New SUV review: 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser
By Eric Peters
for immediate release

The typical modern SUV is a sheetmetal pretty boy; either it's too delicate to be taken off road -- or too expensive to risk scuffing the paint up.

Toyota's new FJ Cruiser's not like that at all.

It brings back to life the spirit of the original FJ LandCruiser Toyota brought out in 1967 to go up against domestic rough boys like the old (and pre-OJ) Ford Bronco Jeep CJ and International Scout. The new FJ, like its ancestor, is built for serious duty -- and for people who know how to use a two-speed transfer case.

The FJ rides on a shortened and narrowed version of the fully boxed steel ladder frame used in the Toyota 4-Runner mid-sized SUV. The engineers shaved about 5.3 inches off the overall length (183.9 for the FJ vs. 189.2 for the 4-Runner) and trims a bit more than half an inch off the width (74.6 inches for the FJ vs. 75.2 for the 4-Runner). The FJ's more compact overall dimensions give it extra wiggle room in tight squeeze situations -- such as getting past a couple of big oaks on either side of a narrow path. The stubbier shape also results in angles of approach (34 degrees vs. the 4-Runner's 30 degrees) and departure (30 degrees vs. 24 for the 4-Runner) better suitable for off-pavement work. You'll be less likely to tear off the rear bumper coming down a steep grade -- or plow your nose into the dirt trying to make it up one.

There are also front and rear tow hooks you can use to winch yourself out of a mud pit, full underbody skid plates to protect the vitals (oil pan, transmission/transfer case and fuel tank) from rocks, heavy-duty six-lug hubs and a real-deal 4x4 system with High and Low ranges tied into a heavy-duty 8-inch solid rear axle and locking Torsen center differential. (Base 2WD models have a limited slip rear axle.)

The FJ also offers a clutch start cancel feature that lets you use the starter motor to "bump" the vehicle forward -- and keeps the truck from rolling backwards if you stall the engine and need to re-start on a steep incline.

Rolling stock consists of P265/70-17 32-inch Dunlop GrandTrek knobbies -- and the suspension's set up to allow generous wheel movement over uneven terrain. You've got 9.6 inches of ground clearance to work with, too.

On the outside, the FJ's protected by hard rubber color-matched bumpers and molded in flares that won't need the ministrations of a body shop after a weekend trip to the backwoods -- or a year of parking on city streets, for that matter.

Use the FJ to push your buddy's Escalade up the driveway -- it won't hurt nothin'.

The full-size spare's mounted on the rear gate where you can easily get to it -- not under the body, as on some competitors. And the FJ's two-section rear gate is thoughtfully designed to allow the glass part to be fully opened even with the spare in place and the lower gate fully closed.

But the real clue to the FJ's seriousness of purpose is what you won't find on the list of standard features. No chromed 20-inch "bling rims," for example. Instead, you'll find four stamped steel 17 inch wagon wheels painted flat black -- with no high-dollar trim rings and center caps to worry about losing. Rub up against a curb? No problema. Just dab on some DupliColor touch-up paint and you're good to go. Steel wheels like this are virtually indestructible -- and just the ticket for a real-deal SUV. (Alloys are available optionally if you want 'em, but the FJ looks better with the steelies -- and they're more suited to its nature anyhow.)

Inside, there's no city-boy cream-colored leather with frou-frou contrast piping; no burled walnut inserts, lamb's wool or deep pile shag carpets, either. But you can plant your muddy Doc Martens with confidence directly onto the FJ's waterproofed floorboards -- which are protected by thick rubber mats that can be washed out when you get home.

Even the seats are water-repellent.

However, the most appealing thing about the FJ may be its low-ball price -- just $22,890 with six-speed manual gearbox and 4WD. Compare that with the MSRPs of two of the FJ's most obvious competitors, the Hummer H3 ($28,935) and Jeep Wrangler Rubicon ($27,930). That five grand price difference is hard to swallow given that neither the H3 nor the Wrangler Rubicon outlclass the FJ in terms of off-roading bona fides -- and the FJ's arguably the more interesting vehicle of the three.

Then there's power to consider.

The FJ packs a standard 239-hp 4-liter V-6 -- and can accelerate to 60 mph in 7.8 seconds. More importantly, it has the reserves to pull off passing/merging moves that can be dicey in the overweight/under-powered H3. The little Hummer's standard 220-hp 3.5 liter in-line five seems ok on paper -- but it's unevenly matched to its beefy 4,700-lb. curb weight. The H3 needs 13 seconds-plus to heave itself to 60 mph -- and has next to nothing left once you're up to about 65 mph.

The Wrangler' Rubicon's got decent punch thanks to its 4-liter, 190-hp engine and curb weight of 3,740-lbs. But like the H3, it's less at home on road than off.

The FJ, meanwhile, handles long hauls as well as most "street" SUVs that could never hope to meet it on equal terms when the pavement ends.

Its from follows function cabin also makes much better use of space (especially back-seat space) than the cramped H3 or the two-door Wrangler.

Which brings us to the FJ's final ace in the hole -- curb appeal. From its two-tone exterior/iinterior treatments, roof rack cage and backward-opening "suicide" doors to its classic-era FJ-inspired shapes and elemental simplicity, this is retro done right.

The new FJ Cruiser recalls all the good things about the original FJ LandCruiser -- and brings back to life a moment in time before "SUV" became synonymous with "poseur."