To be honest, when a car company comes out with a new vehicle that harkens back to some long-lost heritage it used to have (but has since walked away from), it's not all that interesting anymore. Examples like the Chrysler PT Cruiser, Ford Mustang, and Volkswagen Beetle all have roots in the past and are looking for sales success in the present.

In the fast-paced car world, it makes sense that, as styles and designs change almost yearly, there's a strong desire to bring back the cleaner lines and shapes of earlier models. However, in the truck world, where style and design typically take a back seat to function and utility, many current models of popular pickups and SUVs are still closely tied (visually, at least) to the workhorses of old. As you might expect, there aren't many unexploited segments left for automakers. And then there's the issue of making money. The result is that companies like Ford and GM, who used to be comfortable taking risks on retro models, are now thinking about their future product lineups more carefully than ever.

On the flip side, companies once typically reserved and shy about making bold design statements or taking risks are now rethinking those positions. Much of this new attitude is a result of large sums of money these companies (like Honda and Toyota) are making on their cars and SUVs. In addition, import automakers are gaining credibility in previously unfamiliar territory. This recent success and changing attitude is leading several manufacturers to take unheard-of risks. That's why Toyota, one of the most conservative car companies around, is introducing the FJ Cruiser.

The original Toyota FJ40s were the Japanese response to American Jeep, which was popular after WWII: a functional, easy-to-work-on, small 4x4 that was simple and rugged. In the past 50 years, FJs have gone through serious changes, eventually evolving into the current production four-door Land Cruiser, technically designated the FJ100. But today's model is a far cry from the bare-bones trail-runner original. That could be changing.

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.



Modernizing a Classic
by Mark Williams

Toyota Land Cruisers (TLC), of Van Nuys, California, is looking to take advantage of what it believes is just the beginning of a big wave coming. With roots in classic-Toyota restoration, it's decided to put together a special project that answers the questions: What if we updated all the parts and pieces that made the original FJ40 great? What would it look like, and how could someone get one? Called the Icon, this special vehicle is built to order. "Simply put, we've made a classic FJ40 our way, the way we'd want it, and now they're for sale," says TLC owner Jonathan Ward. But it costs considerably more than the classic FJs when they first went on sale in the U.S., and they'll be quite a bit pricier than the 2007 FJ Cruisers when those go on sale this spring. In fact, Icon FJs from TLC will start at $89,000, but no two will ever be alike.

2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser
General
Location of final assembly Tahara, Japan
Body style 2-door, 5-pass
EPA size class Light truck, midsize SUV
Drivetrain layout Front engine, 4WD
Airbags Dual front, side, head
Powertrain
Engine type 90o V-6, all-aluminum
Bore x stroke, in 3.70 x 3.74
Displacement, ci/L 241.3/4.0
Compression ratio 10.0:1
Valve gear DOHC, 4 valves/cyl
Fuel induction Sequential multipoint
SAE horsepower, hp @ rpm 245 @ 5200
SAE torque, lb-ft @ rpm 282 @ 3800
Transmission type 6-speed manual
1st 4.17:1
2nd 2.19:1
3rd 1.49:1
4th 1.19:1
5th 1.00:1
6th 0.85:1
Reverse 3.61:1
Axle ratio 3.73:1
Final-drive ratio 3.17:1
Low-range ratio 2.57:1
Crawl ratio (1st x axle gears x low range) 40.0:1
Recommended fuel Premium unleaded
Dimensions/Capacities
Wheelbase, in 105.9
Length, in 177.6
Width, in 74.6
Height, in 70.9
Ground clearance, in 9.6
Base curb weight, lb 3800 (est)
Payload capacity, lb 1000 (est)
GVWR, lb 5000
GCWR, lb 8800
Towing capacity, lb 5000
Fuel capacity, gal 20.0
Chassis
Suspension, f/r IFS, coil springs/solid axle, four-link, coil springs
Steering type Power-assist rack-and-pinion
Ratio 15.6:1
Wheels 17x7.0-in cast aluminum
Tires 265/70R17 BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A
Load rating C
Speed rating 118
Price
Base price $22,000 (est)
Fully optioned price $27,000 (est)

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