GUIDE

Toyota FJ Cruiser

WORDS BY DAVE MORLEY, IMAGES BY ARNOLD ARCHIVE AND MANUFACTURER

Buying Used

Being in the marketing department of a car company must seem like a hiding to nowhere at times. You give a particular market everything it’s told you it wants and then…nothing. But then, elsewhere in the world, the same car that shouldn’t have worked suddenly becomes everybody’s darlin’. Say hello to the Toyota FJ Cruiser.

With retro styling aimed at Santa Monica Boulevard and a brawny V6 petrol engine to keep Billy-Joe Jim-Bob happy, the FJ Cruiser had US of A stamped all over it. The funny thing is, it never sold as well as it should have Stateside, and, after its launch in 2006 and a sales spike to match as the early-adopters got in, sales tanked in North America and the car was discontinued in 2014.

In Australia, things didn’t kick off until 2011 when right-hand drive became available, but the FJ Cruiser continued to sell well right up until 2016 when production in Japan finally stopped. With its short wheelbase (100mm shorter than a 120-Series Prado) and petrol-only driveline, the FJ Cruiser looked, on paper, to be a dead duck out here. Except it wasn’t. Why? Well, probably because of its retro sense of style recalling all those old 40 and 45-Series LandCruisers we all remember and hold so dear. But almost certainly because it was also devastatingly effective in the bush.

It perhaps shouldn’t have worked here, but Toyota’s retro FJ Cruiser was a real crowd pleaser. And still is.

@directionplus.AU
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What's in the range?
There was only one specification over the life of the FJ Cruiser here. While it looked like a two-door vehicle; two smaller rear doors opened rearwards. The catch was you had to have the front door open to get the rears open, so it was a compromise at best.

Inside, the retro theme continued, and the dashboard is pretty radical, along with the almost upright windscreen reminding those of us old enough of the original LandCruisers seen here in the 1960s and ‘70s.

Essentially a Prado underneath, the FJ Cruiser had part-time four-wheel-drive via a second gear-stick, not the trendy rotary knob. You also had high and low-range four-wheel-drive ratios and automatic locking front hubs.

Front suspension was a lift of the Prado’s independent set-up with upper and lower wishbones, and the rear axle was live but located via four trailing and one transverse link. Although it shared a lot of Prado architecture – including coil springs at 

each corner - the Cruiser was shorter, lower and wider than the 120-Series.

Just the one engine was ever offered here, an all-alloy 4.0-litre V6 petrol complete with double overhead camshafts and even variable valve timing. Toyota recommended 95-RON ULP for the FJ but thanks to knock sensors, it’ll happily run on the 91-octane brew which is nice when you’re in the boondocks and getting petrol at all can be a bit of a deal. Power peaked at 200kW and torque at 380Nm. And in the interests of keeping the range simple, there was only one transmission on offer - a five-speed automatic.

If there’s a line in the sand with the FJ Cruiser, it’s the March 2013 upgrade which saw the vehicle get Toyota’s CRAWL system which allowed for feet-off ascents and descents, allowing the driver to select a pre-set crawling speed and then concentrate on steering. Of much more interest was the other big update at that point, with a second 87-litre fuel tank joining the original version’s 72-litre unit. Suddenly, the Cruiser had the range to go outback in the biggest way.

“With retro styling aimed at Santa Monica Boulevard and a brawny V6 petrol engine to keep Billy-Joe Jim-Bob happy, the FJ Cruiser had US of A stamped all over it”

How safe is it?
Safety gear kicked off with six air-bags including two in the front, two side-front and two side-curtain bags which protected those in the rear seat as well. You also got driver aids lifted form the Prado such as anti-lock brakes, brake-force distribution, brake assist, stability control and traction control.

The traction control was interesting as it was the active type. That is, rather than just cut torque to a wheel that was slipping, the computer also braked that wheel, switching torque to the wheels with the most grip. Probably because it was a relatively low-volume model, the FJ Cruiser was not independently crash-tested in Australia. The 120-Series Prado, upon which the FJ is based scored four stars, but don’t read too much (anything?) into that as the body structures are quite different with the FJ’s rearward-opening rear doors (just for starters).

The one thing that does stick out is the dreadful rear vision thanks to those monster C-pillars. If it were our car, we’d be adding a reversing camera and maybe even parking sensors.

Later (post-2013 upgrade) cars added the CRAWL system which was a big help to first-timers looking down the barrel of their maiden major descent.

What was it like off-road?
Brilliant, in a word. The shorter overall dimensions and wheelbase meant that approach, departure and ramp-over angles were all great and it’ll take a big rock, gully or spoon-drain to stop an FJ Cruiser. Those qualities also meant the Cruiser was pretty good at scrambling over jump-ups and hauling itself out of a water crossing.

