very quickly (many go no further than the prototype stage).
But when the FJ was first introduced at the 2003 Chicago Auto Show, the vehicle attracted so much attention from onlookers and journalists (influential auto website Edmunds.com called it "one of the most unique vehicles from Toyota in a long time"), Toyota moved the car into production a scant six months later.
Based on the classic, Jeep-like FJ40 Land Cruiser from the 1960s, the FJ Cruiser is both utilitarian and funky chic at the same time. The FJ is built on the Land Cruiser Prado chassis (the same as the popular Toyota 4Runner) while the rest of the design is brand new, taking only a few design cues from the original FJ40s via its small, wraparound windows and boxy shape.
The modern version sports bright primary colors such as "Voodoo Blue" and "Sun Fusion" (that is, yellow) topped with a white roof, black and silver accents, and softer lines, making the FJ Cruiser look like one big Matchbox car—which in this case adds to its design appeal. (The vehicle is also offered in more traditional colors including black and silver.)
Unlike many other compact SUVs and especially CUVs, the 4x4 version is designed for true off-road driving, offering standard features such as rock rails (to keep doors from jamming when driving over large boulders), a utility-grade roof rack for a plethora of gear, and the ability to climb up to 30 degree angles on surfaces other than asphalt. Conspicuously absent are any traces of carpet, leather, or burled wood trim options, instead opting for black, washable vinyl on all floor and cargo areas and durable, fuss-free black upholstery. Modern off-road conveniences include a built-in auxiliary jack for MP3 players and rear outlets to run electrical devices.
Aimed primarily at men looking (or at least hoping) to escape to the great outdoors, the design aesthetics may equally appeal to women, too—as long as they don't plan on bringing the whole family along for the ride. While only eleven inches shorter than the Toyota 4Runner, the FJ Cruiser seems much smaller—and rather than being a full four-door SUV, the FJ's back seat is accessed through "half doors," making it only slightly easier to enter than a standard two-door vehicle.
The Nissan Xterra, Hummer H3, and Jeep Wrangler Rubicon are its closest competitors, but those vehicles will likely look passé to the consumer who'll be dazzled by the FJ's fun and quirky design. Price-wise, the FJ is stacked between its competitors with a base price of US$ 21,000 to $23,000 for an entry-level 4x2 that's not really equipped for a true off-road experience. By the time options are added, the 4x4 can top out in the mid-$30,000 range, placing it more in the company of the high-end Hummer H3.
An April 2006 Car and Driver rundown of 4x4s crowned the Xterra a winner, but noted that the FJ gives drivers "a lot of solid and dependable truck for the dough."
The 4x4 earns an EPA highway gas mileage estimate of 21 miles per gallon (8.9 kilometers per liter), supporting Toyota's overall business and brand strategy of innovative, more fuel-efficient cars. (The original FJ40 got no more than 13 miles per gallon, or 5.3 kilometers per liter.)
As is becoming more standard with automakers, customers have the ability to build and price their desired FJ Cruiser via Toyota.com. Because the vehicle is still being built and shipped from Hamura, Japan, exclusively (there are currently no US plants producing it), wait time can be up to four months for FJ Cruisers built to accommodate a customer's specifications.
According to Phil Gauna of Big Two Toyota, an Arizona Toyota dealership, customer interest has been high based on looks alone. Toyota Motor Sales, USA (TMS) recently reported its best October sales of 189,011 vehicles—a 13.6 percent increase since a year ago. TMS executive vice president Jim Lenton attributed much of the company's sales success to "the strength of fresh products."
And for Toyota, there's nothing fresher right now than the FJ.