Words and pictures by Grant Spolander.
Model update and off-road review: Toyota FJ Cruiser 4.0 AT.
Launched in 2006, the FJ Cruiser was designed for the North American market; it sold over 55 000 units there in that year alone, followed by similar sales figures in 2007.
However, in 2008, the FJ’s numbers dropped to 28 000 units. A further decline was recorded in 2009, when the FJ hit an all-time low of approximately 12 000 units, after which sales figures stabilised around the 14k mark for 2010, 2011 and 2012. According to Toyota USA, which recently announced its discontinuation, the FJ Cruiser was never meant to be a long-term model, and 2014 will serve as the final sales year in that country.
Fortunately, the same doesn’t apply back home, where Toyota SA has assured us that the FJ is here to stay. In fact, many RHD markets will continue with FJ Cruiser production, including Australia and Japan – where the FJ Cruiser is manufactured.
Proof of the FJ’s local commitment should come from its recent upgrade (August ’13), when Toyota SA announced enhancements to the FJ’s on- and offroad capabilities, beginning with the fitment of an auxiliary fuel tank. The FJ’s well-known weakness lies in its poor driving range, which is a result of its relatively high fuel consumption (compared with turbo-diesels).
The FJ previously featured a 72-litre fuel tank and a total driving range of just 510 km – based on the 14.1 l/100 km consumption figures that we recorded. These days, the upgraded model boasts a fuel-tank capacity of 159-litres which results in a far more practical range of 1 127 km – based on the same consumption figures. And what’s really cool about this added capacity is that the additional 87-litre fuel tank is plumbed directly into the original 72-litre tank – so you don’t have to select any pump switches to access the extra ‘litre-age’.
The FJ’s other upgrade is the adoption of Crawl Control. In the past, the FJ’s traction aids included a rear diff-lock and a highly effective traction control (TC) system called Active Traction Control (A-TRAC). This is a super responsive TC system that reacts to a loss of traction by braking the spinning wheel, and transferring torque to where it’s required. In many respects, A-TRAC performs very similarly to the TC system found in the Defender.
In contrast, the new Crawl Control is a unique traction aid first seen in the Cruiser 200. This system utilises five predetermined speeds – all dial-selected. Once you’ve engaged low-range, you select Crawl Control and choose one of the five speeds; the FJ Cruiser then maintains that speed up- and downhill.
It’s a difficult system to describe, but if you can imagine each of the four wheels rapidly braking and rotating in miniscule increments, you’ll have a good idea of what it feels like. In short, Crawl Control eliminates the possibility of wheel spin by fractionally rotating each tyre at a fixed speed. The downside to Crawl Control lies in its noisy operation and a sense of detachment for the driver. You see, once Crawl Control is selected, there’s no driver input to be made – other than to steer. So, if you’re used to the concepts of momentum, throttle control, torque peaks, listening to the engine, and going with your gut instincts, Crawl Control will probably feel painfully slow and boring.
How slow is it? Well… depending on which speed you choose, anywhere between a neighbourhood stroll and an old lady pushing a mobility walker.