That was helped no end by the grunty, torque-laden V6 engine which always seemed to have plenty in reserve when you needed a short- sharp burst of horsepower. Yes, a turbo-diesel would have been nice, but to criticise the FJ for its engine would be a gripe too far. Meanwhile, the five-speed automatic transmission made the Toyota pretty handy in the sand.

Fundamentally, of course, you’re dealing with a sawn-off Prado here so it should come as no surprise that an FJ Cruiser will go pretty much anywhere you care to point it. This is not an off-roader you’re going to grow out of any time soon. We’re willing to bet most owners will chicken out long before the vehicle calls a halt to play.

When things got snotty, you could also press the button to engage the standard electronic rear locker, but a lot of owners found the CRAWL system was just as good. The only caveat here is that these systems which use the car’s ABS and traction-control can get the brakes hot if the climb or descent is a long one. We’d also give the driveline some cool-down time before plunging it into an icy river after using the CRAWL system, too.

Of course, there will still be people reading this and tut-tutting about the lack of a diesel engine option in the name of the outback-touring range. And we’d agree in the case of the early model with just the single 72-litre tank. But the later version with the extra 87 litres on board, makes for a total of 159 litres, so even if your consumption jumps way up in sandy, low-range going (and, in the manner of petrol engines, it will) you should still have the ability to make it between most roadhouses.

Meantime, to prove that the retro thing was not all about style, Toyota designed the FJ’s interior to be more or less hose-out; a nice touch that was appreciated by those who used their vehicles in the way nature (and Toyota) intended.

So, what went wrong with the FJ Cruiser?
Toyotas didn't earn their reputation for going the distance by accident. And the FJ Cruiser seems to adhere to that philosophy of being built properly from good quality materials. Fact is, the condition and serviceability of any particular FJ Cruiser will more or less be down to how it's been treated, driven and serviced in the past than to any list of documented problems and faults.

So that's the first thing to check: Get down and dirty with a torch and see what sort of nick the undercarriage is in. If the rails are dented and the diffs are showing scars from a thousand rock-strikes, you're probably looking at a vehicle that has done it tough in the mulga. That's not the end of the world, but it does mean you need to check the service record to ensure that things like diff oil have been changed regularly. A quick look at the FJ from 100 metres away will also tell you lots. As in, an example with a lift-kit, monster bull-bar, 12,000lb winch and a high-left jack bolted to the side of it has probably seen some action.

Vehicles with a colourful past are also more likely to exhibit a problem with the bodyshell that has cropped up often enough to be called a known fault. Those reverse-opening rear doors mean that there's a big distance between the A and B-pillars that form the side of the vehicle. Combine that architecture with rough roads and the flexing allowed small cracks to form at the bottoms of the B-pillars.

It's an easy one to check for (look for cracks in the paint). If you can see evidence of welding, take it as read that the vehicle has developed the crack and been fixed, but be aware that if you can see the repairs (the welds) they haven't been done correctly. Toyota eventually recalled the FJ Cruiser to check this, mainly because the B-pillar forms the anchoring point for the seat-belts. So it's a pretty significant safety deal.

The other body issue was blamed on Toyota's decision to mount the spare wheel on the rear door. To be sure, that freed up interior space and kept ground clearance high, but it did place enormous stresses on the hinges of the door. Again, a vehicle that has been driven through rough stuff will be more likely to suffer the results, but if the door sags when you open it or is hard to open or close, then you're looking at tired hinges.

Beyond that, the driveline seems all but bullet-proof, and although we've heard of a handful of these four-litre units developing a pin-hole leak in the head gasket, it doesn't seem widespread. Nor will it, provided you check the coolant regularly, strand you in the middle of nowhere.

Some owners of the early version of the FJ were tempted by the small fuel-tank capacity to fit an LPG system to both reduce running costs and increase the effective range. Which is fair enough and the V6 seems to be a lot more tolerant of LPG than, say, the 3F and 1FZ straight-sixes in the LandCruiser.

Do you recall?
Even though it was based on tried and proven mechanicals, the FJ Cruiser’s unique body structure and dimensions meant that it was a stand-alone model, and that means it had its recall dramas. The good news is that the model wasn’t caught up in the Takata air-bag scandal, but you do need to check that a variety of recalls have been attended to, including the B-pillar fix.

Early-build cars had a recall to check that the sensor that detects a side-impact was doing its job and would fire the air-bags at the right time. Cars built in about a three-week period in 2013 were also called in to check for a steering shaft that may have been incorrectly welded at the factory. Don’t ignore that one, as a loss of steering control would be the result of that component failing.

