2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser SUV - FROM $26,115
It's not the most versatile choice available, but if distinctive looks and outstanding off-road ability are important to you in a midsize SUV, the 2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser is hard to beat.
What's New for 2012
The Toyota FJ Cruiser is unchanged for 2012.
Toyota is renowned these days for making straightforward, ultra-sensible and dependable transportation without much flair. That makes the 2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser the relative black sheep of the family. This dedicated off-roader is anything but straightforward and ultra-sensible. But what it lacks in sensibility, it makes up for with gobs of character; it's fun to drive and even more fun to look at. Plus, it maintains one of those well-known Toyota family traits: It's dependable.
The FJ Cruiser hasn't changed much since its introduction back in '07, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Its stout chassis, wide approach and departure angles, and available locking rear differential make it a genuine go-anywhere type of truck. It's also blessed with precise steering, a robust V6 and a comparably comfortable ride. But around town the FJ isn't as ideal. The thick pillars and gun-slit windows limit visibility and make maneuvering in tight spots difficult. Frequently taking on rear passengers can also get old due to the FJ's access-style rear doors.
Really, this sort of fun/practicality trade-off is commonplace among the dwindling number of off-road-ready SUVs. The Jeep Wrangler is even more compromised and could be considered downright crude compared to the FJ Cruiser, though it does offer a higher degree of off-roading talent. The Nissan Xterra goes the other way, offering the practicality of four full doors and better visibility while lacking the visual flair of its rivals.
Of course, there are also countless crossover SUVs for those shoppers who know they really do need something sensible. But for keeping it real in the old-school SUV sort of way, the 2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser continues to be an excellent choice.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser is a five-passenger SUV with two regular front doors and two half-sized rear-hinged doors.
There is only one trim level and it comes standard with 17-inch black-painted steel wheels, air-conditioning, power windows and locks, an eight-way manually adjustable driver seat, a tilt-only steering wheel, a 60/40 split-folding rear seat, water-resistant cloth upholstery, heavy-duty vinyl flooring, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player, satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack, an iPod/USB audio interface and steering wheel controls.
There are a number of packages available that are often grouped together into larger packages depending on your region. Occasionally, they are automatically included as well.
The Convenience package adds power mirrors, rear privacy glass, a rear wiper, a spare tire cover, keyless entry, cruise control, a rearview camera and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. The Upgrade package adds 17-inch alloy wheels (available separately), an upgraded traction control system on four-wheel-drive models, an electronically controlled locking rear differential, rear parking sensors, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, extra gauges and trip computer functions and an 11-speaker JBL sound system with a six-CD changer.
The Off-Road package adds Bilstein shock absorbers, the locking rear differential, the upgraded traction-control system and the extra gauges. The TRD package adds special 16-inch alloy wheels, BFGoodrich off-road tires and different Bilstein shock absorbers.
There are a number of noteworthy dealer-installed accessories including a large roof rack, accessory driving lights, rock rails, a cargo cover and a passenger armrest.
Powertrains and Performance
Every 2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser comes with a 4.0-liter V6 that produces 260 horsepower and 271 pound-feet of torque. Rear-wheel drive is standard on the FJ Cruiser and when so equipped, features a five-speed automatic transmission and a limited-slip differential. There are two different 4WD systems available. One is a part-time system attached to the five-speed automatic, while the other is a full-time system attached to a six-speed manual and a locking rear differential.
EPA-estimated fuel economy with 4WD and an automatic is 17 mpg city/20 mpg highway and 18 mpg combined -- typical for off-road SUVs. Getting the manual 4WD FJ Cruiser drops those estimates to 15/18/16, while the rear-drive FJ gets 17/20/19.
The 2012 FJ Cruiser comes standard with antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control, active front head restraints, front-seat side airbags and side curtain airbags. In crash testing by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the FJ Cruiser received the top rating of "Good" in the frontal-offset and side-impact tests, but a second-best rating of "Acceptable" in the roof strength test.
Interior Design and Special Features
The FJ's retro-themed dash is color-keyed to match the exterior. Controls are placed within easy reach and are easy to find. Some are also oversized to a cartoonish degree, but we can't say that hurts their functionality. The front seats are comfortable, but the rear compartment is a tight fit and requires a high step up for entry. Wide roof pillars, small rear windows and a tailgate-mounted spare tire all contribute to poor rearward visibility. Front visibility is also less than optimal due to the FJ's high hood line.
The rear-access doors, like those on most extended-cab pickups, open rearward. Though this configuration offers a wide portal with both front and rear doors open, it's tiresome if you're frequently carting rear passengers, as the rear doors won't open with the front doors closed. This is a vehicle for sport, not for kids. With the rear seats folded, a generous 67 cubic feet of cargo space is created.
The 2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser is in its element when off-road. With ample suspension articulation, it crawls over boulders, ruts and most other obstacles with ease. The FJ is also surprisingly good on pavement, offering precise steering and a smooth ride that makes a Jeep Wrangler seem like an ox cart by comparison. But the FJ's boxy shape creates noticeable wind noise at highway speeds, and poor outward visibility can make parking or identifying off-road obstacles difficult. Acceleration from the V6 engine is brisk, particularly at low- and midrange speeds, and exudes a nice exhaust bark that increases the "sport" quotient of this utility vehicle.