Behind the Wheel – 2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser

2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser

While most gearheads think Land Rover immediately when imagining the world’s most sophisticated and reliable working SUVs, there are those whispers in the deserts and jungles of the world that a Toyota Land Cruiser is a better bet for the price.

The 2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser is that Land Cruiser cousin’s more domesticated cousin – an urban SUV built as much for pushing its way through street traffic with striking presence as for off-roading.

Named after and built along the lines of the original FJ40 Land Cruiser, the FJ Cruiser is the most visually distinctive vehicle in the Toyota line. In fact, with the exception of maybe the six figure LFA performance car or the xB mini SUV, the FJ might be the most identifiable car in the entire Toyota/Lexis/Scion line.

In fairness, that original Land Cruiser and the FJ that wears its name, clear take a lot of visual cues from the Land Rover Defenders of the past. That British icon was essentially two rectangles stack on top of each other (frame and passenger cab) with a wheel at every corner.

That box on wheels concepts creates minimal overhand for both axels and allows a vehicle to angle its wheels over an uneven or rocky surface with grounding. After Land Rover got that design straight, it’s been a popular move to copy it for vehicles of similar purpose. If it works, steal it.

So, the FJ Cruiser is a reliable, reassuring off-roading option – especially for its approachable price tag of $25,990. For your money, you get the standard issue 4.0 liter, double overhead cam V6 engine. It produces 260 hp – with the more important 271 ft. lbs of torque for towing and off-road, “grind it out” power.

The result is smooth, agreeable acceleration. Sadly, it’s nowhere near as angry or urgent as the V6 in the zippy Toyota Tacoma.

For a big vehicle, the FJ provides a smooth ride and reassuring footing over trouble spots, thanks to rear limited slip differential, double wishbone front suspension, solid live axle rear suspension and front and rear stabilizer bars.

The five-speed automatic transmission comes equipped with a separate shifter to switch the vehicle from rear wheel street drive to a rugged four wheel power. An electronically controlled locking rear differential is an optional extra.

The interior includes ample safety features necessary for an off-roading SUV. You get front and rear head airbags, dual front side-mounted airbags, child seat anchors, passenger airbag occupant sensing deactivation, passenger head restraint whiplash protection system and a driver head restraint whiplash protection system.

The only major problem with the FJ is as plain as the nose on the back of your head. You say you can’t see a nose on the back of your head? That’s OK. You can’t see out the back of an FJ, either.

With over the shoulder sight lines eliminated by the back seat door panels – and the squinting tailgate glass furthered obscured of a large spare tire – the driver really relies entirely on the extended side mirrors and the reverse fisheye camera installed in the rearview mirror.

Limited vision can be costly for a vehicle this big when parking or maneuvering in tight confines – not to mention while off-roading in hilly or tree-lined environments.

With that warning in mind, it you’re looking for affordable off-road capability, adequate power and ample cargo space, the FJ Cruiser offers you the most striking visual package of those items for a manageable price tag.