2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser: Introduction
Toyota sells a lot of different cars, trucks, SUVs and minivans in this country and that’s without us even getting into the mind blowing array of models that they only sell in other parts of the world. You don’t get to be the number one carmaker without having a large and diverse menu of automotive options available to the buying public. But in this great variety sometimes real treasures get lost in Toyota’s mainstream shuffle.
Nowhere is this notion more evident than in the looks, character and demeanor of the 2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser which is part SUV, part truck and part alien from another planet. It is such a unique off-road vehicle that there is really nothing built to compete with it by anybody other than Jeep with its perennially popular Wrangler.
It is even possible that you have never heard of the Toyota FJ Cruiser in your entire life but it stands as one of the first indestructible off-roaders ever built by this Japanese company and to this day classic examples remain highly collectible. They also somehow manage to survive for decades in places like Kenyan wildlife preserves, the jungles of South America and even sometimes in the giant frozen ice skating rink known as Alaska.
Well, fast forward to model year 2012 and it’s easy to see that the latest FJ Cruiser is a Jeep Wrangler clone no more. Sure, they both are very off-road capable and ownership of either one implies you have a more active lifestyle than your normally sedentary nature probably bears out. Come on now, we know what you really do on the weekends and it probably isn’t mountain climbing (but if it is kudos to you).
Despite years and years of refinement, the Jeep Wrangler is still not quite the smooth, quiet and refined cruising machine that you might believe especially with the soft top models. On the flip side, the 2012 FJ Cruiser is the most fun to drive SUV or truck that Toyota makes and it’s also relatively quiet even at elevated Southern California freeway speeds where it even absorbs pothole and pavement irregularity noise with aplomb.
One way in which the 2012 FJ Cruiser follows most closely in the Wrangler’s footsteps is in the way in which it manages to tip-toe through the styling land mine known as “retro” while keeping just enough bold and modern touches to accentuate the overall exterior package. Sure, the FJ Cruiser will never be as iconic to the American public as a Jeep Wrangler but part of that comes down to the mere fact that most people think the Camry and Corolla are quite simply Toyota’s finest creations ever.
But there are some out there who have a tremendous amount of loyalty and respect to the Toyota suv and pick-up trucks with the 4Runner and Land Cruiser both having cultish followers who use them for work, play and to go off-road. We had planned an off-roading excursion for our test FJ but unfortunately we overslept the Sunday of the planned trip to which we can only say, “we don’t usually ever lead active lifestyles so what did you expect?”
We are quite sure that the 2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser would have had the power and traction to get out of sticky situations but we were nervous about the severe lack of visibility to the rear and sides from the driver’s seat. A Wrangler with a removable top and doors would definitely have a trail advantage as a result but with that comes a whole heck of a lot of wind and road noise for the ride home.
Granted, a brute like our army green 2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser would have looked even cooler with some dents but automakers tends to frown on journalist types making any sort of body adjustments to their fleet cars. Without question, the shape of the FJ is very unique with the round headlamps, small suicide doors on each side to aid rear passenger entry and the industrial influences found everywhere from the grille to the triple front windshield wipers.
Two wipers just weren’t enough, clearly, to satiate the Toyota engineers who felt two wipers just wouldn’t cut the mustard or clean away pesky caked on Amazonian river mud should that ever happen to someone in an FJ. This SUV may stand as the weirdest vehicle that Toyota currently builds but it is in that wackiness that the FJ shows its truly dazzling colors.2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser: Interior
Now this is where the designers at Toyota really decided to throw owners of the 2012 FJ Cruiser for a bit of a loop. On first inspection, the interior seems to be a tribute to angular minimalism with the only true flash of “design” being the body color bits of plastic on the doors and dash. Our test car was army green so it remained rather dark and subdued on the inside even in direct sunlight. We suppose that’s the price you pay to look fashionably camouflaged.
This may surprise some but the 2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser has a price that starts at just $25,990 when equipped with the standard six-speed manual transmission. Our tester came with a smooth five-speed automatic that never had a problem getting plenty of around town passing power out of the gutsy 4.0-liter 260 horsepower/271 lb. feet of torque V-6 that comes standard.
Opting for the auto box does push the MSRP above the $26,000 mark but that price includes part time all-wheel drive, tow hooks, undercarriage skid plates galore, air conditioning with a much needed vent for the rather cramped second row of seats, an AM/FM/CD/XM/iPod 6-speaker audio system, Bluetooth, power windows and locks as well as ultra-sturdy water resistant (perhaps even knife resistant) seat fabrics as well as an easy clean rubber floor and rear deck. It really makes for a fine jumping off point should you want to trick out your FJ with various aftermarket goodies or stick with TRD’s offerings.
Essentially, the 2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser comes as standard with everything you need to become a truly “outdoorsy” person. But if that isn’t enough motivation for you to get back to nature, Toyota offers both a TRD Package with off-road tires and Bilstein shocks or the seriously hardcore “Trail Teams Special Edition Package” which gives you the same Bilstein shocks as well as an electronically controlled center differential, A-TRAC (Active Traction Control), blacked out 16-inch TRD wheels as well as a number of exterior style enhancements like rock rails and off-road lights.
