There's something romantic about a vehicle that can go anywhere and do anything. Endless capabilities mean endless possibilities as to what you and your vehicle can accomplish, whether it be hitting the jungle, or escaping the urban jungle. That might help explain the Jeep's popularity after World War II – the little Willys MB had proven to the American people and the world that it could storm the beaches of Normandy, conquer the cold of Alaska, and take the heat in North Africa. Soon after the war, that little Willys became the Jeep CJ-2, and further refinement would lead to the Jeep CJ-5, CJ-7, and eventually the "Amp'd" yellow metallic 2014 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Willys Wheeler Edition parked on top of this paragraph.
The roots of the 2014 Toyota FJ Cruiser Trail Team Ultimate Edition can also be traced back to the little Willys MB. In post-World War II Japan, people took notice of the American Jeeps scrambling around the country's roads. Toyota went to work building its own version. Called the Toyota BJ, the new off-roader was at heart a plus-sized Jeep-clone with a six-cylinder engine. It led to the Toyota Land Cruiser 20 Series, and ultimately the legendary Toyota Land Cruiser 40 Series (better known to some as the FJ) which was produced from 1960 through 1980. The Land Cruiser eventually evolved into the luxury behemoth gracing Toyota dealer lots today. Enter the FJ Cruiser. The retro-styled off-roader entered the fray in the mid '00s, returning an affordable off-roader to the Toyota lineup.
After seven years on the road with minimal changes, this Heritage Blue 2014 Toyota FJ Cruiser Trail Teams Ultimate Edition is one of the last of 2500 FJs that will be produced. The FJ Cruiser Ultimate Edition is more than just a good-bye trim package paying homage to the FJ40 – it's an actual going away gift to the loyal 200,000 or so who've bought FJs the last few years. The FJ gets a truckload of TRD off-road parts, including Bilstein shocks with TRD-designed coil springs, 16-inch bead lock wheels with aggressive BF Goodrich A/T KO rubber, a quarter-inch thick aluminum skid plate, rock rails, and a handful of electronic goodies designed to make off-roading easier.
The 2014 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Willys Wheeler Edition also pays homage to Jeeps of yesteryear with a focus on functionality, capability, and value. Built off the base Wrangler Sport trim, the Wrangler Willys Wheeler adds a limited-slip differential and a 3.73 final drive to the Dana 44 rear axle, BF Goodrich KM Mud Terrain tires, and rock rails to the Wrangler – all for less than if you selected those options individually. The Wrangler Willys Wheeler is just as much about show as it is go – it sports a black-painted grille, a "4-Wheel Drive" decal on the tailgate that looks straight out of a 1940's advertisement, and unique black wheels with an original Willys MB silhouette painted on.
With a shared genesis between the two factory off-roaders, and with the FJ Cruiser heading out to pasture, we thought one last comparison test was in order. While it'd be easy to apply our consumer-based Big Test criteria to the Jeep and Toyota, what would be the point? Neither vehicle was designed with things like ride and handling or efficiency in mind. Rather, the Wrangler and FJ Cruiser were designed around one thing only: freedom. Both the Wrangler and FJ Cruiser were designed to free their drivers from the modern world by taking them as far off the beaten path as desired – whether that's up a mountain, or elsewhere. With that in mind, both rigs would be tested extensively around Los Angeles, before escaping north to the off-roader oasis known as Hungry Valley.
This is set to be quite the comparison. Mechanically, both the Jeep and Toyota follow the same school of thought. Both body-on-frame SUVs sport four doors, V-6 engines, five-speed automatic transmissions, and heavy-duty four-wheel drive systems with two-speed transfer cases. They're both about the same size too, with the FJ sporting a shorter wheelbase, but a longer overall length, and both weigh about the same at 4500 pounds.
So no surprise then that both are evenly matched at our test track. The Jeep, powered by a 3.6-liter V-6 pumping out 285 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque is first to 60 mph, hitting the mark in 7.8 seconds. The heavier FJ, with its bigger and more powerful 270 hp and 278 lb-ft of torque 4.0-liter V-6, hits 60 mph after 8.0 seconds. The Wrangler is again a tenth-of-a-second quicker though the quarter mile, powering through at 16.1 seconds at 83.6 mph, compared to the FJ's 16.2 seconds at 84.4 mph run. When it comes to braking and handling, the Jeep and Toyota are evenly matched again – the Jeep needed 132 feet to stop from 60 mph, while the Toyota needed an additional foot. The FJ Cruiser manages to beat the Jeep around the figure eight, finishing the course in 30 seconds, compared to the Wrangler's 30.6- second time.
With seemingly pointless performance tests (for off-road vehicles) out of the way it was time to hit the street. Both the Toyota FJ Cruiser and Jeep Wrangler Unlimited perform well in day-to-day use. Hop into the Wrangler and you're greeted by a well put-together, utilitarian interior. The good impressions continue while on the move. The Pentastar V-6 gets the Jeep up and going quickly and it never leaves you wanting more power. Though the five-speed automatic transmission is adequate at best, the Wrangler Willys Wheeler's standard 3.73 final drive does much to keep the Pentastar in its powerband. Wranglers have never been known for their road holding abilities, but the Willys is surprisingly capable. While the steering rack is deliberately slow, it offers up good feedback that always lets the driver know where exactly the wheels are pointing.