If ugly, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, then the Toyota FJ Cruiser could really be just "industrial modern."
That's how Toyota describes the semi-retro evocation of a 40-year-old Land Cruiser FJ utility wagon. Other observers mutter about nomination to the All-Ugly Hall of Fame, Pontiac Aztec/Honda Element wing.
Actually the new FJ copies the little grille between the round headlights of the old FJ. It rounds off the square lines and does away with the cute yellow turn signals on the separate fenders. It does away with fenders, too. The upright windshield goes, but a white roof remains.
But beauty and ugly are only skin deep. What's not in doubt is that this is a fearsome rock crusher. FJ Cruiser is more at home on the rugged range than on the boulevard.
That's why it's unfathomable why there is a two-wheel-drive version. It's like the two-wheel-drive Jeep Wrangler Unlimited. Both are designed to appeal to the faux off-roader who needs to hit the mall in rugged style.
Toyota tellingly makes FJ two-wheel-drive available only with an automatic transmission. The five-speed auto has an artificial intelligence system that varies the shifting pattern based on road conditions and driver input -- another crutch.
The six-speed manual transmission comes with a two-speed transfer case for high and low 4wd and low 4wd with a differential lock. The automatic selects two- or four-wheel drive while moving and low range when stopped.
The 4L V-6 of 239 horsepower pushes the 4wd tester to 60 mph in 11.3 seconds. That's fast enough to overtake most rocks.
|Toyota FJ Cruiser
•Engines: 4.0L V-6
•Dimensions: 105.9" wheelbase; 183.9" length
•Base price: $22,890; As tested $25,883
•Fuel economy: 16/19 mpg
The driving position, aided by an eight-way adjustable seat, is OK. Handling in traffic feels clumsy. Turns are approached warily -- FJ wants to go straight. There's lots of lean in corners but the ride isn't that bad.
Rear vision is compromised by small windows, large roof pillars and the spare tire.
One advantage of the FJ's appearance: Fewer drivers cut it off. Apparently they just sit there, transfixed by the "industrial modern." That describes the interior, as well. It's functional with controls that are easily grasped. There are four cupholders and two bottle holders.
More important are the neat off-road options like auxiliary driving lights, rock rails, roof rack, brush guard, taillight guards, sport exhaust system, wind deflector with those off-road lights.
There's an active off-road traction control system, rear locking differential and inclinometer. The last lets you know how steep the scary slope really is.
Youthful color choices include Black Diamond, Sun Fusion and Voodoo Blue. Our favorite is still the old Ford Maverick's Freudian Gilt.