The Toyota FJ Cruiser, on the other hand, is showing its age. Whereas Jeep has continuously updated the Wrangler since its debut with a new engine, transmission, and interior, the FJ Cruiser is largely identical to the original 2007 model. At least the FJ doesn't look old it. Its exterior and (surprisingly) its interior have aged rather well. Sure, the highly stylized interior has some weak spots -- the factory head unit, and many blank switches for starters -- but overall it's full of kitschy-cool. The dash-mounted clock, inclinometer, and compass are neat party pieces, and the overhead console complete with hill descent control and the locking rear-diff switch looks great. The FJ's 4.0-liter V-6, last updated in 2010, feels dated on the other hand. Though it accelerates well enough, dipping into the gas pedal leaves the driver with the impression that you're asking the FJ to do something it really doesn't want to do, with the engine emitting an awful-sounding bellow as it gets up to speed. When it comes to corners, the FJ Cruiser's steering rack feels quicker but less-precise than the Wrangler's. The FJ Cruiser may give up a bit to the Jeep in acceleration and handling, but it without a doubt rides better than the Wrangler. That's not to say that the Wrangler's ride is particularly punishing, it's just that the FJ Cruiser Ultimate's suspension, which TRD developed for high-speed off-roading, is simply sublime on the road. The Bilstein shocks easily handle any abuse put in its way, making dips, pot holes, and speed bumps disappear from the road.
Off-road, the Toyota FJ's strong suit is hard and fast running. The Bilstein shocks and TRD springs give the FJ Cruiser Ultimate the ability to haul ass down wide open trails, giving you a feeling of invulnerability rivaled only by rigs like the Ford Raptor. No matter the trail, whether it be hard-packed dirt or loose sand, the FJ Cruiser just powered on through – if you need an off-roader to quickly escape an apocalypse-like situation or you just like throwing up massive rooster tails, the FJ Cruiser should be on your short list. When it comes to more technical off-roading though, the FJ Cruiser falters because of its large front and rear overhangs. While the FJ Cruiser feels as if its mechanically capable of tackling the rough stuff, I lost count of how many times the front bumper and rear trailer hitch caught up on terrain I was driving over. The FJ's 34-degree approach and 31-degree departure angles, about 10-degrees less than the Jeep's, are most likely to blame.
The Jeep Wrangler, on the other hand, feels unstoppable off-road. Surprising, right? Though not at home speeding down open trails like the FJ is, the Wrangler still eagerly does anything you ask of it. On tight, technical trails, you never find yourself questioning the Jeep's capabilities. Point and shoot the Jeep at an obstacle and it overcomes it. No muss, no fuss. The Jeep easily took to steep climbs and descents, rocky frame twisters, and more, seemingly eager for yet more. Just about the only trail I didn't dare tackle with the Wrangler was Hungry Valley's water pit – something about explaining to my co-workers why the Jeep reeked of mildew and death didn't seem to appetizing to me.
Though evenly matched on- and off-road, there's a bit of a gap between the sticker price of the two off-roaders. The Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Willys Wheeler Edition, based on the Wrangler Unlimited Sport, starts at $32,890; with the automatic transmission and the basic Uconnect infotainment system our Wrangler Willys Wheeler Edition stickered for $34,880. The Toyota FJ Cruiser Trail Teams Ultimate Edition starts at $37,455, and with the optional TRD catback exhaust, towing hitch, and carpeted floor mats, costs $39,439.
Ultimately, there can be just one winner, and that victory goes to the original: the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Willys Wheeler Edition. While you really can't go wrong with either the Toyota or Jeep, the Wrangler just offers up that little extra something that makes you want to keep going. The Wrangler oozes personality; spend any time in it and it immediately becomes part of the family. Basically what it boils down to is this: the Jeep Wrangler makes you want to drop the top and actively go out and seek adventure. In the Toyota FJ Cruiser, you're content holing up at home for a weekend-long Netflix marathon and hitting the road later.
In an increasingly busy world, there's no beating the feeling of freedom the Wrangler affords you, and for that it walks off with the win.
| || 2014 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Willys Wheeler Edition || 2014 Toyota FJ Cruiser Trail Teams Ultimate Edition|
| BASE PRICE || $27,190 || $30,130 |
| PRICE AS TESTED || $34,880 || $39,439 |
| VEHICLE LAYOUT || Front-engine, 4WD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV || Front-engine, 4WD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV |
| ENGINE || 3.6L/285-hp/260-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6 || 4.0L/260-hp/271-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6 |
| TRANSMISSION || 5-speed automatic || 5-speed automatic |
| CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) || 4401 lb (52/48%) || 4504 lb (54/46%) |
| WHEELBASE || 116.0 in || 105.9 in |
| LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT || 152.8 x 73.7 x 70.9 in || 183.9 x 75.0 x 72.0 in |
| 0-60 MPH || 7.8 sec || 8.0 sec |
| QUARTER MILE || 16.1 sec @ 83.6 mph || 16.2 sec @ 84.4 mph |
| BRAKING, 60-0 MPH || 132 ft || 133 ft |
| LATERAL ACCELERATION || 0.63 g (avg) || 0.69 g (avg) |
| MT FIGURE EIGHT || 30.6 sec || 30.0 sec |
| EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON || 17/20/18 mpg || 17/20/18 mpg |
| ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY || 198/169 kW-hrs/100 miles || 198/169 kW-hrs/100 miles |
| CO2 EMISSIONS || 1.06 lb/mile || 1.06 lb/mile |