After an initial test with a concept vehicle called the FJ Cruiser at the 2005 Chicago auto show, Toyota knew it had something special. Response was so overwhelming, especially from the rabid Toyota 4x4 clubs worldwide, Toyota did something unprecedented. It put a vehicle project on a fast track; it wasn't going to endlessly clinic and belabor the development and design process. To its credit, Toyota has kept the production version close to the concept original.

Clearly, the interior design harkens back to the original, as do the exterior design cues: i.e., spare-tire carrier, white-top roof, round headlights, and boxy surfaces. This is probably the flattest windshield Toyota's made in 30 years. Note the vertical angles on the front dash and flat faces of the controls and gauges. This is no ordinary Toyota. And that's the point.

But, as we said before, maybe what's more surprising than anything is the fact that Toyota is taking this risk. This isn't like the Prius, where there was a calculated windfall potential for environmental responsibility and experimental technology. The FJ's only purpose is to tout its heritage. And that's not the Toyota way. However, the most significant gain that could be made here could simply be the energy and excitement the FJ Cruiser is creating for the company itself. This one vehicle is acting like a lightning rod for Toyota employees who are tired of seeing their company always choosing the safe and calculated, although profitable, paths. Now they have their Viper. Now they have their Mustang. Now they have their icon back. It'll be interesting to see what happens next.

For now, we know the FJ runs on a modified platform from an existing model used in Asia, which is a shortened version of the 4Runner platform sold in the U.S. The engine will be the current-generation 4.0-liter, all-aluminum V-6 used in the 4Runner and Tacoma. Look for a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission option straight from the Tacoma as well. The FJ will be rear drive, but will offer a transfer case that will include a strong low-range ratio and possibly an all-wheel-drive mode. We anticipate a locking differential or sophisticated limited-slip, and maybe some kind of height adjustment to the suspension and/or shocks. Otherwise, expect the same multilink live axle in the rear and IFS with coilovers in front as in current 4Runners. Early comments from Toyota have production numbers hovering between 30,000 and 40,000 units for the U.S., with a price tag right around $25,000. We can't wait to get one on the trail. We'll have more in upcoming issues.