Review of the Toyota FJ Cruiser – first looks.

First Looks at the Toyota FJ Cruiser.

The Toyota FJ Cruiser is being touted by Toyota as the ‘spiritual successor’ of the FJ40 but with modern technology and a ‘pimp my ride’ makeover.  With such a great off-road heritage and Toyota’s credibility in the off-road market the question that first sprang to my mind was how well would it handle the bitumen, not the dirt …… and could the FJ be used not only as weekend warrior but also as a daily ride?

So while we have to wait for the chance to do an extended road test I zipped on down to the local Toyota dealership in Caning Vale to get some first looks at the Toyota FJ Cruiser.

My luck was in and one of the friendly staff at Prosser Toyota offered to let me drive them down to the local diner and back for an informal first look. 

The FJ came across very well overall with everything ‘falling to hand’ quite naturally and little adjustment required before just taking off.  In fact if anything the FJ is one of those vehicles that seems to tell you once you are inside, “look, don’t fart around, just drive me”.  So with a quick flick on the wing / door mirror controls and an alignment of the rear view mirror I flipped her into drive and off we went.

The FJ sits well and looks the part.  Although striking, the FJ does not come across as loud and pretentious like the Hummers, or old and traditional like the Jeeps.  Maybe it is something to do with the shorter wheelbase (as compared to the hummers) and the cheerful paint jobs but the FJ looks fun, modern and like the kind of ride that would put a smile on your face any day of the week – not just at the weekend.   

But looks are not everything and I was interested to see if the FJ was mutton dressed up as lamb or if there was substance to the good humored look and youthful appearance. 

A quick pull at one of the front doors resulted in a spacious opening that looked welcoming and practical.  There is no carpet on the floor but the wide aperture and rounded edges make the FJ interior look surprisingly inviting.  A quick hop up and a look around the back and you realize that this was a vehicle built for two.  We not exactly, but I certainly got the feeling that the FJ was not trying to be a Land Cruiser and seat seven people in comfort.  The FJ strikes me as being targeted at the solo driver or couple who will occasionally need take a few passengers in the back or who have young children for whom leg room is not going to be a huge issue.  Nothing wrong with that and no demerit points so far.

Even having said the above a switch into the back seats still leaves a comfortable first impression.  With the front passenger seats moved forward just a little there is plenty of leg room in the back for a couple of six footers and someone in between.  How comfortable it would be over a long journey I don’t know, but like I said, this is not a full size Land Cruiser and should not be expected to be used as one.

The back seats pull up and the back seat rests pull down to make a pretty flat and useable cargo space with minimal projections to interfere with loading.  There is no under floor storage as far as I could see but there are tie downs for heavier items that might shift in transit  (like that fully loaded esky eh!).

The load space and interior again comes across well as easy to clean, durable and practical. 

Up front the inclinometer, temperature and other gauges add a nice touch and do not seem to interfere with front vision at all.  So now it is probably time to mention the nearly vertical front windscreen which I had heard other people describe as off-putting.  Personally I hardly noticed that it was vertical until I took a double take and then had no problems with it whatsoever.  There is no great feeling of having an extended hood in front of you and nothing of the ‘pillar box’ effect I had read other people comment on.  To me the front outlook had a feeling of spaciousness and clarity of vision and I immediately felt comfortable driving the vehicle with no real adjustment at all.  In fact it was only when I forced the thought for a second or flipped on the triple windscreen wipers by accident (gimmick, cute trick or practical addition? ……   I will tell you when it rains really hard!) that I considered the angle of the screen and then came away feeling quite positive about it.

At least for me it was no big deal.  So front visibility and flat windscreen, again, no demerit points at all.  In fact quite pleasant – at least from a visual, if not a wind tunnel perspective.

Side and rear vision on the FJ are however severely compromised.  Looking over your shoulder to the left to merge into traffic is pretty much a waste of time.  The massive pillars and small windows result in a huge blind spot and there would be no-way to reliably see what was coming up on you by looking over your shoulder.  But having said that, the large, almost truck sized wing mirrors worked extremely well and after a couple of turns and merges I quickly began to learn to use the mirrors much as I would in a panel truck and not rely on side-window visual cues.  How well the wife would manage that I don’t know (heh!  I am talking about my wife, not yours, or women in general either) and I suspect that for some drivers it might be an issue but I think that personally I could get used to the poor side vision simply because the wing / door mirrors are relatively big and provide a lot of visual information.

Getting back to the back as it were, the small rear window is probably the only other weakness or concern that came to light during this brief look-over.  The back window is small and high and for anyone used to anything except a light truck or bigger (i.e. a car) the rear visuals are severely limited.  The addition of a reversing camera as standard and I believe reversing sensors as standard are recognition of this.  Either way the rear view from the drivers mirror is sufficient but by no means panoramic and I suspect it would take a lot of people a little getting used to, especially when reversing into parking spaces.

But let’s remember that this is not a ride dedicated to the city commute.  The FJ is clearly targeted at people who want to be ‘out of town’ but still has enough graces to make it comfortable for city use.

The back cargo space is limited but well designed and looks about as useable as one could expect it to be.

Yet to be tried is how flat the cargo area really can be made – by taking the headrests off for example.  How easy it is to load and unload and how to open that rear window in the back door!  Try as I might I could not find the secret to that one.

So all in all a very positive first look at the Toyota FJ Cruiser.  She drives well in terms of pick-up, stopping and delivery.  The ride is really quite comfortable on the hard stuff (bitumen) and the turning circle and handling at sub 70Kph speeds seem to be exemplary.  Comfortable and easy to drive, I look forward to an extended test drive and to learning more about this new member of the Toyota family.  I recon she is going to be a lot of fun!

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