Off-road lovers shed a few tears in 2014 when Toyota discontinued the revered FJ Cruiser. Despite a relatively short eight-year run in the U.S., the FJ Cruiser created a lasting legend in the rough-terrain community. Combine Toyota’s reputation for reliability with funky looks and rugged capability, and it’s no wonder why the FJ is still in demand.
If you’re considering putting a used Toyota FJ Cruiser in the driveway, then it’s helpful to learn all you can about these SUVs. Read on as we explore its origins and look at the year-by-year highlights.
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Head back to the 1960s for the origins of the FJ Cruiser. Toyota had launched the FJ40 (sometimes called the J40 or the original Land Cruiser) to compete with the Jeep CJ off-roader. And while some FJ40s made their way over to the U.S., Toyota’s intent was to offer the Land Cruiser as a platform for multiple vehicles across the globe. The short wheelbase model directly took on the Jeep, but other variants offered the Toyota as a long-wheelbase station wagon and a pickup truck.
At the same time, the FJ40 helped cement Toyota’s reputation for ruggedness and reliability. In fact, many of these Toyotas are still in use today and are very sought after by collectors and enthusiasts (the FJ40 was discontinued in 1984)
Flash forward to the new millennium, and automakers and consumers were getting sentimental about vehicles from the past. Ford had reintroduced the Thunderbird for 2002, and the fifth-generation Mustang (debuting in 2005) embraced much of the original Mustang’s design. Even Volkswagen brought back the Beetle. Not wanting to miss out on the whole retro vibe thing, Toyota went to work. What vehicle could it resurrect? As much as the Corolla helped Toyota become a global player, no one would get nostalgic over this compact car.
Cleverly, the company looked at the old FJ40 for inspiration. Not only was this classic loved by off-roaders, but a new SUV would dovetail with the exploding market for these types of vehicles. Toyota’s instincts were confirmed when the public went wild over the FJ Cruiser concept vehicle displayed at the 2003 Detroit Auto Show. The standard front doors combined with smaller, rear-access doors offered a unique combination of practicality and quirkiness. The company knew it had a hit on its hands.
Toyota then spent the next year developing the FJ Cruiser’s trial credentials. Using components from the corporate parts bin (mostly from the 4Runner, Tundra, and Tacoma), the company engineered an SUV that could handle just about any off-road situation.
The production version of the FJ Cruiser first appeared at the 2005 Chicago Auto Show to great fanfare. Not only did the motoring press and public applaud the vehicle’s off-road capabilities, but Toyota won praise for the FJ Cruiser’s innovative design. Remember, only until recently did the company’s cars resemble not much more than boring laundry room appliances.
And the FJ Cruiser name? Well, the old Land Cruiser nameplate had morphed into Toyota’s top-tier SUV and something like the FJ50 wouldn’t evoke much emotion. So, the FJ Cruiser mash-up was natural.
Sales for the debut year of the FJ Cruiser validated all of Toyota’s efforts for the project. More than 56,000 examples were purchased in the U.S. alone, according to Carsalesbase. In fact, the 2007 model year was the best for the FJ Cruiser. Perhaps Edmunds offered up the best quote for the SUV, “If you never go off-road, you’ll like it; if you always go off-road, you’ll love it.” In addition to knocking heads with the Jeep Wrangler, the FJ Cruiser took on the Hummer H3 and Nissan Xterra (remember those?). Power came from the venerable 4.0-liter V-6 that saw duty in several other Toyotas. With 239 horsepower and 278 lb-ft of torque, the engine was more than adequate on-road and off.
Buyers could choose from either a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission. Keep in mind that not every FJ Cruiser was a four-wheel-drive, and a small number of automatics were produced with rear-wheel-drive setups.
Wisely, Toyota put significant effort into the FJ Cruiser’s safety capabilities as the SUV topped the Jeep Wrangler in many governments and third-party crash test results.
The FJ Cruiser now enters its second year with front-seat side-mounted airbags and side curtain airbags as standard equipment. Toyota bundled select individual options into a single off-road package that includes 16-inch alloys wrapped with BF Goodrich Rugged Trail tires, a locking rear differential that works in tandem with the stability control, and Bilstein tracks. The new grouping gives the FJ Cruiser stellar rock-crawling capabilities.
As is typical with Toyota models that are a few years old, the FJ Cruiser undergoes additional refinements. For 2009, this SUV gets more standard safety gear: active front-seat headrests to minimize whiplash and side curtain airbags with a roll-over sensor. In hopes of attracting more standard SUV buyers, not just off-roaders, Toyota adds the Convenience Package that includes a rearview camera, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, rear privacy glass, power side mirrors, cruise control, and keyless entry.
For this model year, the biggest change (relatively speaking) for the FJ Cruiser lies under the hood. The stalwart 4.0-liter V-6 continues, but it’s reworked to offer more horsepower (now with 259 hp), but torque drops a bit to 270 lb-ft. In addition, the engine no longer needs premium gas for optimum performance and fuel economy improves slightly. Although, no one buying an FJ Cruiser is focused on gas mileage.
Trying to keep the FJ Cruiser relevant in a tech-focused automotive marketplace, Toyota upgrades the cabin audio experience. The new sound system now gets MP3 functionality, Bluetooth connectivity, satellite radio, and a USB port—all features we take for granted in today’s new cars. Models with a manual transmission get a locking rear differential as standard equipment, too.
The FJ Cruiser enters the 2012 model year mostly unchanged. The only thing different is the availability of Radiant Red paints with the Trail Teams Special Edition Package. The Trail Teams grouping (which has been around since 2010) combines unique exterior accents, off-road gear (Bilstein shocks and all-terrain tires), and a bevy of electrical outlets. Making this option perfect for overland adventures.
The fate of the FJ Cruiser seems as obvious as Toyota offers nothing new for 2013 other than the Cement Gray exterior with the Trail Team package. Interestingly, output for the same 4.0-liter V-6 gets a one-horsepower bump, but this is more likely due to slightly different test results than any engineering change.
Off-roaders cried in their campfires as the FJ Cruiser entered its final year of production. Toyota built 2,500 Ultimate Edition examples finished in Heritage Blue with a matching roof to commemorate this sendoff. Otherwise, this SUV was placed in the automotive filing cabinet with no other changes or updates.
Why does any manufacturer discontinue a particular vehicle? It’s a simple answer; people stop buying them. While the FJ Cruiser started with a bang and offered exceptional off-road prowess, it couldn’t match the versatility and day-to-day practicality of vehicles like the four-door Jeep Wrangler Unlimited (which debuted in 2006) and other conventional SUVs. From a sales standpoint, off-road strength only takes you so far.
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