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HEELS ON WHEELS
By Katrina Ramser
San Francisco Bureau
The Auto Channel
INTRO TO THE FJ CRUISER VEHICLE
The FJ Cruiser carries legendary off-road performance and much vehicle heritage with adventure seekers that know their trail rigs. As a niche SUV with an outdoor agenda, noticeable changes on this year’s model for better trail maneuverability include rear visibility and an extended opening with the clamshell doors.
I drove a 2011 Toyota FJ Cruiser in the new Army Green exterior color, also known as the new trail-oriented Trail Teams Special Edition Package. The 260-horsepower DOHC 4.0-liter V6 engine produces and 271 lb-ft of peak torque and is equipped with dual independent Variable Valve Timing with intelligence or VVT-i. An electronically shifted five-speed automatic transmission was paired with my part-time 4x4, but a six-speed manual is available (along with a 4x2). Standard equipment included a 6-speaker audio system, XM Radio, water-resistant seating material, rear cargo tie-down hooks, and exterior pieces like black overfenders and bumpers. Total cost described is $26,880.
The new $3,650 Trail Teams package is where Toyota puts all the hype for the 2011 model, which includes an electronically controlled locking rear differential, A-TRAC, remote keyless entry, a backup camera in the rearview mirror, color-coded interior paneling and seating material, and an upgraded 6-disc JBL audio system with 11 speakers including a subwoofer.
HEELS ON WHEELS REVIEW CRITERIA
Stylish But Comfortable Results: The headrests now flip downward, which part of why Toyota has the right to claim better rear visibility for those side windows. The upgraded stereo – particularly the subwoofer located in the cargo area – takes over a former storage compartment. The rubberized mats, standard connectivity technology (USB port,steering wheel controls) and backup camera located in the rearview mirror are all bonuses for the FJ. In regards to the clamshell doors, the opening has extended an extra 1.5-inches; the style still remains dysfunctional for parking lots and loading car seats, however. Rear vents are needed as the second row doors do not roll down along with fisheyes in the side mirrors (must currently purchase as an aftermarket item).
Reliability & Safety Factor: The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives theFJ Cruiser ratings of “Good” in frontal and side impact testing, but “Acceptable” in roof strength rollover. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) also has found the rollover flaw by delivering it just 3-stars (although the risk for rollover – if you’re not on the trail of course – is low).
Cost Issues: For a fun and capable with such character and history, a starting price of $26,880 is pretty decent. When positioned against our 2007 model, it appears as if several once-free features (like A-TRAC and locking diff) are now packaged out.
Activity & Performance Ability: Opt for the six-speed manual transmission, as it comes with a standard two-speed transfer case using a TORSEN limited-slip center differential with a locking feature. This allows for even power distribution especially important during those rocky inclines. A double-wishbone independent front suspension gives the FJ maneuverability over tough off-road obstacles. The A-TRAC delivers extra safety during wet or icy conditions through brake force. Framed by a boxed steel ladder-braced exterior with side plates for the engine, transfer case and fuel tank, the FJ feels like both a durable and an aggressive choice.
The Green Concern: The FJ Cruiser now takes regular-grade fuel and gets an estimated 17-city and 21-highway MPG for an average of 19.
FINAL PARTING WORDS
Looking a lot like the softer side of a Hummer, the 2011 Toyota FJ Cruiser has a few functional quirks in everyday driving situations but overall delivers exceptional performance for a recreational vehicle.
©2011 Katrina Ramser