FJ Cruisers built between October 2012 and February 2014 got to visit the dealership to check that the material and routing of the fuel-tank breather wasn’t going to be affected by heat from the car’s exhaust system. Again, not one to be shy about and a Toyota dealer will be able to identify an affected FJ and tell you whether the fix was done.

Can you customise it?
While you still see FJ Cruisers getting about in standard trim, the vehicle’s apparent abilities make it ripe for a little tweaking to improve things. A snorkel would be our first addition if only because that then gives the vehicle the ability to go more or less anywhere. Why Toyota didn’t fit a standard snorkel is the real mystery.

On early cars, there’s a range of auxiliary fuel tanks out there to extend the range as well as underbody bash plates to protect them. A second spare tyre is always a good idea for any serious off-roading, but we’d be inclined to mount the second one on a roof rack rather than tax those rear door hinges even more. A roof basket also gives you good extra storage space, because the FJ’s interior is not huge.

The other thing to consider would be tyres. A good set of A/Ts will make a huge difference over the standard stuff (which will probably have been replaced by now anyway) and should be all you’ll ever need.

Build a track-crushing FJ Cruiser
ARMOUR: Trawl the Internet, and you’ll find plenty of US sites dedicated to modifying the FJ Cruiser. Being pretty handy out of the box, the FJ doesn’t need a lot, but a bit of extra protection always helps. So, think rock sliders, and front and rear bars with rated recovery points.

SUSPENSION LIFT: A two-inch lift will make life a lot easier on the tracks without ruining the on-road ride and handling; might even improve it. LOL. Like all things in life, spend as much on suspension as you can afford.

SNORKEL: An aftermarket snorkel and diff breathers will ensure your FJ Cruiser breathes cleaner air and won’t suck in a gutful of water when you’re off-road.

TYRES: Look at having two sets of tyres for your FJ Cruiser. One set for around-town driving and another set for getting out into the bush. One of Unsealed 4X4’s regular contributors, Gary Tischer, has an FJ Cruiser and he runs Goodyear Wrangler MT/R rubber when he’s heading bush. The tyres aren’t cheap, he reckons, but “they’re bombproof,” he told us.

GUIDE

It perhaps shouldn’t have worked here, but Toyota’s retro FJ Cruiser was a real crowd pleaser. And still is.

Being in the marketing department of a car company must seem like a hiding to nowhere at times. You give a particular market everything it’s told you it wants and then…nothing. But then, elsewhere in the world, the same car that shouldn’t have worked suddenly becomes everybody’s darlin’. Say hello to the Toyota FJ Cruiser.

With retro styling aimed at Santa Monica Boulevard and a brawny V6 petrol engine to keep Billy-Joe Jim-Bob happy, the FJ Cruiser had US of A stamped all over it. The funny thing is, it never sold as well as it should have Stateside, and, after its launch in 2006 and a sales spike to match as the early-adopters got in, sales tanked in North America and the car was discontinued in 2014.

In Australia, things didn’t kick off until 2011 when right-hand drive became available, but the FJ Cruiser continued to sell well right up until 2016 when production in Japan finally stopped. With its short wheelbase (100mm shorter than a 120-Series Prado) and petrol-only driveline, the FJ Cruiser looked, on paper, to be a dead duck out here. Except it wasn’t. Why? Well, probably because of its retro sense of style recalling all those old 40 and 45-Series LandCruisers we all remember and hold so dear. But almost certainly because it was also devastatingly effective in the bush.

Buying Used

Toyota FJ Cruiser

WORDS BY DAVE MORLEY, IMAGES BY ARNOLD ARCHIVE AND MANUFACTURER

@directionplus.AU
LEARN MORE
LEARN MORE
ADVERTISEMENT
SCROLL TO CONTINUE

What's in the range?
There was only one specification over the life of the FJ Cruiser here. While it looked like a two-door vehicle; two smaller rear doors opened rearwards. The catch was you had to have the front door open to get the rears open, so it was a compromise at best.

Inside, the retro theme continued, and the dashboard is pretty radical, along with the almost upright windscreen reminding those of us old enough of the original LandCruisers seen here in the 1960s and ‘70s.

Essentially a Prado underneath, the FJ Cruiser had part-time four-wheel-drive via a second gear-stick, not the trendy rotary knob. You also had high and low-range four-wheel-drive ratios and automatic locking front hubs.

Front suspension was a lift of the Prado’s independent set-up with upper and lower wishbones, and the rear axle was live but located via four trailing and one transverse link. Although it shared a lot of Prado architecture – including coil springs at 

each corner - the Cruiser was shorter, lower and wider than the 120-Series.

