June 26, 2011

Toyota FJ Cruiser: going off-road

Check figures in the overview section and it's obvious the FJ Cruiser should do well as it comes off the showroom floor for even fairly serious off-roading. 4wdNewz took the vehicle to the Jeep Woodhill 4WD Adventure Park, which replicates most typical New Zealand track conditions except for rivers and paddocks. It quickly became clear that the wagon is very much at home off the road and a lot of this is due to its well developed electronic traction control. Electronic traction controls are a mixed bag, some refusing to do much until the driver boots the throttle, which may be the last thing the conditions require. The FJ Cruiser's, on the other hand, just seems to "know" when it's needed and works unobtrusively on the driver's behalf. This attribute makes it easier to forgive fairly average wheel travel and articulation because, with one or two wheels off the ground (or maybe even three; this opportunity did not present itself), the traction control will get it through. So effective was the traction control that the rear mechanical diff lock was needed only a couple of times, on some nasty rutted uphill tracks with surface roots and dips immediately before them.
Not only can each ratio of the automatic box be selected manually, the chosen ratio will be held, providing peace of mind on, say, steep descents. This is unlike some automatics that will take it on themselves to shift up a gear once some pre-set parameters are reached. However, with overall low gearing at slightly less than 34:1, and without the aid of a diesel's high-compression-ratio engine braking, steep descents are too fast without calling on the brakes. Fortunately, with big discs at each corner, there's no harm in using them up to the point that they cause loss of traction.
Ground clearance was not a problem on the test tracks, although we avoided others where it could have/would have been. However, the overall width of 1905mm was a problem and it took careful driving to get between some trees and other obstacles. That's common to any wide 4WD of course, not just the FJ Cruiser.
What let the vehicle down for me was its poor outward vision. The driver sits too low to be able to accurately place the vehicle on tight tracks and at descents with steep drop-offs. There's little headroom, so raising the seat a few centimetres isn't going to be a fix. Then there's the poor rear and three-quarter rear vision that makes backing in tight spots hair-raising without a spotter. The reversing camera is little more than confusing. The FJ's stylists have a lot to answer for; it would have been so easy to make the wagon more off-road friendly.
Suspension isn't particularly supple. Rear wheel is already off the ground, but traction control keeps it going.

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