For a company that's prided itself, in the most part, for sober design and rock-solid reliability, the FJ Cruiser is a shock to the system. As far as we're concerned, it's a well executed tribute to the FJ40 Land Cruiser that made its name in Australia thanks to its work on the Snowy Mountain Scheme, which was not only an engineering marvel, but came to define a new era of (European) multiculturalism after World War II.
Unlike its inspiration, the FJ Cruiser actually has four passenger doors, although the rear two are small and cleverly disguised. In a layout that's not too dissimilar to that used on the rather sportier, the FJ Cruiser does without a pillar connecting floor to ceiling behind the front doors. This means that the rear doors are hinged backwards and that they lock in place by latching to the front doors. As long as you're fine with the rather steep ascent into the FJ, entry to the rear pews is quite easy.
The short, wide, upright windscreen is an essential element in the car's styling and necessitates the use of three (yes, you read right) windscreen wipers. This, along with the tall wing mirrors, generates quite a bit of wind noise at freeway speeds and can't be great for the car's aerodynamics. The rear windscreen pops up independently, allowing you to throw grocery bags and the like into the 990-litre boot without having to wrestle with the heavy side-opening tail gate.
Unlike some of today's four-wheel drives, like the Land Cruiser,and , the FJ's interior has been designed specifically with the rigours of criss-crossing the continent in mind, rather than the needs of Mosman mums and Toorak dads. There isn't even a scintilla of carpet on the floor, just a hardy mixture of rubber and plastic that can easily be vacuumed or washed out. With the latter in mind, the seats are clad in a breathable, quick-dry fabric.
The concept car that previewed the FJ Cruiser featured a dashboard beautifully crafted from metal. The process of changing the show car into a production-ready vehicle thankfully didn't do much to harm the exterior, but the dash didn't fare quite so well. In place of metal, there's swathes of silver-painted plastic, as well as body colour highlights on the dash and doors. It all feels wonderfully hardy and all of the controls (except the audio head unit) are chunky, oversized and generally easy to find.
Finding the perfect driving position is a little tricky as you can only adjust the angle of the steering wheel. Passengers up front should have no complaints about space and it's surprisingly good in the rear as well, with a decent amount of leg, head and shoulder room, so long as you're only seating two back there.
In Australia, there's just one specification available. It comes standard with air conditioning, 17-inch alloy wheels, central locking, electro-chromatic rear vision mirror, front electric windows (the rear windows don't open at all) and rear fog lights. Safety features include six airbags, stability control and anti-lock brakes. An inclinometer, temperature gauge and compass sit atop the dashboard.
Rear parking sensors are augmented by a reversing camera that's hidden in the spare wheel carrier. Images from that camera are displayed in a corner of the rear vision mirror and, while it's a must have on this type of vehicle, it feels a little undersized. There's also a wand-operated cruise control system that unfortunately doesn't inform the driver of when it's in charge of the car's speed, merely if the system is on.
The stereo head unit is a mid-spec unit that should be instantly familiar to anyone who's driven a recent Toyota. It has a 4.3-inch colour screen that's not in the slightest bit touch sensitive, instead it's operated by the three buttons on either side of the display that correspond to various on-screen functions.