I said ‘Growing up leads to growing old and then to dying,
and dying to me don’t sound like all that much fun.’”
So says John Mellencamp in his classic “Authority Song.” Just take a look around – plastic surgery, exercise, age-defying creams and pills – it’s all meant to fend off the Grim Reaper by keeping us young and pounding soil from an upright position as long as possible. Maintaining a youthful vitality throughout a healthy lifespan is all well and good, but is there a downside? Some would argue yes, when that hottie at the bar turns out to be your grandma’s nipped-and-tucked bridge partner, when late-night C movies on TV are completely replaced by infomercials for Bosley hair transplants and reruns of Dr. 90210, when parents battle their kids for the newest pair of designer jeans or mega hair gel, or when Toyota sells a truck that looks like it has literally been lifted directly from a child’s cartoon.
Back in the early days of the original FJ, there was nothing cartoonish about it. The FJ was simple and straightforward, a serious machine for serious traveling, a Japanese version of the venerable Jeep CJ. Engines were of the four- and six-cylinder varieties, eventually providing lots of off-road-friendly torque. Today’s FJ Cruiser is a far more refined vehicle, a styling exercise enhanced with real off-roading capability and a thoroughly revamped powertrain cranking out 278 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,700 rpm to protects the SUV’s boulder-chewing reputation. The new FJ’s 4.0-liter, dual overhead cam, 24-valve V6 is fueled by premium petrol and mated to a six-speed manual with a 3.91 axle ratio or a five-speed automatic transmission sporting 3.73 gearing. Horsepower measures 239 at 5,200 rpm. Base rear-wheel-drive models get an electronic limited-slip differential and the automatic tranny; FJs destined for off-road use are fitted with automatic locking hubs, a two-speed transfer case, and either a part-time four-wheel-drive system with the five-speed automatic or a full-time system with the six-speed manual. A Torsen limited-slip center differential comes with the six-speed transmission. All examples feature standard 17-inch steel wheels shod in 265/70 off-road tires; antilock vented disc brakes backed up by electronic brake-force distribution and electronic brake assistance; traction and stability control systems; and skid plates protecting the gas tank, engine, and transfer case. A double wishbone front suspension and multi-link rear setup keep the FJ and its 4,050 – 4,295-pound mass afloat, with a rack-and-pinion steering system utilized to navigate over gnarly boulders.
A base 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser starts at $22,315 including a $605 destination charge. That buys a rear-wheel-drive model with the five-speed automatic transmission as well as a basic sound system with CD player, air conditioning, a tilt steering wheel, a whole host of power features, and a rear wiper. Options are numerous, including power mirrors, keyless entry, cruise control, a locking rear differential, front-side and side-curtain airbags, running boards, 17-inch alloy wheels, an upgraded sound system, and special gauges. The mid-level FJ is a four-wheel-driver with the six-speed manual that’s priced at $23,495. Besides the drivetrain, transmission, Torsen center limited-slip differential, and upsized stabilizer bars, the four-by is equipped exactly like the base rear-driver. Situated at the top of the lineup is an FJ Cruiser with four-wheel traction, the automatic transmission, and an asking price of $23,905.
For this evaluation, we borrowed a bright yellow four-wheel-drive 2007 FJ Cruiser from Toyota and proceeded to rack up hundreds of miles traipsing all over southern California, a fair chunk of it spent exploring off-road, with the result being lots of great memories and a disappointing 15.6-mpg average fuel economy. Our tester rang up at $29,883 including the $605 destination charge. Options included a $1,840 Convenience Package with power mirrors, rear parking aid, keyless entry, and cruise control; side-curtain and front-side airbags for $650; running boards that tacked on $345; $199 carpeted floor mats to cover the rubber flooring; a $349 tow hitch and wiring harness; and a $2,620 upgrade package that added Toyota’s A-TRAC traction control system, a locking rear differential, an outside temperature gauge, a compass, an inclinometer, alloy wheels, a six-disc CD changer and a rear subwoofer, a 400-watt inverter, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with radio controls. That’s all good stuff that buyers are looking for, but none of it hides the fact that the FJ looks like the most extravagant toy ever built by Fisher-Price.
The 2007 FJ Cruiser is a capable vehicle off road, but the funky styling comes at the cost of rear seat access, visibility, and overall utility. Buyers needing a versatile, comfortable, four-wheel-drive vehicle would be better served by a pickup or “normal” SUV, many of which can comfortably handle several passengers and equally aggressive terrain without prioritizing form over function. Those wanting an off-roader that should really be sold at Toys ‘R Us, one with compromised comfort and utility for the sake of style, one available in Tonka-truck yellow like our test sample, should consider the 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser. If only you could pay for it with Monopoly money…