Move over, Jeep Wrangler.That's the challenge Chrysler Group's venerable off-road vehicle faces from Toyota's all-new 2007 FJ Cruiser, which goes on sale in March. This is probably the first serious competition for the Jeep since the original FJ Land Cruiser morphed into the upscale Land Cruiser wagon in the mid-1980s.
Designed and brought to market in just two years after being displayed as a concept at the 2003 Detroit auto show, the new FJ hearkens back to the original Land Cruiser models that Toyota introduced in the U.S. market in 1958.
Toyota developed the original Land Cruiser in the early '50s. It was patterned after the U.S. military jeeps used in World War II, and the early ones were almost identical to the U.S. models.
Designers used the 1967 FJ Land Cruiser as their inspiration for the new FJ. And while it does have some cues from the earlier model, it's quite contemporary -- looking more like a cross between the Honda Element and Nissan Xterra than an early Land Cruiser. While the Wrangler is considered a major competitor, the FJ is aimed more at rugged family-style SUVs such as the Xterra and Jeep Liberty.
Unlike the Wrangler, the FJ will be offered in a base two-wheel-drive model (starting at $21,710). But Toyota expects 93 percent of FJ sales to be four-wheel-drive versions. There will be two of those: a six-speed manual-transmission model, starting at $22,890, and a five-speed automatic, with a base price of $23,300.
The four-wheel-drive systems are different in the two. With the manual-transmission version comes a fulltime four-wheel-drive system with a high-range normal-driving mode, a high-range low-gear mode for casual off-roading, and a low-range, low-gear mode for extreme off-road driving, such as rock-crawling.
This version, which is the most like a Wrangler as far as off-road capability is concerned, even has a cut-off switch on the dash for the clutch-starter safety interlock, which allows the vehicle to be started in first gear without having to depress the clutch. Also included in the package on the manual model is a Torsen limited-slip center differential that Toyota says will split power 40 percent to the front and 60 percent to the rear in normal driving, but can send up to 70 percent of the power to the rear wheels or 53 percent to the front.
Automatic-transmission models come with a part-time four-wheel-drive system adopted from the Tacoma pickup. It's electronically operated from the dash and has shift-on-the-fly capability, along with a two-speed transfer case for low-range off-road driving. An optional locking rear differential is offered, and it can be turned on from a switch on the dash.
The two-wheel-drive model comes with an automatic limited-slip rear differential that is controlled by a switch on the dash. It can help get the vehicle moving if one of the two rear wheels is spinning but the other one still has traction.
The new FJ has an independent front suspension, but the rear suspension includes a solid axle, which helps with traction in severe off-road conditions. Off-road purists demand that.
Amenities include air conditioning, a choice of AM/FM/compact disc audio systems with optional subwoofer, tilt steering wheel, four cup holders, passenger seat back pockets and an upper dash-mounted map/glove box.
Options include 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels; running boards; rear sonar backup assist; front seat-mounted side air bags and front and rear side-curtain air bags; daytime running lights; power outside mirrors; cruise control; leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls; multi-information display; exterior color door-insert panels; privacy glass; and a rear wiper/washer.
Overall length is 177.6 inches, which is 12 inches longer than the RAV4 and 11 inches longer than the Element, about the same length as the Xterra, and two inches longer than the Liberty.
The regular-size Wrangler is 26 inches shorter, but the new long-wheelbase Wrangler Unlimited is just 10 inches shorter than the FJ. The extra length over the Wrangler models gives the FJ more legroom and more cargo space.
Towing capacity is 5,000 pounds.
Like the Honda Element and some extended-cab pickups, the new FJ has rear doors for the backseat passengers that open to the rear, and can't be opened until the front doors have been opened.
The rear doors open a full 90 degrees, though, which allows for relatively easy access to the back seat. And the back seat actually can hold up to three adults; the Wrangler's back seat is barely big enough for two, and the Element has only two captain's chairs in the rear.
Under the hood is the same 4.0-liter V-6 engine used in the larger Toyota 4Runner as well as the midsize Tacoma and full-size Tundra pickups. It's rated at 239 horsepower and 278 foot-pounds of torque when using the recommended premium fuel (91 octane). But Toyota says there is very little loss of power if regular-grade gasoline is used. EPA fuel-economy ratings are best for the two-wheel-drive model, of course -- 18 miles per gallon in the city and 22 mpg on the highway.
With the manual-transmission four-wheel-drive, the ratings are 16 city/19 highway, and surprisingly, the automatic transmission four-wheel-drive model beats that at 17 city/21 highway.
For safety, all FJ Cruisers will come with antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, vehicle stability control, and traction control.
An optional Active Traction Control system, known as A-Trac, can be activated by a switch on the dash. Toyota says it gives nearly the same benefits as a locked center differential and limited-slip differentials at each axle.
Here are the off-road specifications of the four-wheel-drive FJ, as reported in Toyota product literature:
* A maximum climb angle of 30 degrees.<br/> * A maximum side-slope angle of 41 degrees.<br/> * Maximum water-fording depth of 27.4 inches. <br/> * A maximum approach angle of 34 degrees. <br/> * A maximum departure angle of 30 degrees. <br/> * And 9.6 inches of ground clearance.
The front windshield is nearly flat and has three wipers, great for keeping the mud cleared off. At the rear is a swing-out cargo door that opens to the left so it is more convenient for loading and unloading when parked parallel to the curb. The back glass can be opened separately, and without removing the exterior-mounted spare tire. About 70 percent of buyers are expected to be men, and 30 percent will be 30 or younger, Toyota said.
They are men whose "ideal weekend" finds them on "mountain or desert trails," Toyota says, and whose "ideal vehicles are capable, credible and authentic." Median household income of FJ buyers is expected to be $55,000.
More than 60 suppliers were invited by Toyota to a session in which they were allowed to measure the vehicle for aftermarket products that consumers can buy to help personalize their FJ Cruisers, the automaker said. But Toyota also will have a variety of accessories available from its own dealers for FJ owners.
The Japanese developed the original FJ in the early '50s as a product they hoped the U.S. military would buy for use in the Korean War, Toyota spokesman Joe Tetherow said.
The military didn't buy the vehicle, so Toyota made a civilian version of it for Japan, then introduced it to the United States as one of the first two Toyota products brought to North America. It was the mainstay of the Toyota lineup until the company's small cars began catching on with consumers in the late '60s.
The Land Cruiser never really went away; it just evolved from its Jeep CJ style into an upscale vehicle that is now the most expensive Toyota sold in the United States. With a price starting about $56,000, today's Land Cruiser -- although one of the most awesome off-road performers on the market -- is way out of the price range of most off-road hobbyists.
Lexus sells a version of the Land Cruiser, called the LX 470. It begins at $65,000 and is that brand's most-expensive vehicle.
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G. Chambers Williams III is staff automotive columnist for the San Antonio Express-News and former transportation writer for the Star-Telegram. His automotive columns have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1995. Contact him at (210) 250-3236; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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