The 2007-2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser shares the trail with a small number of rivals, chief among them the Jeep Wrangler and Nissan Xterra. The FJ's body-on-frame architecture allows it an off-road ability not found on the modern crossover SUV. That's because most are little more than cars with added ground clearance and a very simple part-time all-wheel drive setup. Based on the 4Runner platform, the FJ Cruiser is the reincarnation of Toyota's legendary FJ40 Land Cruiser -- a vehicle that was celebrated worldwide for its off-road capability and durability. The modern FJ uses lots of cool retro styling cues, like the large roof-mounted rack, closely spaced circular headlights and upright A-pillars. It also has some unconventional features, such as the rear-hinged rear half doors, the 3-armed front windshield wipers and the massive C-pillar that can create quite the blind spot.

Why You Want It

If you are a die-hard adventurer with a passion for getting lost in fields of mud, snow and sand, then the FJ Cruiser makes an excellent choice. Its V6 engine has more than enough power to slog through, up and over the worst Mother Nature can dish out, as well as tow up to 5,000 pounds. When equipped with 4-wheel drive (4WD), the FJ Cruiser uses a tried and true manually engaged 2-speed transfer case and a locking rear differential to get the job done. We know there are more modern electronic systems -- such as the Selec-Terrain system found on the Jeep Grand Cherokee -- but there is a price to pay for such technology and many off-road purists still prefer the old system, partly for its simplicity and partly for the lower cost of repairs.

The FJ Cruiser has room for four adults, although its rear half doors require the front doors to be opened first before rear occupants can exit. Comfort wise, the FJ beats out the Wrangler with more comfortable seating and a quieter cabin that is also better able to protect its passengers. Starting in 2010, the Trail Teams off-road package was offered. Although the editions vary in theme and color depending on the model year, all come equipped with trail-rated Bilstein shocks, BFG all-terrain tires, TRD alloy wheels and a pair of 12-volt, 100-watt and 115-volt, 400-watt outlets. There is even an available gauge package with an inclinometer to warn you when the FJ has reached its tipping point.

Notable Features & Options

The most basic FJ Cruiser includes rear-wheel drive, a V6 engine, 5-speed automatic transmission, air conditioning, 3-armed front wiper system, power windows and locks, electronic traction and stability control, rear defroster, a rear wiper, water resistant fabric seats, 8-way manually adjustable driver's seat, heavy-duty all-weather flooring, skid plate protection for the engine and fuel tank (and transfer case on 4WD models), an AM/FM stereo with 6-disc CD changer and an auxiliary audio input jack. After 2008, front seat side impact and side curtain airbags are standard. 4WD models add a 6-speed manual transmission. Options for the FJ Cruiser vary by year and include keyless entry, cruise control, a rear backup camera, 4WD with 2-speed transfer case, a 5-speed automatic transmission (4WD), A-TRAC active traction control and a gauge package with outside temperature, inclinometer and compass. Also on the options list is Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity, a 10-speaker JBL audio system, rear sonar backup system and the Trail Teams special edition package. Oddly, Toyota never offered a navigation radio option, a feature that would seem most logical in a vehicle designed for people who like to get lost.

Model Milestones

2008: New standard features include front seat side airbags and front and rear side curtain airbags. Optional this year is the Off-Road package that includes Bilstein gas shocks, BF Goodrich Rugged Trail tires on 16-in alloy wheels and a rear differential lock.

2009: New safety features include a roll-sensing side airbag system and active front seat head restraints that help minimize whiplash. A rear backup camera and auto-dimming rearview mirror are new options.

2010: The FJ's V6 receives more power and no longer requires premium fuel. The Trail Teams special edition package is offered for the first time. It features most of the equipment from the previous year's Off-Road package and adds 17-in wheels, custom Sandstorm paint and matching interior trim.

2011: A locking rear differential is made standard on models with the manual transmission. New features include an upgraded audio unit with Bluetooth, USB port and CD/MP3 playback capability. A 10-speaker JBL audio upgrade is offered, as is an Army Green Trail Teams trim.

2012: The Trail Teams exterior color changes to Radiant Red.

Engines and Performance

The FJ Cruiser has only one engine choice: a 4.0-liter V6. From 2007-2010 this engine produces 239 horsepower and 278 lb-ft of torque, and requires premium fuel. Two-wheel drive (2WD) models feature a 5-speed automatic as standard and earn an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated 16 miles per gallon city and 20 mpg highway, while the 4WD models earn 15 mpg city/18 mpg hwy with the manual transmission and 16 mpg city/20 mpg hwy with the automatic. In 2010, the FJ's V6 engine was revised to run on regular gas. Horsepower rises to 259 hp, but torque drops to 270 lb-ft. Fuel economy increases to 17 mpg city/22 mpg hwy for the 2WD models, 17 mpg city/21 mpg hwy for 4WD automatic and 15 mpg city/20 mpg hwy for the 4WD manual.