Our test FJ Cruiser came a bit more luxuriously equipped with the Convenience Package ($2,150—remote keyless entry, cruise control, tinted glass, rear window wiper, spare tire cover and a back-up monitor in the rear view mirror) as well as the aptly named Upgrade Package ($3,030) which adds 17-inch alloys, a locking rear differential, the aforementioned A-Trac system, a leather wrapped steering wheel, rear back-up sonar (did we mention rear visibility is bad?), a 400-watt AC power outlet and an 11 speaker JBL 6-Disc premium audio system with subwoofer . Best of all, the Upgrade Package adds a center dash mounted inclinometer, compass and outside temperature gauge which look cool but will probably rarely see any real use.
With delivery fees, roof rails and floor mats our 2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser still came to a quite reasonable $33,667. Just try to imagine that at that price you still will not have the luxury of a navigation unit or leather seats. But this just isn’t that kind of SUV and if you need that stuff maybe you should stay on the road in a Highlander Hybrid.
Also, while the FJ can definitely haul cargo that is not really in its main design brief as the 27.5 cubic feet behind the second row of seats demonstrates clearly. That figure grows to 66.8 cubic feet with the second row of seats folded which is just as well since the back seats might give a claustrophobic person a panic attack. Just look at it as all the more reason to take your FJ Cruiser expeditions with just one other outdoor accomplice so you can just fold the second row down and enjoy taking all the camping gear you want.
This last complaint regarding the interior design of the 2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser may seem somewhat off-topic but did the powers that be really need to make the automatic transmission shift lever 9-inches long and so unrelentingly phallic? And it wasn’t just us having a dirty mind as most passengers who got into the FJ noticed how long the transmission shift lever’s shaft was and how utterly Freudian the interior became merely thanks to its presence.2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser: Driving Impressions and Safety
Surprisingly, for a two-door SUV, the 2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser scored pretty well in IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) testing with it ranking a top “Good” score in everything but roof strength where it was marked down one level to “average.” More tellingly, however, is the way in which the 2012 FJ Cruiser handles corners with a minimal amount of treacherous body roll.
Even the FJ’s steering feel is taut and precise as if it came out of something intended to be truly sporty to drive on the road. In fact, when and if Toyota resurrects the Celica this level of FJ steering feel and turns lock to lock would suit that coupe just perfectly. The 2012 FJ Cruiser really has steering you must experience yourself so please no letters accusing us of finally losing the plot.
All is not perfect, however, as there is still a bit too much tire noise and wind noise from the giant elephant ears that pass for the side view mirrors of this uniquely styled SUV. Thankfully those side mirrors do aid with the FJ’s blind spot which takes up seemingly the entire back half of the vehicle. Use caution when changing lanes is our advice to you.
Despite the FJ’s rather porky two-ton curb weight, we found braking power to be excellent, fade free in traffic and without any of the grabbiness that sometimes afflicts other Toyota models. As we stated earlier, the standard 4.0 liter V6 is a reliable workhorse that felt far more powerful in the FJ than in any other Toyota SUV (4Runner) or pick-up (Tacoma) that we’ve driven equipped with this motor.
A five-speed automatic may seem positively ancient tech-wise nowadays, but you really don’t want a bulky/delicate eight-speed automatic with you when you are out on a deserted mountain trail. Sometimes old-tech is still the best for certain automotive applications and we think that is the case here. Then, of course, there is still the really old school option of a six-speed manual transmission that also adds the benefit of Full Time 4-Wheel Drive to the 2012 FJ Cruiser party mix.2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser: Conclusion
Buying a 2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser is not a decision made entirely with a rational mind or with other people’s best interests at heart. The FJ Cruiser is a darn cool off-road toy that is meant to make you happy and not the neighborhood soccer team. It looks macho but never teeters into becoming a caricature of itself like some other slightly overdone off-roaders can when fully equipped for dirt road duty.
Admittedly, EPA fuel economy estimates of 17 city/21 highway and our 15.4 mile per gallon average during a week of testing, however, don’t exactly scream “Prius alternative.” Thankfully the FJ runs on regular unleaded, has a 19 gallon fuel tank and can tow 5,000 pounds thereby making this one seriously capable working SUV.
The FJ may not have the roomiest back seat but we found some dogs who loved it back there and despite their best efforts there was no lasting damage to the slobbered on seat fabric and plastic interior trim. It all wiped clean quite easily so no doubt children will also have trouble messing up the interior of the 2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser. Even evil ones.
Hey, we’re trying our best here to give you some solid rationalizations to buy an FJ Cruiser because this is without question the most delightful Toyota truck or SUV that is currently in their lineup. Buy one now if you like your SUVs truck-like with just a hint of modern sophistication and no lack of visual menace. Besides, just because you like to go off-road doesn’t mean you are some sort of savage who doesn’t care about the needs of his or her family.
And wouldn’t your loved ones rather see you smiling as you drive rather than having a third row of nearly useless seats for friends and relatives you don’t like? No matter how long you live, your FJ Cruiser will always be cooler than a seven-passenger family SUV and that may mean the difference between your future misery and life-long happiness.
Toyota provided the vehicle for this review.
Select photos by James Hamel