The Toyota FJ Cruiser dons a retro look and an angular build, which hints at a throwback to its ‘50s off-road predecessors. It has been in production not for long (2006-present) and that brief period has ended for some markets, including Australia (2011-2017). This short stint, however, belies the long history behind it.
Classed as a mid-size SUV, the FJ Cruiser is front-engined, with rear-wheel-drive (GSJ10) and front-wheel-drive (GSJ15) variants available. It slots between the Rav4 and the Highlander. Toyota offered this 4-door SUV in automatic for both drive variants, with the manual gearbox made available only for the 4WD model.
It had its preview as a concept car in 2003 at the North American International Auto Show and received a positive response from auto enthusiasts. In 2005, the production version of the FJ Cruiser debuted at the North American International Auto Show.
Hino Motors, a Toyota subsidiary in Japan, began producing left-hand-drive FJ Cruisers in 2006 and importing to LHD markets, mainly the USA. Right-hand-drive versions went in production starting 2010, entering Toyota’s home market and other RHD countries, including Australia.
In 2014, Toyota built the Ultimate Edition to mark the last of the FJ Cruiser production, with sales extending well into 2016, and in some markets, 2019.
The FJ Cruiser shares its past with Toyota Land Cruiser (Toyota's longest-running series) and its smaller variant, Toyota Land Cruiser Prado. It is related to the Toyota 4Runner and Toyota Fortuner.
Back in the 1940s during WWII, the Japanese Imperial Army took fancy of the American Willys Jeep, which they found in the Philippines. They tasked Toyota to build a similar but altered military utility vehicle.
In 1951, the Japanese automaker came up with a Jeep-inspired prototype called Toyota “Jeep” BJ. The BJ name referred to Toyota’s B-type 3.4L inline 6-cylinder OHV petrol engine (63 kW, 215 Nm) and the J platform, which was Jeep-inspired.
Toyota’s F-type 3.9L carburetted I6 engine (75/93 kW, 261/289 N·m) replaced the B engine and, you guessed it, gave way to the early FJ models. The 1951-55 models had the BJ and FJ codes, 1955-60 had BJ20 and FJ20, and 1960-84 had BJ40 and FJ40, with the B and F indicating the engine used.
Land Cruiser, J40
In 1954, Willys claimed trademark violations, prompting Toyota to change the name Toyota BJ to Land Cruiser, although the internal production codes remained as J (either BJ or FJ). The Land Cruiser marque also hinted at its close competitor, the Land Rover.
The first-generation Land Cruiser (J40) marked the beginning of Toyota's longest-running series, branching even to various series and models along the way. When the J40 generation ended in 1984, Toyota began production of the larger, upmarket second generations, the J50 and J70.
- Land Cruiser, comfort-oriented (J50 to J200) - the J50 series (1967-1980) started the estate-styled Land Cruiser. These comfort-oriented models continued to evolve to higher generations - from the J60, J80, and J100 station wagons (1980 - 2007) to the current 5-door SUV J200 series (2007-present).
- Land Cruiser, off-road-oriented (J70) - the 70 series (1984-present), classed as compact SUV, is a direct successor of the 4WD J40 generation. Toyota distinguishes it from the J50 series (now J200) as its dedicated off-road workhorse and continues its production to this day.
In the mid-1990s, while Toyota was all geared up at upsizing the FJ40 Land Cruiser, some creative minds in Toyota, namely, VP for sales and ops Yoshi Inaba and product planning chief Dave Danzer, started working on another project. Its goal was to bring back to glory the rugged FJ40. Thus began the development of the Toyota FJ Cruiser.
The new FJ40-based concept car was a combination of the Tacoma and Bandeirantes, a Brazilian-rebadged J40 Land Cruiser. Toyota’s Calty design studio gave the concept model, called Rugged Youth Utility, a fresh take on the FJ40. A coupe RYU concept followed in 2001. The final retro exterior concept was from a young auto designer named Jin Won Kim, while the interior design came from Chrysler’s veteran designer Bill Chergosky.
