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.
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 |