Toyota goes for off-road prowess at the expense of on-road fun

Back in the 1960s, Toyota’s tough-as-old-boots Land Cruiser FJ40 was the world’s workhorse, conquering dirt tracks from Borneo to Bogata.

In 2006, Toyota hoped to rekindle some of the old FJ’s go-anywhere appeal with the FJ Cruiser, a retro-styled off-roader targeted at the weekend warrior adventure crowd.

Based on a concept first seen at the 2003 Detroit motor show, the production FJ is built on a stretched version of the Land Cruiser chassis and powered by Toyota’s gutsy 4.0-litre 239bhp V6.

It’s a whopper – as big as a five-door Land Rover Defender Station Wagon. Yet, strangely, the new FJ offers just two doors instead of four, adding rear-hinged, mini ‘suicide’ doors which make getting in and out of the back awkward.

Inside, the designers worked too hard at being funky. The fussy dash is littered with compasses and inclinometers, and randomly scattered switches and knobs.

But there’s plenty of space for stashing adventure gear, and access to the boot through a large, side-hinged door is easy.

For rock climbing fans, the FJ comes with the option of a Torsen limited slip centre differential and switch-activated lockable rear diff. With tight approach and departure angles, 244mm of ground clearance, and the ability to splash through water 700mm deep, the FJ makes an accomplished off-roader.

But the trade-off is mediocrity on the road, with wallowy handling, ponderous steering, and performance and fuel economy commensurate with a 2000kg heavyweight.

Those retro looks and bullet-proof build quality generated interest Stateside, but with five off-roader models already in its fleet, Toyota GB wisely decided to pass on adding another.

Howard Walker

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