Motoring: An impressive SUV model for Toyota
Toyota cars are sold in more countries than any other make, and they have models of all shapes and sizes at all price levels.
But do you know what Toyota doesn't have? It doesn't have any fun cars anymore. There is no Supra, Celica or MR2; in their place we now get economical family cars, which is good for saving the planet, but not much fun.
So imagine my surprise when I came upon the FJ Cruiser, the most radical vehicle to be launched this year. Yes, the funkiest new vehicle courtesy of what was becoming the most boring car company around.
So first and foremost, thank you Toyota, for building something that can appeal to the heart, rather than just the head.
So how is this radical new vehicle?
Before we get to that, you need to know where it comes from.
The FJ40 had been for many decades the definitive off-road vehicle. If you ever wanted a vehicle to take into the jungles of Africa or the mountains of the Himalayas, this was the perfect vehicle for the job.
The story began with the first FJ40 getting launched in 1960. Over the years it got bigger and better with more comfort features. The original design lived on until 1984, that's when it went from being an FJ40 Land Cruiser to just being a Land Cruiser. The later models were hugely successful in most markets, but some felt that the spirit of the original had been lost.
Well that spirit is back with the 2007 FJ Cruiser.
What strikes you first and for most about this vehicle is its styling. This sure doesn't look like any other vehicle on the road. The Cruiser's styling suggests that this is one serious off-road vehicle, not one that just pretends to be one. I love the look, even if it's a little funky and cartoonish. It puts a smile on everyone's face as they see it.
That funkiness continues as you step inside, which can be hard if you're a bit short. Once inside, you get a feeling you've stepped into an alien ship.
The dimensions are different than most vehicles. The windshield is small and far away, as are all the windows. Honestly, the first five minutes I spent driving it, I felt like I was looking out of an army bunker, so it's needless to say it takes a little getting used to.
Once you're acclimatized to the vehicle you begin to really enjoy all it's features, and there are plenty of those too.
For instance, this has the industry first of a "sound shower" sound system, which means it has speakers built into the headliner, so it showers the sound on you. A very neat feature, although I am not exactly sold on the effectiveness.
Other funky-features include the suicide doors to ease entry to the back seats, the sturdiest roof rack I have ever seen, and three (yes count'em three) windshield wipers.
So there is plenty to tempt you into buying one, but how does it drive?
The clutch and gearbox takes a little getting used to, but if you don't like changing gears, you can opt for the five-speed automatic gearbox.
Me, once I got a hang of it, I really enjoyed the six-speed gearbox, and when you learn where the powerband lies, this thing charges down the road at a pace I didn't expect it to at all. This is no slow poke. With a 4.0-liter V6 engine, thanks to variable valve timing, it produces 239 hp, and 278 lb/ft of torque. Thanks to that gargantuan torque band, it can tow 5000 lbs, which is a lot.
Now normally vehicles that have such ability are not very comfortable to ride in and tend to be choppy. Not so the FJ Cruiser, which is more comfortable than some luxury cars I can think of.
It handles corners well too, not like a sports car, but much better than most SUV's.
So it seems Toyota has thought of everything. Almost, they did forget to give it any map lights.
They also forgot to make it economical to run, I averaged about 17-liters/100km.
However, compare this to a Hummer H2, and this FJ is cheap to run. It's a lot cheaper to buy too. Base price is about $30,000. My tester with a few decent options was about $35,000. Loaded, you're just over $40,000. It is not cheap, but I am sure you'll agree, it's a lot of truck for the money.