2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser 4x4

  Back in January 2002, at the North American International Auto Show, Ford rolled out with a concept vehicle, with a name that I can still remember 10 years later: the “Mighty F-350 TONKA.” That’s “TONKA” as in the toy.

 

Back in January 2002, at the North American International Auto Show, Ford rolled out with a concept vehicle, with a name that I can still remember 10 years later: the “Mighty F-350 TONKA.” That’s “TONKA” as in the toy.

Or, as Ford design wizard J Mays put it when the vehicle was introduced, “We’ve had fun bringing to life a full-size pickup that reminds kids of all ages of the trucks they used to love to punish in their sandboxes.”

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Yes, this was a full-size yellow-and-chrome toy for big kids, it was robust and yet toy-like inside and out. And although its purpose was allegedly to foreshadow Ford trucks to come, arguably what really happened—although the front ends got beefier, especially in the trucks beyond the F-150—was that inside and out the Ford trucks became more car-like in sheet metal execution and interior appointments.

But the whole Tonka phenomenon—and, yes, I remember my toy trucks of days gone way, way by—came back to me in spades simply climbing into the 2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser.

While the argument can be made that this sport utility vehicle has, as Toyota verbiage puts it, “styling cues reminiscent of Toyota’s famed FJ40 4x4 utility vehicle, sold in the U.S. from 1960 to 1983,” and while there are certainly some off-road partisans who have fond memories or daily interactions of or with their FJ40s, there is a whole cohort of people who have no idea what an FJ40 is but who, as Mays put it about the Ford, had “trucks they used to love to punish in their sandboxes.”

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And while the FJ Cruiser is a real, hard core, capable truck that can do all manner of things that no suburban or urban driver is likely to do—e.g., assuming the automatic transmission is opted for and the 4x4 configuration, there is a part-time four-wheel drive system with a 3.727:1 rear differential ratio and a 33.76:1 crawl ratio; there is an available electronic locking rear diff; the ring gears in the front and rear diffs are eight inches; there are skid plates for the engine, transfer case and fuel tank; the vehicle has a boxed steel ladder-braced frame; the double wishbone front suspension offers 7.87 inches of wheel travel while there is 9.1-inches of travel in the rear thanks to a four-link coil-spring suspension with a lateral rod, tubular shock absorbers and stabilizer bar; there are 32-inch tires; the ground clearance is 9.6 inches; the approach and departure angles are 34 and 31 degrees, respectively—unless, of course, they are being attacked by zombies and suddenly need to take to the wilds. Or maybe they’ve always wanted to take on the Rubicon Trail, and this will let them.

But for the most part. . . .

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Of all of the options that were on the vehicle as driven, the one that is an absolute must is the running board package. It is hard to imagine anyone happily climbing into this vehicle without this $345 assistance. And once inside, the optional feature that is most in keeping with the whole Walter Mitty-adventurer theme is within the Off-Road package: a “Floating Ball Multi-Information Display,” which is central to the instrument panel. It includes an inclinometer, compass, and outside temperature display. The Off-Road package also includes things like Bilstein shocks and active traction control, but assuming you’re driving the FJ to work every day and you don’t work in some seemingly inaccessible patch of terrain, chances are the Floating Ball Multi-Information Display, gratuitously useless as it may be for a daily drive, is a bit of wonderful whimsy.

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Indeed, the entire interior of the FJ has a certain cartoon-like exaggeration. Sure, this is a serious machine. But it doesn’t take itself all that seriously. Jeep tried something along these lines a few years ago with the instrument panel of the Jeep Commander, which had a multitude of bright fastener heads in obvious view, but it really pales in comparison to what is accomplished with the FJ.

One option that really isn’t all that optional—it strikes me as a must-have—is in the Convenience Package, a backup camera that is displayed in the rearview mirror. The FJ has a massive C-pillar, so to say that the over-the-shoulder view is somewhat obscured is to understate the case on a massive scale. (The full-size spare fitted on the back isn’t all that helpful to sightlines, either.)

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Some people are fascinated by the hidden third door on the Hyundai Veloster. Arguably, the hidden third and fourth doors on the FJ are all the more impressive because, well, not only is there an additional door, but because it is extensively more slab-sided than the Veloster (yes, we know this is like comparing apples to anvils) and the integration is seemingly trickier.

The FJ with 4x4 capabilities and automatic transmission tips the scales at 4,295 lb., so it isn’t entirely surprising that the EPA fuel economy is 17 city, 21 highway. Well, maybe it is surprising given that it is powered by a 4.0-liter engine—a six cylinder 4.0-liter engine. You are not going to win any races with the FJ—unless, of course, there are mountains, streams, rocks. . .

Selected specs

Engine: 4.0-liter, six-cylinder, 24-valve DOHC with dual VVT-i

Material: Aluminum block and head

Horsepower: 260 @ 5,600 rpm

Torque: 271 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm

Transmission: Five-speed automatic

Wheelbase: 105.9 in.

Length: 183.9 in.

Width: 75 in.

Height: 72 in.

EPA: 17/21 mpg city/hwy