And make no mistake; the FJ Cruiser might look like the cartoony plaything of a juvenile, magnifying-glass wielding Barbie-melter, but it's seriously capable.
Right from first boarding the FJ Cruiser, you feel like you're driving a tank. The windows are thin, you sit up high, and the forward view is a commanding one. It's a real 'own the road' driving position.
There's storage and utility everywhere, too. The console is packed with them, including two cupholders, a change cubby and an organizer. Also, since there are two sun visors above the driver's seat, it's easy to keep your papers organized.
There's a storage compartment on the dashboard, too. Said dashboard is flat, meaning it can serve double duty as a work surface or lunch counter. And if you spill your poutine all over it, it'll wipe clean in a jiff, thanks to easy-to-clean materials used throughout the cabin.
In back, additional seats are accessed by a set of suicide doors. The seats fold out of the way for extra space, adding to the cargo area just ahead of the big, swing-out tailgate. The tester also included a USB audio port, power outlet, and climate system knobs big and beefy enough to operate with a baseball mitt.
The factory stereo system is about average for the segment, controls and switchgear are standard Toyota fare, and the dash-mounted pod with inclinometer, compass and clock was appreciated as well. It's not flashy or upscale, but the FJ Cruiser's cabin just plain works well in the real world.
Translation? The FJ Cruiser is ready for virtually any job or outdoor activity and can take you, your people and your gear along for the ride.
Power and traction
Under the hood, a 4.0L V6 cranks out 260 horsepower, handled in the tester's case by a five-speed automatic transmission. You can get a six-speed stick too, if you like. Low-end torque is surprisingly generous, meaning you can accelerate the FJ along in traffic without breaking 2,000 RPM. Or pull a stump out of the earth's crust. Your call.
Drivers engage the four-wheel drive system with an old-school lever, and can toggle stability control, differential lock and the advanced off-road traction control system with buttons near the shifter. Traction was abundant on my off-road test drive, and I plodded the FJ through miles of mud feeling confident in its ability to tackle virtually anything I threw its way.
This is definitely not a soccer mom crossover. With huge ground clearance, skid plates and a real four-wheel drive system with low range, it's ready to hit the dirt in a serious way. And since it all rides a proven truck platform, it's a battle between solid steel boxed frame rails versus mud and dirt if you manage to run out of clearance. Not much will stop this machine from getting where it needs to go.
And, in the process, the FJ Cruiser feels all sorts of tough. Hit a pothole, and the pothole gets the lousy end of the deal. If there was ever a zombie apocalypse, this would be your writer's weapon of choice.
Nine to five
On the road more travelled, FJ Cruiser is surprisingly comfortable. The jarring, lurching body movements typical of machines with such stubby dimensions are kept to a minimum. It's not a luxury-sedan ride, to be sure, but the compromise between off-road performance and on-road comfort is managed well here. Several passengers commented on the surprisingly gentle ride.
Fuel consumption on my test averaged 14.2L/100km, which is respectable for such a tough and capable machine. That mileage figure is on par with any number of less-capable family SUV models - and I was expecting worse - especially given that the tester was wearing a set of aggressive winter tires.
Gripes? The blind spots are nasty, the FJ isn't crazy about cornering, the engine can be noisy, and adults will wish for easier access to the rear seats.
But whether using your skid plates and four-wheel drive traction to dispatch with leagues of the walking undead or just your favorite off-road trail system, the FJ is a treat. This is a unique, dirt-ready, one-of-a-kind driving experience that works well for active and adventurous shoppers intending on off-road activities.
And on your nine-to-five, that decent on-road ride and abundant interior utility will be welcomed, too. Consider the $32,725 Toyota FJ Cruiser alongside the Jeep Wrangler and Nissan Pathfinder.