You want a super capable and tumble offroader from the land of the rising sun? Toyota FJ Cruiser is your choice.
Few competitors can match its go anywhere, do anything attitude. This is everything you need to know to get up to speed on the Toyota FJ Cruiser.
Nowadays you see tuned FJ’s, but originally, they were made for war. And it all started with a Willy and a BJ. During World War II the Japanese military got their hands on the Willys Jeep and tasked Toyota with making a better version of the lightweight, go-anywhere vehicle of the U.S. Military. Toyota created the AK Series and they were impressive little offroaders. But they didn’t turn the tides of battle so Japan ultimately lost the war.
Toyota got another chance to update the AK a few years later in the Korean War. This time, it was the U.S. Military who ordered the company to build them some Jeeps. So, they took what they learned from the Willys and the AK and gave the U.S. a BJ. They created a vehicle known as the Toyota Jeep BJ, which technical director, Hanji Umehara, later named the Land Cruiser. The BJ was bigger than the Willys and faster (thanks to a 3.4 liter inline 6 power plant).
In 1955, Toyota released the second-gen Land Cruiser which featured a fully redesigned 3.9 liter, inline 6, F-series engine. These were known for their high amount of torque and low RPM, massive cast iron blocks and heads, and crazy good reliability. And in 1960 it was this engine that gave birth to one of the most iconic Toyota of all time, the FJ-40.
Now the FJ-40 not only conquered the jungles, mountains, and deserts of the world, it made Toyota a global brand. The FJ-40 was so popular that they sold them for 40 years. And Toyota, to this day, still makes new replacement parts for the FJ-40. The FJ-40 has a cool story.
So, if the FJ eventually turned into the Land Cruiser, we know today, where did the new Toyota FJ Cruiser come from? Well, it started as a concept that was never meant to be built. The new FJ Cruiser AK XJ-10 made its debut as a concept only vehicle during the 2003 Detroit Auto Show. And the voodoo blue retro off-roader quickly cast a spell on those longing for the good old days. While modern Land Cruisers were still super badass off-road, they’d become 3-row behemoth made for transporting drug lords through South America, warlords through Africa, and moms to the mall. The old school Land Cruisers like the iconic FJ-40 were way more utilitarian.
The torque, lightweight vehicles could go almost anywhere and gave Jeep, their main competitor, a run for their money. Plus, they look freaking cool which young people loved back then. The FJ concept was born out of the internally labeled RYU, or rugged youth utility, the design team. Because nothing gets the kids going like an internal design code. The mid-2000s were a “grey” years for Toyota. Their business model had gone conservative and boring.
They got rid of all the small, fun enthusiast cars like the Supra and the Celica. And Toyota had no plans to produce the FJ concept, they just wanted people to think that they were trying. To their surprise, the reception for both the media and the general public was overwhelmingly positive. So with no production plan in place, chief engineer, Akio Nishimura, was given the almost impossible task of developing an FJ that could roll into showrooms in just 3 years.
Normally, car development takes anywhere from like 7 to 11 years. And even though he was
like, this is crazy the dude made it happen, so props for that. The 2007 model year FJ was based on a stretched Land Cruiser Prado 120 box frame. It was powered by the legendary 1 GR-FE engine, which was an aluminum 4-liter V6, good for 239 horsepowers.
The engine was later upgraded with VVT-I which gave it an additional 20 horsepowers. This was paired with your choice of a 5-speed automatic or a 6-speed manual. It was offered in either a 2 or 4-wheel drive option.
But it wasn’t until you got past the drivetrain and underpinnings that the real beauty of the FJ came out. First and foremost, it was designed to be utilitarian like the FJ-40 Land Cruisers of the ’60s. This was achieved in 2 ways: The first being, tremendous off-road capability. And the second being, unusual exterior, and interior design elements.
Toyota claimed that the 4×4 version, which was the one that everybody bought, was the most capable off-road vehicle in their lineup. It can drive through water up to 27.5 inches. It had an approach angle of 34 degrees, a departure angle of 30 degrees, and a boy band angle of 98 degrees. Toyota FJ achieved its off-road capability by using a high mounted, double wishbone, front suspension, a 4-link rear suspension, with a lateral rod, coil springs, and a stabilizer bar that provided over 9 inches of travel.
They also mounted the air intake box on top of the engine for extra breathing room and gave the front and rear bumpers the high-water pants look to minimize the bumper being ripped off. The FJ also came with Toyota’s A-Track system, rest in peace, that applied braking to wheels that have lost traction, mimicking the performance of a locking diff without the binding that can make steering difficult in normal locking diff setups. Genius, I love Toyota for stuff like this.
One of the unusual exterior design elements is the windshield. And it’s at an angle similar to its namesake FJ-40. Because of this, it had to have 3 front windshield wipers. The downside to the cool looking windshield, however, is that it’s loud and it breaks because it doesn’t deflect wind or road debris, which is like, in my understanding, the main 2 jobs of a windshield. Also, like the FJ-40 instead of having the Toyota emblem on the grill, they spelled out “TOYOTA”.
Another exterior design element is the hidden doors, which open 90 degrees to make it easier to load and remove the quick-release seats. Though this suicide door design also meant that if the person in the front seat got out at the same time as the person in the back seat, they would be trapped against the parked car next to them. The doors also make it easier to hose down the interior and I mean that quite literally. The inside of the car was made of waterproof plastic so it could be easily cleaned and also easily be manufactured. Another unusual interior design element would be all the dummy switches.
Normally blank switches are bad but in the case of the FJ, they’re pretty cool. In a rare move, Toyota gave the off-road aftermarket early access to the FJ so that when it launched, customers could immediately find aftermarket parts like winches, light bars, and brush guards to turn their Toyota into Incredible Hulk off-roaders. Which brings me to our next subject.
The company offered a TRD version, which included a catback exhaust, roof rack, Bilstein 5100 shocks, rock rails, TRD wheels, and BFGoodrich tires. And in some cases, a different mechanical locking diff, or you can have your local dealer turn your cruiser into an FJ Crawler with brush guards, skid plates, lift kits, and more from the legendary Australian off-roading company, ARB. The Toyota-issued trail team special edition models featured unique colors for each year. And personally, I am quite partial to 2008 Sandstorm. The FJ Cruiser is a great truck and Toyota sold over 100,000 of them in the first 2 years but as sales tapered off dramatically, Toyota decided they didn’t want to carry a car in their lineup that only averaged 14,000 sales a year. So in 2014, they quit selling it. And the irony is, that the FJ Cruiser maintains its resale value better than almost any other vehicle in America.
So if you learn anything from this post, I hope that it’s you should take all of your money, and buy a ton of FJ Cruisers 🙂