What might be the biggest shock to the Toyota family last year was the launch of the FJ, a vehicle with the Land Cruiser range. The looks still turns heads nearly a year from launch! It is however the first time since driving the Porsche Panamera that I’ve heard such a disparagement in opinion on the looks of a car.
The FJ (in Sport guise here, which means some chrome bits) actually harks back to the original Toyota competitor to the Jeep Wrangler way back when. I’m not going to bore you with a slew of commentary on the looks, but I like it. I like it a lot. It’s different, funky, turns heads, and is definitely the most “styled” vehicle in the Toyota range today.
What has me tongue tied is trying to understand who will buy this car, because it’s awash with contradictions
Starting with the interior. What caught me by surprise is the huge difference between exterior and interior treatment. Firstly, the sheer volumes of plastic. I’ve been in a Prado (you’re not South African if you haven’t) and it seems it got the best cuts of plastic, with the FJ’s interior being melted together from all the offcuts. This continues on some of the badging, door-sills and door handles, which was noticed by a few people.
The interior is very utilitarian, big large buttons, upright facia huge flat areas of plastic (where I’m sure one could have stowed stuff). Odd.
The seats are comfortable (leather treatment) with leather wrapped steering wheel, auto drivers side window and aircon, but that’s about where the creature comforts ends. I understand the model has been around for near on 5 years before it arrived here in SA, but there’s no on board computer or climate control, but there is PDC, and a rear view camera? It all feels all a bit slapped together, a man with his blue suede suit trying to break it down to David Guetta.
You find access to the rear seats through suicide doors, which can hamper access for full sized adults, but will be fine for kids. That said this is probably not a car a family of 4 will be buying considering the Fortuner being a direct price competitor, and also a lot more functional (considering 5 doors). The rear luggage is big enough for most things you’d throw at it, and is covered in plastic making it easy to clean, but also easy to scratch.
On the road, the FJ isn’t difficult to drive, considering the size. It rocks a little due to the chassis, but the suspension set up is definitely oriented to the off-road excursion you might take. It is however a very lazy drive, with the big 4 litre V6 (200kW, 380NM) needing a gentle prod to keep rolling. Should you need to get up and go, the gearbox is quite slow to gear down, the nose raises and the sound of air being sucked into the engine makes its way into the cabin. It isn’t slow, and gets up and going fairly quickly (0-100 in 8.8seconds), but I liken it to driving an American SUV, and there are very many reasons this car sells extremely well in some areas of the US (like Texas). Unfortunately any of those speeding antics will have you thinking the petrol tank has sprung a leak. It’s thirsty, beyond anything I’ve ever driven thirsty. Thirstly like a car-guard in the mid-day summer sun. The consumption is so off-putting I cannot imagine how anyone drives an FJ in traffic on a regular basis, and yet makes so much sense in places like Dubai and Texas where petrol comes out the taps like water.
Taking a look at the drivetrain, the A-Track off road traction control system works in conjunction with the traction & stability control system on road. Unfortunately the skinny tyres won’t see you racing around corners, but those tyres are the reason it does so very well on the sand in Dubai (another area where you’ll see a squillion of these FJ’s)
The drive of the FJ is a little blast from the past considering the intense focus on on-road handling with modern day SUV’s.
It is however when you venture off-road when you realise why the FJ lives under the Land Cruiser nameplate. I was lucky enough to take this through the full Toyota off-road course at Gerotek and this is where it comes alive. It floats over the sand, you’d have to be a total pontz to get it stuck there. 35degree inclines are tackled with a light jab at the accelerator, and back down again using the HDC (Hill Decent Control).
Trudging through ruts with undulating surfaces with limited, to no-traction on some wheels, the rear diff comes to the rescue and pulls the FJ out with no body flex, and no drama.
There’s no terrain response gizmo’s just solid Low Range 4 wheel drive, a big engine and an incredibly well sorted suspension which gives the FJ the advantage when you hit the ruff stuff. I was suitable impressed at the ease at which the FJ tackled everything that was thrown at it. It kept up with the Land Cruiser 70 series with a lot less sweat and effort
So the interior isn’t exactly a technological masterpiece, it’s unique and fits the chunky off beat styling, but seems like it could do with a few more creature comforts.
The exterior is unique, but I’d keep away from the “Sharky” colour, which will no doubt get lost in the bush, and looks a bit like a US Military detail here on the roads.
This all said, I’m back to understanding why you would buy one?
It’s drivetrain is too focused on the off-road ability and the exterior very much more important for those in the city. The interior and configuration of doors makes it hard for a family of 4 to use as an everyday run-around for mom. The off-road ability is so astounding, but then so is a Hilux or a standard Land Cruiser.
For R453 000 (standard) & R475 800 (sport) it’s cheaper than the same engine in the Fortuner, and you’re in and amongst Honda CRV’s, LR Freelanders, BMW X1’s and Audi Q5’s for similar price.
It’s definitely the most unique, most capable off road and most reliable of the lot, but as a city slicker, it doesn’t quite cut it