Who the Hell thought of the Labradoodle? Letting a Labrador and a Poodle do the wild thing — on purpose — strikes me as about as advisable as marrying off Adriana Lima and Pee Wee Herman. Or, if you prefer, building a hard core off-roader and tarting it up to look like a hipster's Hummer. But hey, if General Motors feels free to unleash a retro-styled Corvette-powered convertible pickup truck in the midst of a Titanic plunge towards Davey Jones' locker (note to those who've never read The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle: the above reference has nothing to do with the diminutive British leader of the '60s semi-fictional pop group The Monkees), I guess it's OK for Toyota to f'donk the US market with the FJ Cruiser. Toyota's so far ahead of the game, the rules are theirs to make.
Yes, well, the FJ's one weird-ass vehicle. It's a cross between an H2 and the old FJ40 Land Cruiser, in Lego. From the front, Toyota's snap-to-fit farrago is convincing enough, in a WTF concept car kinda way. From the side, the whole thing falls to shit: crooked roof line, suicide doors, the world's largest C-pillars, identically-shaped rear glass, tiny flared arches over the rear wheels and sticky-outey taillights. It's as if a drunken executive broke into Toyota's design studio, said "You call that art?" and Sharpied a bunch of changes to the original drawings — which were inadvertently sent straight to production. From the rear, the FJ's gi-normous spare tire removes any remaining hope of rear visibility.
In other words, it's a hit! Like the ill-fated Chevrolet SSR (Something Stupid Really), the FJ has genuine car-isma. Unlike the SSR, the FJ is affordable: sub-$30 fully loaded. So love it or hate it, you gotta love it. Yes, but what is it? Entering the FJ's cabin only adds to the confusion. On one hand, we have major funkage. The wet-look plastic surrounding the stereo and adorning the doors— an affectation blighting the current Corvette — is the automotive equivalent of Saturday Night Live's "Wild and Crazy Guys!" routine (you had to be there). On the other hand, the steering wheel comes straight from a Corolla. Not to mention cylindrical off-roading gauges plunked onto the top of the cliff-face dash and the biggest, bad-ass woofers anyone has ever fit in an OEM product. Oh, and enough rubber-floored room for a entire pack of Labradoodles. Put it together and what have you got? Beats me.
As does the suspension. Any doubt that the FJ Cruiser is a truck (as opposed to the so-not-a-truck-it-rocks-Dude RAV 4) disappears the moment you ba-donka-donk a bump. The ladder-framed FJ feels like it's hinged in the middle; first the front end moves forward, then the back. That said, it sure doesn't sound like a truck; the Cruiser's hi-tech 4.0-liter six was tuned by someone deeply smitten by the sound of coffee can exhausts. The smooth-spinning, endlessly blatting mill is, well, trucky. There's nowhere near enough grunt to overcome the FJ's mass: 239 horses vs. 5570lbs. But there's plenty o' torque, and damn useful it is too.
Provided, of course, you take the FJ off-road. If you mix it up where the pavement ends and the beer begins (just kidding), you'll get a whole 'nother take on this teenage mutant ninja mud plugger. The FJ sits on the mighty 4Runner's underpinnings, complete with armored privates and a choice of high or low-range four-wheel drive and Torsen limited-slip locking differentials. Suffice it to say, I drove the FJ up a wall, down a cliff, underwater, over boulders the size of Minneapolis and through the Gobi desert without once leaving my desk — I mean, without any mechanical difficulty. It's Toyota's best-ever 4X4, and that's saying something, Land Cruiser fans.
So, what we have here is an over-styled motorized mountain goat for both fashion and avalanche victims. Makes sense to me — and Labradoodles are highly intelligent animals that don't shed. But please, do NOT buy the mamby-pamby 2WD version. I'd rather encourage Toyota to build crossbreeds than, well, more poodles.
by Robert Farago
Toyota Unveils Production FJ Cruiser at Chicago Auto Show [Internal]