Just the one engine was ever offered here, an all-alloy 4.0-litre V6 petrol complete with double overhead camshafts and even variable valve timing. Toyota recommended 95-RON ULP for the FJ but thanks to knock sensors, it’ll happily run on the 91-octane brew which is nice when you’re in the boondocks and getting petrol at all can be a bit of a deal. Power peaked at 200kW and torque at 380Nm. And in the interests of keeping the range simple, there was only one transmission on offer - a five-speed automatic.

If there’s a line in the sand with the FJ Cruiser, it’s the March 2013 upgrade which saw the vehicle get Toyota’s CRAWL system which allowed for feet-off ascents and descents, allowing the driver to select a pre-set crawling speed and then concentrate on steering. Of much more interest was the other big update at that point, with a second 87-litre fuel tank joining the original version’s 72-litre unit. Suddenly, the Cruiser had the range to go outback in the biggest way.

“With retro styling aimed at Santa Monica Boulevard and a brawny V6 petrol engine to keep Billy-Joe Jim-Bob happy, the FJ Cruiser had US of A stamped all over it”

ADVERTISEMENT
SCROLL TO CONTINUE

How safe is it?
Safety gear kicked off with six air-bags including two in the front, two side-front and two side-curtain bags which protected those in the rear seat as well. You also got driver aids lifted form the Prado such as anti-lock brakes, brake-force distribution, brake assist, stability control and traction control.

The traction control was interesting as it was the active type. That is, rather than just cut torque to a wheel that was slipping, the computer also braked that wheel, switching torque to the wheels with the most grip. Probably because it was a relatively low-volume model, the FJ Cruiser was not independently crash-tested in Australia. The 120-Series Prado, upon which the FJ is based scored four stars, but don’t read too much (anything?) into that as the body structures are quite different with the FJ’s rearward-opening rear doors (just for starters).

The one thing that does stick out is the dreadful rear vision thanks to those monster C-pillars. If it were our car, we’d be adding a reversing camera and maybe even parking sensors.

Later (post-2013 upgrade) cars added the CRAWL system which was a big help to first-timers looking down the barrel of their maiden major descent.

What was it like off-road?
Brilliant, in a word. The shorter overall dimensions and wheelbase meant that approach, departure and ramp-over angles were all great and it’ll take a big rock, gully or spoon-drain to stop an FJ Cruiser. Those qualities also meant the Cruiser was pretty good at scrambling over jump-ups and hauling itself out of a water crossing.

That was helped no end by the grunty, torque-laden V6 engine which always seemed to have plenty in reserve when you needed a short- sharp burst of horsepower. Yes, a turbo-diesel would have been nice, but to criticise the FJ for its engine would be a gripe too far. Meanwhile, the five-speed automatic transmission made the Toyota pretty handy in the sand.

Fundamentally, of course, you’re dealing with a sawn-off Prado here so it should come as no surprise that an FJ Cruiser will go pretty much anywhere you care to point it. This is not an off-roader you’re going to grow out of any time soon. We’re willing to bet most owners will chicken out long before the vehicle calls a halt to play.

When things got snotty, you could also press the button to engage the standard electronic rear locker, but a lot of owners found the CRAWL system was just as good. The only caveat here is that these systems which use the car’s ABS and traction-control can get the brakes hot if the climb or descent is a long one. We’d also give the driveline some cool-down time before plunging it into an icy river after using the CRAWL system, too.

Of course, there will still be people reading this and tut-tutting about the lack of a diesel engine option in the name of the outback-touring range. And we’d agree in the case of the early model with just the single 72-litre tank. But the later version with the extra 87 litres on board, makes for a total of 159 litres, so even if your consumption jumps way up in sandy, low-range going (and, in the manner of petrol engines, it will) you should still have the ability to make it between most roadhouses.

Meantime, to prove that the retro thing was not all about style, Toyota designed the FJ’s interior to be more or less hose-out; a nice touch that was appreciated by those who used their vehicles in the way nature (and Toyota) intended.

So, what went wrong with the FJ Cruiser?
Toyotas didn't earn their reputation for going the distance by accident. And the FJ Cruiser seems to adhere to that philosophy of being built properly from good quality materials. Fact is, the condition and serviceability of any particular FJ Cruiser will more or less be down to how it's been treated, driven and serviced in the past than to any list of documented problems and faults.

