Cruiser for the young at heart

2011 Toyota FJ Cruiser (AGENCY)

Toyota has strengthened its push to attract younger buyers to the brand with the release of the FJ Cruiser - a vehicle it calls its Rugged Youth Utility.

In reality, it is a modern interpretation of its iconic FJ40 four-wheel-drive that earned its reputation as an unbreakable workhorse during the construction of the Snowy Mountains Scheme in the 1950s.

While the FJ Cruiser shares several features with its forefather, like the round headlights, upright windscreen, wide, narrow grille with the Toyota badging and white roof, it is a very modern interpretation.

Built on the same underpinnings as the Prado 4WD, the FJ is a unique car with its funky box styling, bright colour palette and features aimed specifically at Gen-Y buyers.

The one sure to attract the most attention is the audio speakers integrated into the car's roof - a world first, according to Toyota, which says they will ensure that the music, which can be provided via iPod, USB or Bluetooth streaming, "engulfs the body".

Toyota Australia boss Dave Buttner described the FJ as a car that "responds to the needs of the modern buyer while retaining a strong link to its heritage".

It is the second new model launched in the past 12 months that is aimed at making the brand more exciting and appealing.

"With the Rukus and now the introduction of the FJ Cruiser, our commitment to young new buyers has never been stronger," Mr Buttner said. "The biggest buyer group of the Rukus is 21 to 35-year-olds, the group we targeted with this car.

"The Rukus attracts 5 per cent more buyers in that age group than any other Toyota passenger car, which is a fantastic result."

While Mr Buttner may be pleased with the progress of the small hatch alternative, only 1400 have been sold nationally since it was launched in May last year.

Mr Buttner is also hoping the FT-86 sports car, which Toyota showed as a concept at the recent Geneva Motor Show, will become the third model aimed specifically at younger buyers. He said it was a car Toyota Australia would be working hard to get here.

The FJ Cruiser will only be available in one model with a price tag of $44,990 (plus on-road costs). It will be powered by Toyota's renowned 4.0-litre V6 engine, used in the Prado and HiLux, matched to a five-speed automatic transmission, part-time 4x4, electrically activated rear differential lock and switchable active traction control.

Running on 95 RON premium unleaded, the Euro IV-compliant engine delivers 200kW at 5600rpm and 380 Newton metres of torque at 4400rpm, combined average fuel consumption is 11.4L/100km and the emissions rating is 267g/km.

It is not available with a diesel engine, something Mr Buttner concedes has the potential to limit sales, and is not likely to get one unless there is also demand in other countries.

The FJ does come with a comprehensive safety package including electronic stability control, active traction control and ABS with brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution. It also has six airbags, a reversing camera which will help overcome its poor rear visibility and parking sensors.

Other standard features include cruise control, air-conditioning and a premium steering wheel with audio controls (though it does not have reach adjustment).

At 4670mm long and sitting on a 2690mm wheelbase, the 2510kg FJ Cruiser is a mid-sized SUV. For off-road lovers, ground clearance is 224mm, its approach angle is 36deg. and departure angle 31deg.

The company said local testing resulted in unique calibration for the heavy-duty suspension and power steering, the fitment for the 17-inch wheels and the inclusion of grab handles for rear-seat occupants. Noise-suppressing material was also added to block out road noise created by Australia's coarse-chip bitumen.

The cabin is designed to be functional, with rubber flooring that can be easily washed and water-repellent trim on the seats.

The dashboard and instruments are also a modern take on the original FJ40 with a body- coloured face plate, large, simple-to-use dials and a cluster of three dials on the dash. In combination with a big centre console and large gear changer and handbrake it gives the interior a rugged, practical feel.

And there is certainly plenty of interior space, at least for the front passengers. It is not quite the same for those in the back.

The four-door wagon features rear-hinged "access doors" similar to those used in some one-tonne pick-ups (it was done to retain the two-door wagon appeal of the original 4WD), which makes access to the rear reasonably easy.

But it is a big step up which younger children and older adults will find difficult. And once in the back seat, which is very upright, it is a little claustrophobic. There are rear windows but they do not open, are very small and there are no air-conditioning vents either.

But the cargo area is a good size, and Toyota says that with the back seats laid down there is enough room for a mountain bike.

On the road the V6 is smooth, punchy and willing to rev all the way to the redline.

The transmission makes the most of the available torque on offer, moving through the gears seamlessly. Unfortunately, there is not a sequential shift so it can be driven manually.

The steering is light and easy to control and the ride surprisingly comfortable for a car of this type.

And for those who do want to take it off the blacktop it is a very accomplished off-road vehicle, something Toyota was keen to emphasis with much of the national launch drive on rugged tracks around the Wilpena Pound national park in South Australia's Flinders Ranges.

Toyota has aimed this car at younger buyers but it will have a far broader appeal with its unique styling, comfortable on-road performance and rugged off-road capabilities.

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