As a daily driver, the FJ is really quite livable. Its ride isn't soft or quiet -- it is a truck after all -- but it drives well. The FJ's steering is heavily weighted and returns good feedback both on- and off-road. Maneuverability, on the other hand, is not the FJ's strong suit, with a wide turning radius (41.8 feet) and huge blind spots on the vehicle's left and right sides. Off-road, the 4WD model has plenty of ground clearance with a generous 34-degree approach angle and 30-degree departure angle. Stats like this enables the FJ to crawl over rocks or logs, as well as easily venture up steep embankments. Toyota's A-TRAC active traction control assists off-road by keeping the axles open and sending torque to the wheel with the best traction. A-TRAC is most useful when negotiating uneven surface or when making a steep descent. Rock crawling or moving through loose terrain (like deep sand) is aided by the FJ's 2-speed transfer case and electronically locking rear differential. When engaged in 4-Lo, the system locks in a 50/50 front to rear torque distribution while the locking rear differential evenly applies power to both the left and right rear wheels. Toyota engineers placed the JF's air intake high in the right fender and made extensive use of rubber sealed electrical connectors, all with an eye toward keeping water from entering the engine or shorting out key systems. Because of this, the FJ Cruiser can ford water as deep as 27.5 inches without worry.

Recalls, Safety Ratings and Warranties

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has issued the following recalls for the 2007-2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser:

2007-2012: A recall was issued for certain FJ Cruisers equipped with TRD high performance brake kits. There is a possibility that the rubber brake hose could come in contact with the wheel's balancing weights and become damaged. There were also multiple recalls for some FJ's sold in southern states regarding improper tire and wheel label information.

2008-2011: A recall was issued for a possible problem with the tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) when used with Toyota approved accessory wheels and tires. The system must be recalibrated to properly alert the driver of a low tire pressure situation.

Recall repairs are required by law even if the vehicle is out of warranty. Your dealer can check to see if the repairs were performed and if not, will fix the car at no charge to you.

As for safety, NHTSA gives the 2007-2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser good marks: five out of five stars for the driver and four stars for the passenger in the front end crash test. Driver and front passenger both scored five stars in the side impact test, while the FJ earned just three stars in the rollover test. The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the FJ its best rating of Good in the offset front crash and side impact crash tests. The roof strength test earned an Acceptable score.

The 2007-2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser has a 3-year/36,000 mile basic warranty and a 5-year/60,000 mile powertrain warranty. Extended warranties purchased when the car was new are transferable, so be sure to inquire if the vehicle you are buying has an extended plan. Toyota also offers a line of Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) vehicles through its dealerships. If you purchase a Certified Pre-Owned FJ Cruiser, the warranty coverage for the powertrain is extended to 7-years/100,000 from the vehicles original in service date. CPO cars also come with a 12-month/12,000 mile comprehensive warranty, one year of roadside assistance and a free CARFAX report. Best of all, Certified customers are eligible for standard new car financing rates. Vehicles that qualify for the CPO program cannot be older than six years or have more than 85,000 miles on the odometer. To learn more about the Toyota CPO program, visit their website at www.toyotacertified.com.

Word on the Web

The FJ has earned a strong reputation as a solid and reliable off-road vehicle. Consumer Reports gives the FJ strong marks in every category, a sentiment echoed by the numerous positive owner reviews on such sites as FJCruiserforums.com. We did read some extensive threads regarding shuddering automatic transmissions, related to torque converters failing on higher mileage vehicles. On the plus side, most owners report very few mechanical or electrical problems with the FJ. Most small complaints had to do with the audio system and lack of navigation, as well as some of the plastics inside the vehicle. We also found fuel economy isn't something most FJ owners are happy about.

Competitive Set

Jeep Wrangler: The Wrangler offers the option of an open top and four full doors, but it's not as reliable or comfortable as the FJ, nor does it do as well in its side impact crash tests.

Nissan Xterra: The Xterra offers the same power and off-road ability as the FJ, plus it costs less and has a more comfortable rear seat. But the FJ has a more unique appearance and a slight edge in body width, ground clearance and approach/departure angles.

Ford Explorer: The Explorer can't off-road like the FJ Cruiser, but it can tackle moderate off-road terrain and its on-road manners, not to mention its interior amenities, are far more pleasant. The Explorer also offers the option of a V8 engine and 7,300-lb tow rating.

Auto Trader Recommends

If you're looking at an FJ, we assume you are looking for something reliable in snow and off-road situations. That said, the 2WD model doesn't make much sense to us. We'd go with a 4x4 automatic built in or after 2010. This model gives you all the latest safety features, plus it runs on regular fuel. If you can swing the cost, go for the Trail Teams special edition model. It is a true off-road warrior. Just be sure to have it thoroughly inspected by a certified Toyota mechanic as these vehicles tend to take a beating and may have suffered mechanical or structural damage from the previous owner. CPO is definitely the way to go with a used FJ.

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Joe Tralongo started in the industry writing competitive comparison books for a number of manufacturers, before moving on in 2000 to become a freelance automotive journalist. He's well regarded for his keen eye for detail, as well as his ability to communicate complex mechanical terminology into user-friendly explanations.

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