So that's the first thing to check: Get down and dirty with a torch and see what sort of nick the undercarriage is in. If the rails are dented and the diffs are showing scars from a thousand rock-strikes, you're probably looking at a vehicle that has done it tough in the mulga. That's not the end of the world, but it does mean you need to check the service record to ensure that things like diff oil have been changed regularly. A quick look at the FJ from 100 metres away will also tell you lots. As in, an example with a lift-kit, monster bull-bar, 12,000lb winch and a high-left jack bolted to the side of it has probably seen some action.

Vehicles with a colourful past are also more likely to exhibit a problem with the bodyshell that has cropped up often enough to be called a known fault. Those reverse-opening rear doors mean that there's a big distance between the A and B-pillars that form the side of the vehicle. Combine that architecture with rough roads and the flexing allowed small cracks to form at the bottoms of the B-pillars.

It's an easy one to check for (look for cracks in the paint). If you can see evidence of welding, take it as read that the vehicle has developed the crack and been fixed, but be aware that if you can see the repairs (the welds) they haven't been done correctly. Toyota eventually recalled the FJ Cruiser to check this, mainly because the B-pillar forms the anchoring point for the seat-belts. So it's a pretty significant safety deal.

The other body issue was blamed on Toyota's decision to mount the spare wheel on the rear door. To be sure, that freed up interior space and kept ground clearance high, but it did place enormous stresses on the hinges of the door. Again, a vehicle that has been driven through rough stuff will be more likely to suffer the results, but if the door sags when you open it or is hard to open or close, then you're looking at tired hinges.

Beyond that, the driveline seems all but bullet-proof, and although we've heard of a handful of these four-litre units developing a pin-hole leak in the head gasket, it doesn't seem widespread. Nor will it, provided you check the coolant regularly, strand you in the middle of nowhere.

Some owners of the early version of the FJ were tempted by the small fuel-tank capacity to fit an LPG system to both reduce running costs and increase the effective range. Which is fair enough and the V6 seems to be a lot more tolerant of LPG than, say, the 3F and 1FZ straight-sixes in the LandCruiser.

Do you recall?
Even though it was based on tried and proven mechanicals, the FJ Cruiser’s unique body structure and dimensions meant that it was a stand-alone model, and that means it had its recall dramas. The good news is that the model wasn’t caught up in the Takata air-bag scandal, but you do need to check that a variety of recalls have been attended to, including the B-pillar fix.

Early-build cars had a recall to check that the sensor that detects a side-impact was doing its job and would fire the air-bags at the right time. Cars built in about a three-week period in 2013 were also called in to check for a steering shaft that may have been incorrectly welded at the factory. Don’t ignore that one, as a loss of steering control would be the result of that component failing.

FJ Cruisers built between October 2012 and February 2014 got to visit the dealership to check that the material and routing of the fuel-tank breather wasn’t going to be affected by heat from the car’s exhaust system. Again, not one to be shy about and a Toyota dealer will be able to identify an affected FJ and tell you whether the fix was done.

Can you customise it?
While you still see FJ Cruisers getting about in standard trim, the vehicle’s apparent abilities make it ripe for a little tweaking to improve things. A snorkel would be our first addition if only because that then gives the vehicle the ability to go more or less anywhere. Why Toyota didn’t fit a standard snorkel is the real mystery.

On early cars, there’s a range of auxiliary fuel tanks out there to extend the range as well as underbody bash plates to protect them. A second spare tyre is always a good idea for any serious off-roading, but we’d be inclined to mount the second one on a roof rack rather than tax those rear door hinges even more. A roof basket also gives you good extra storage space, because the FJ’s interior is not huge.

The other thing to consider would be tyres. A good set of A/Ts will make a huge difference over the standard stuff (which will probably have been replaced by now anyway) and should be all you’ll ever need.

Build a track-crushing FJ Cruiser
ARMOUR: Trawl the Internet, and you’ll find plenty of US sites dedicated to modifying the FJ Cruiser. Being pretty handy out of the box, the FJ doesn’t need a lot, but a bit of extra protection always helps. So, think rock sliders, and front and rear bars with rated recovery points.

SUSPENSION LIFT: A two-inch lift will make life a lot easier on the tracks without ruining the on-road ride and handling; might even improve it. LOL. Like all things in life, spend as much on suspension as you can afford.

SNORKEL: An aftermarket snorkel and diff breathers will ensure your FJ Cruiser breathes cleaner air and won’t suck in a gutful of water when you’re off-road.

TYRES: Look at having two sets of tyres for your FJ Cruiser. One set for around-town driving and another set for getting out into the bush. One of Unsealed 4X4’s regular contributors, Gary Tischer, has an FJ Cruiser and he runs Goodyear Wrangler MT/R rubber when he’s heading bush. The tyres aren’t cheap, he reckons, but “they’re bombproof,” he told us.

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