJ40s still see abusive service in the roughest corners of the planet, even though Toyota hasn't built them since 1983.

Fast forward to its latter-day iteration, the FJ Cruiser. The production FJ Cruiser arrived unchanged from the well-received concept that debuted at the 2003 Detroit auto show, where Toyota hailed it as a return to the roots of SUVs (in other words, the FJ40).

All of which begs a few questions about this descendant of the FJ40: Has it lived up to the reputation of its iconic father? Or is it merely a city slicker's SUV, with the flavor but not the substance of its gritty grandfather? After addressing those obvious questions, we'll touch on what sort of upgrades has Toyota introduced lately for improving its off-road performance with the new FJ Cruiser Trail Teams Special Edition.

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FJ Cruiser Once-Over

We'll start with a brief overview of the stock Toyota FJ Cruiser and its features, while giving a nod to the traits of its respected forefather. Based on Toyota's Tacoma and 4Runner chassis, albeit with a four-inch shorter wheelbase, the vehicle not only has reasonably good handling on the street, but more important for off-road duties, good approach and departure angles (34/31 degrees, respectively, on the 4WD model).

The Toyota FJ Cruiser's 4.0L V6 engine, initially rated at 239 hp and 278 lb-ft of torque, now supplies 260 horses and 271 pounds of torque. (Comparing those numbers with grandpa, the FJ40 never delivered more than 135 hp and 210 lb./ft. out of its inline six.)

This DOHC 24-Valve mill really wakes up when you stomp the throttle, due to its Dual Independent Variable Valve Timing with intelligence (VVT-i).

When mated to a five-speed automatic, the FJ Cruiser produces EPA city/highway mpg is 17/20. We observed a combined figure ranging between 17.7 and 18.5 mpg.

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FJ Cruiser Walkaround

While the new Toyota FJ Cruiser's power output is much better, the looks are evocative of its forebear, with deliberate styling cues from the first-generation Land Cruiser. These include round headlights with an integrated grille, an upright windshield, wraparound rear glass, and a white-cap roof (except on the Team Trails Special Edition shown here, which we'll get to shortly).

The 2013 Toyota FJ Cruiser's retro styling comes with a downside, however. The massive pillars in the rear quarters, along with large headrests and a rear-mounted spare, create so many blind spots that you almost need a white cane when backing up (but there's fix for that, as we'll see).

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Driving Impressions

Going forward is a whole 'nuther deal, though. The ride is smooth and comfortable, soaking up the bumps, and the nine-inches of ground clearance give the Toyota FJ Cruiser a ready-made feel for off-road excursions. Note that the manual tranny and full-time 4WD combo can be a bit balky (but old-time FJ owners will probably feel right at home, especially with the floor-mounted lever, instead of a sissy button on the dash). On the other hand, if smoothness is a concern, the automatic with part-time 4WD is a sweet setup.

Another area that some may object to is the door arrangement. Operating the suicide-style, rear-hinged doors may take some getting used to, if not regular practice. The FJ Cruiser interior is otherwise off-road ready, with washable seat fabric and rubber mats on the floor and cargo area, and a surprising amount of storage space in the rear as well (not found on the FJ40).

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FJ Cruiser Trail Teams Special Edition

As noted above, Toyota has gone one better for off-roading by offering several upgrade packages, including a new Trail Teams Special Edition. Its identifying mark is a monotone, battleship-gray paint scheme (prosaically referred to as "Cement Gray"). Lacking the FJ Cruiser's signature bright, white top, this model has a weapons-grade look, along with some high-caliber components. These include more aggressive, knobby rubber (BFGoodrich All-Terrain LT265/75R16) on 16-inch bead-lock style alloy rims, suspension upgrades, rock rails, a large roof rack and an electronically controlled locking rear differential.

Add to that special interior trim, along with extras gleaned from Toyota's Convenience and Upgrade packages, and you've got a full metal jacket. Those packages, whether included with the Trails Teams edition or not, feature items such as privacy glass, a rear wiper, a spare tire cover, keyless entry, cruise control, a rearview camera and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. The camera function (with its display monitor built into the rearview mirror) is actually useful for more than just parallel parking, as it compensates for the aforementioned lack of visibility when backing down a trail.

The floating-ball Multi-Information Display on the center of the dash features an inclinometer and compass can also help you find your way. Other practical elements of the interior include the easy-to-clean upholstery and floor liners. The switches and knobs have a para-military look. Piloting this salty rig made us want to pull on a BDU and tan boots before doing battle with some boulders.

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On The Trail

Speaking of attacking rocks, we dirtied up more than just the FJ Cruiser cabin by kicking up some dust in a riverbed, where the shift-on-fly 4WD got us out of some soft silt in short order, and also scrambled up some slabs and slag. The 2013 Toyota FJ Cruiser's Active Traction Control (A-TRAC) and Crawl Control (CRAWL) turn this SUV into a cruise missile of sorts, with computer controls to help you navigate around all sorts of obstacles.

While the 2013 Toyota FJ Cruiser has plenty of grunt for getting up the grade, cruising down the highway is not its strength. The short wheelbase makes for tight U-turns, but the chassis feels a bit tippy on quick lane-changes and sharply curved exit ramps. And the ride quality, while smoother than a raw-boned Jeep Wrangler, is still a choppy at times on uneven pavement. Even so, the FJ Cruiser is a refreshingly anti-social counterpoint to those cushy luxo barges and car-derived crossovers. This apple hasn't fallen far from the tree, and has a good bite to it.

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