As our tiny plane descended through the low heavy clouds, Hawker Airport came into view, and so did the red mountains of the Wilpina Pound. It was a bit white-knuckle because of the filthy weather of the preceding week. This natural rock formation in the heart of the Australian outback is where Toyota chose showcase the FJ Cruiser. Finally an off roader previewed off road. As the plane came to a halt, all on board looked through the portholes on the starboard side where our FJ Cruisers lay waiting. It was as scrupmtious as it had been in the pictures. YUM!
It’s dead sexy, butch, hairy chested and lot’s of fun. Toyota made this car for the USA market but through a lucky relationship between Australia and Japan, a whole lot of re-engineering was done to being it here. At the time of release in Australia a few months ago, Australia was the only market outside the US where the FJ was being sold. Project engineer, Mr Nakamura, and designer Jin Won Kim were very proud of their baby and spoke verbosely on the subject. It was a pleasure to hear two people who got so much joy from their efforts. For a change, most people in the room were as enthusiastic about the car as those talking about it.
The day was spent driving through the spectacular Wilpena Pound smack in the middle of the outback which was utterly breath taking. The FJ was agile and adept at handling the rugged terrain.The ride over such awful country was quite smooth and the bumps were well ironed out. The FJ could have been a dud but no, it wasn’t. How many cars have you ever driven which looked like Brad Pitt but drove like Amy Winehouse. Most of the alleged 4 wheel drives on the market can handle nothing more than a slightly moist unsealed road and even a grassy slope is too much for the poor dears. Too add insult to injury, they drive like big bucket of porrige on the road so they don’t do anything well. Not so for the FJ Cruiser.
The adventure took us through spots I would have thought only accessible by air. The track completely disappeared in parts and we had to make our own way through the wilderness. I have never driven a 4WD off road over more than a bit of sand. Toyota was sensible enough to make sure that we all had blokes on hand to instruct us on the finer points, and to make sure we didn’t run of the side of a cliff. That would have put rather a dampener on the day. Toyota says our guardian angels were merely familiar with the area but the truth is they were all experts in off roading. It says a lot for the car that ham fisted city-slickers could drive confidently where no one had been for nearly 20 years, if ever. It snaked through valleys and ravines and some of the peaks made even the seasoned off-roaders gasp just a bit. And to think most people don’t even know this is here. But back to the car.
Toyota bigwigs were so confident that they set a very rough route for us, a certain gloom descended over them when they realised part of the track had been graded when the owner deemed the course impassable. There was a section where event organisers warned us that if we ran off the side, our clothes will be out of fashion before we hit the bottom. Frankly I was very happy the owners decided to pop a bit of heavy machinery over it to take out some of the lumps. I can’t stand wearing old fashion!
The FJ easily walked down steep descents and with high/low range, 2/4wd and and locking diff, crawled up the other side. Some of the creek beds seemed like a 45o descent. It felt like we would surely fall end over end but we didn’t and because of the extreme approach and departure angles we didn’t scrape at the bottom either. A funny thing happened, I came over all misty for the FJ.
The engineers were so annoyed that their course had been made easy, they set out a more extreme display in a dry creek bed. Here the Cruiser was set and jaunty angles in all four directions and ralked over tree roots and rocks then straight up the side of the bank.
As for the car itself, Toyota kept things simple. It has ABS etc but none of the advanced electronic nonsense the big boys get. As a result, you actually drive the car yourself and even armatures like me made mincemeat of what could have been a disaster. That was thanks to the instructor and the very capable Cruiser. There is no need to wipe your feet or be precious with the interior, it isn’t that sort of machine. It has rubber flooring in any shade of black seats that can be easily cleaned after a big weekend. It’s the same story up back. There is that same rubber and in the back, the side opening door has a window for your shopping bags. It’s not new but very handy.
Because of the high rear end, there is a reverse camera mounted in the spare tyre which has the screen in the front rear view mirror. This was one of my minor gripes. It was the size of a small phone screen and in my opinion not quite right. The stereo too was not quite up to snuff. It seemed a little old fashioned and for 50k I’d expect a big LCD screen wit touch controls and Bluetooth displays and Ipod connection. The first thing I’d do is ditch the audio system and get one which had bluetooth, Ipod input and a screen for the rear monitor. It’s not built in like most systems these days and could be changed without blinking an eye. YAY!
The exterior design is meant to revive the FJ40 Landcruiser, but I thought it looked more like a better looking Hummer. I like the gangster look with the low roofline and the suicide doors for rear access are so cool. It’s the sort of car Al Capone would drive, complete with Tommy gun and big vat of moonshine. There isn’t a huge amount of room in the rear seat but who cares really, you won’t have anyone in it! The dash is simple and fresh and much of it is linked to the external body colour. In the original FJ 40, these surfaces were metal. For safety reasons that’s no longer the case. There is also a rather funky triple wiper setup for the windscreen.
There has been much pooh poohing of the engine/auto combo. The chassis (ladder and rail), engine and auto are all from the tried and true Landcruiser Prado. Mr Nakamura was asked why there was no diesel and he replied “because it was an American car and there is no call for it there.” Perhaps they might bring this along later, let’s keep our fingers X’d. I certainly think it would be worth it. The fuel consumption isn’t brilliant but the FJ is a really big car and the 4L V6 is smooth and powerful. If you do a bit of off roading, you don’t want some scrawny anaemic little sewing machine motor that wouldn’t pull the skin off a custard, no, you want a big butch full blooded hairy chested power plant. For much of our trip I was very glad of the extra oomph. I love a bit of hairy chest action.
Lastly, we had the car at our Sydney homebase on the fringe of the CBD. The FJ feels much much bigger than it did in the outback. Lanes feel mighty small but such is the life of an SUV driver. We’ve done the soccer mums thing in previous stories and they should be kept away from this at all costs. We parked at Coles for a spot of shopping, ditto for Bondi Junction Westfield and it takes just a bit of extra care, but parking really isn’t a bother for a halfway competent driver. The one thing that was noticeable was the ride. What was very comfy off-road felt just a touch wafty in the city. The car intentionally was not given bells and whistles but these days no ipod input is just not on. In the USA the FJ Cruiser is about $25,000 but for some reason crossing the Pacific and shoving the sterring wheel to the other side of the dashboard has added and extra $25,000, go figure! And they can’t blame the luxury car tax on this one.
You might remember a while ago, thanks to Queer as Folk, we had the dreadful situation of every queen under the sun buying those god awful jeep wranglers. The FJ Cruiser drives better in every way.
There were a few things which were slightly annoying for example I bumped my head when I got in and out because of the low roof. The rear seaters haven’t got much of a view out and apart from the Ipod and rear-vier camera screen which we’ve mentioned, the audio system just didn’t cut the mustard. But I’d buy one anyway, I loved it!
On a side note, we drove the Prado on which the FJ is based and although we had the diesel motor, drives pretty much like the Cruiser but is slightly less wafty. We’ll bring you this full story later on. Enjoy the FJ Cruiser pics with the odd shot of the fabulous Flinders and the amazing Wilpena Pound.
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|5sp auto||4L V6||200kw||380nm||11.4 comb||267 gms||$49,357|