One of the nice things about having money is that you can afford to take risks. What makes this risk particularly interesting is that it's coming from Toyota, a company that typically doesn't like to take chances. The vehicle it's rolling the dice on is the FJ Cruiser, a retro-styled modern-day version of the no-frills roughneck FJ 40. With the recent success of the Ford Mustang, Dodge Magnum, and Hummer H2, Toyota is dipping into its own heritage well and hoping for similar success. And it makes sense: Toyota needs an entry-level (affordable and moderately stylish) vehicle other than the base-model Tacoma pickup to pull younger buyers into the Toyota brand. Priced right, the FJ Cruiser could be a good starting point, even if the company doesn't make the "normal" profit off each sale.
Based off a shortened and widened 4Runner platform, the FJ Cruiser has two full-size doors, with two forward-opening extended-cab-type doors, similar to the Honda Element's layout. The result is comfortable seating for five, with relatively easy access to cargo. The rear hatch is more utilitarian with a two-part rear opening that offers flip-up glass instead of the electric rolldown rear glass of the 4Runner, Land Cruiser, or Sequoia. The FJ Cruiser will use Toyota's new all-aluminum 4.0-liter V-6 (first introduced in the 4Runner) and the Tacoma's six-speed manual on 4x4 models. All other vehicles will get the five-speed automatic. To its credit, Toyota has included many of the styling cues that existed on earlier FJ models (and from the concept vehicle shown at Detroit three years ago), like the wide and flat windshield, white-cap roof, round headlights, wide grille, and exterior-mounted spare tire. The competitive set for the FJ Cruiser will most likely include such diverse vehicles as the old-technology Jeep Wrangler, new-school Ford Escape, rugged Hummer H3, and the function-first Nissan Xterra. Expect the FJ, which has an electronic locking rear-differential option and traction control, to do well for those looking for 4x4 trail adventure.
Although Toyota has been quiet about what the interior will look like, we'd expect a continuation of its tool-like simplicity. Toyota is saying the starting price for FJ Cruisers won't be more than $22,000, with a fully loaded model in the mid- to high-$26,000 range. Probably not a lot of profit at that price, but, then again, Toyota's good at thinking long-term on its investments. Expect FJ Cruisers to make it into selected showrooms--but hurry! Toyota is looking to sell only 35,000 units in the first year so there won't be too many around.