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SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Sun, Apr 27, 2008

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW By Paul Robinson Having grown up with active members of the Orange County Jeep Club and bi-weekly trips to the desert means off-roading is in my blood. I spent many an hour in the back seat of my family's various jeeps, and I've been in some scary sheet metal-bending situations. From my experience, these off-road vehicles are great in the sand, on the trail and climbing rock formations, but are lacking when it comes to road comfort. Amenities such as a heater or even a roof are not standard fare in most capable off-road vehicles. Stepping into the Toyota FJ Cruiser, I can tell that this is going to be different experience. As I grasp the leather steering wheel and sit down, I immediately recognize the interior has the feel of the original Toyota Land Cruiser for which the FJ Cruiser is modeled after. From the moment I notice the inclinometer, compass, and digital temperature gauge mounted on the dash, it's obvious this is more than the usual soccer mom SUV.

As I pull onto the sand at San Onofre with the requisite surf boards mounted on the roof and wetsuits, towels, cooler, and a hibachi grill in the back, I'm ready for a great day. We immediately take use of the 115V/400W AC outlet located in the rear cargo space and plug in our portable stereo. There's more than enough room to fit in all of our gear, and unlike a truck, we can lock the supplies in the FJ while we are in the water. The FJ couldn't be more useful. Even as we get out of the water and head home, the plastic cargo area comes in handy with the still moist wetsuits and towels. Like most people in Southern California, I don't need a vehicle which can forge a river or battle the elements of the Sahara. I spend some time in the snow and some in the desert, but most is spent maneuvering in congested traffic and parking lots. The FJ is not considered compact by any means and proves to be a challenge at times when using the rear suicide doors. Because the doors open to one another in a tight parking space it makes it difficult to get in and out of the back seat.

There is nothing extravagant about the interior, the plastic floors, door and kick panels, and trunk are easy to clean and can't be damaged by water, mud, or sand without a concerted effort to do so. The seats are all waterproof cloth and very supportive. They need to be out on a rutted desert trail, or (more likely) a Wal-Mart parking lot complete with those very pesky parking blocks strewn about. The large, spacious interior has a different feel than most SUVs, the windshield is short and does not have the steep angle or curvature one finds most often in an SUV. This, along with the small side rear windows, makes visibility a serious issue when driving both on and off road. Forward visibility is limited vertically by the short windshield, making seeing overhead signals a challenge without ducking your head. The blind spot on the FJ is scary at first; anything over your shoulder takes some effort to see even with the large side mirrors.

One thing the FJ has that was not included in the original Land Cruisers of the 50s is the rockin' sound system. The AM/FM 6-disk MP3/WMA with playback capability sits in the middle of the exterior color matching center instrument console. The optional nine-speaker audio system is also equipped with an audio jack to plug in your iPOD or portable MP3 player, and a rear mounted subwoofer packs a solid punch. The sound system is not the only thing making noise in the FJ. The 4.0-liter V6 also plays its part. Weighing in at almost 4300 pounds, this SUV is not going to win any drag races anytime soon. On the other hand, its passing ability on the freeway is to be commended. With 238 horses under the hood and the five-speed automatic backing it up, the FJ Cruiser passes by most in its class. What this SUV doesn't pass by often enough, however, are gas stations. Taking into consideration the powerful V6 and large heavy frame, the listed 16/20 MPG left me saying "I want my MPG."

Unlike many off-road capable vehicles the FJ handles relatively well and is a comfortable ride on the pavement. The double-wishbone front and four-link rear suspension provide a car-like feel on the highway and surprisingly little body roll while cornering. As in most SUVs, there is some wind noise at higher speeds, but is nothing the nine-speaker stereo can't take care of. It doesn't matter if I am packing my surfboard on the roof racks and throwing wet towels in the back coming back from the beach in San Clemente, or picking up some co-workers for lunch in San Diego, the FJ serves its purpose.

SUMMARY JUDGMENT It may look old school, but this is a thoroughly modern Millie, albeit with a few quirks. For more information about Toyota products, go to toyota.com

SPECIFICATIONS Engine: 4.0-liter DOHC 24-valve SFI VVT-i V6 239 hp @ 5200 rpm; 278 lb.-ft. @ 3700 rpm Miles per gallon (EPA estimate city/highway) 16/20 Transmission: 5-speed electronically controlled automatic overdrive Drive Train: Part-time 4WD with limited-slip differentials Vehicle Stability Control Active Traction Control Suspension: Front: High-mounted, double-wishbone suspension and stabilizer ba Rear: 4-link suspension with lateral rod with coil springs and stabilizer bar Brakes: Power-assisted 4-piston front/2-piston rear ventilated disc brakes with Anti-lock Brake System (ABS) with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist Dimensions Height: 72 in Weight: 4295 lbs Width: 74.6 in Length: 183.9 in Wheelbase: 105.9 Fuel Tank 19 gal Tires: P265/70R17

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