Toyota unveiled the concept model at the 2003 Detroit Auto Show. The debutante in Voodoo Blue wowed the world, stealing the light from the Dodge Tomahawk and Cadillac Sixteen. This dark cyan hue was to become the signature colour of the boldly-styled and iconic FJ Cruiser when it finally went in production.
From its 2003 debut, however, it took the FJ Cruiser quite a wait to get into the production phase. It went through off-road testing to push its capabilities through the most challenging terrains and conditions, including the Mojave Desert, Rubicon Trail, and the Moab. The development team did countless revisions and tuning of the prototypes. They also needed to scale down the interior to lower production cost. In 2005, the production model was finally ready for its debut at the Chicago Auto Show.
The FJ Cruiser has a short and squat form, measuring 2,690mm on the wheelbase and standing 24cm off the ground. It mimics FJ40's grille-and-headlight assembly. It throws in other design elements reminiscent of its ancestor, including the nearly 90-degree windshield, three windshield wipers, and the spelled-out T-O-Y-O-T-A name across the grille instead of the tri-oval emblem of the modern models. An unexpected touch is its rear suicide doors which open 90-degree clamshell style.
True to its off-road tag, the FJ Cruiser has practical interiors, including rubber covering on surfaces to allow washing off of dirt and quick cleanup. Other well-thought-out features include large buttons and controls (perfect for gloved hands), clustered gauges (compass, inclinometer, temperature), and 110V outlet.
Specs and Mechanicals
The FJ Cruiser shares components with its off-roading siblings, including the 4Runner, Hilux, Prado, Tacoma, and Tundra. Both its 4x2 and 4x4 variants have a towing capacity of 2,268kg, acceleration time of 7.8s from 0 to 97km/hr, and a lateral grip of 69G.
It incorporates a body-on-frame construction, uses double-wishbone, coil spring, gas damper and stabilizer bar for the front suspension, and multi-link with a lateral rod, coil spring, gas damper and stabilizer bar for the rear. Other features include power-assisted 4-piston front brakes, 2-piston vented disc brakes with ABS, electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist, vehicle stability control, and A-TRAC system for traction.
Toyota offered a single engine for its powertrain to all its markets with slight variations in power and torque ratings.
- (2007-2009) 4.0L 1GR-FE DOHC V6 petrol engine using single VVT-i with an output power of 178 kW and torque 377Nm
- (2010) 4.0L 1GR-FE DOHC V6 petrol engine using dual VVT-i, generating an output power of 193 kW and torque 366 Nm
- (2011) 4.0L 1GR-FE DOHC V6 petrol engine using dual VVT-i technology with an output power of 194 kW and torque 367 Nm
The model year 2011 was later downrated due to LEV II/Tier 2 Bin 5 emission requirements. In Australia, the peak ratings were 200 kW and 380 Nm with fuel consumption of 11.4L/100km.
Full-time 4WD models were equipped with centre Torsen differential which distributed power at 40/60 on normal conditions through a 6-speed RA61F manual gearbox with VF4B transfer case.
Part-time 4WD models, the variant marketed in Australia, used a 5-speed A750F auto transmission with VF2A transfer case, while RWD models featured limited-slip rear differential as standard and 5-speed A750E automatic transmission.
The FJ Cruiser 2008 model, which featured side curtain airbags on all rows and side torso airbags as standard equipment, received Top Safety Pick recognition from the IIHS, granting it a Good overall rating with Good in all 14 categories.
Toyota continues to produce the LHD version but has ceased manufacturing the RHD since 2017. In 2016, it sold like a cult car in Australia, averaging 180 units sold per month. This figure, however, declined the following year due to a very competitive playing field, high fuel consumption and emission issues.
Critics were quick to note its cramped rear seating, blind-spot issues and limited cargo space, yet the FJ Cruiser is undeniably a high-performing off-roader with the right mix of on-road manners. It’s a pity you can’t buy one now because Australia and most other countries have stopped importing it since 2016, though sales continued to trickle until 2018 from stock units. If you’re interested in buying them secondhand, though, check us out at Carpart.com.au, we can help you locate sellers of secondhand cars and auto parts across Australia!