Here we have a formula that works like a dream for one car maker, yet represents disappointment for another.
In one corner, the Jeep Wrangler two-door and its four-door sibling, the Wrangler Unlimited. In the other, the Toyota FJ Cruiser with its rear-hinged, suicide-style rear doors. The Wrangler is busting sales records, embarking on an invasion of China and is the subject of wild speculation about plans for the all-new 2017 redesign. Alas, various reports say Toyota is ending the FJ Cruiser's run at the end of the 2014 model year.
So the Jeep from America lives and has a bright future with Asian buyers. The Toyota from Asia? The go-anywhere FJ, an interesting but terribly dated homage to the Land Cruiser FJ40 that went into production in 1960, is going away.
What happened? Among Toyota's many truck models, the FJ is an orphan and looks like one, what with its over-the-top passé design. The Wrangler, still a Willys at heart, looks ready to storm the beaches; yet there is something fun and friendly there, too. You'll see as many young women driving Wranglers as young men. Not so the FJ.
Most of all, a Wrangler can be affordable. You can buy a two-door Wrangler Sport for $23,195, plus fees, taxes and options. It will go anywhere and do anything in the bush that the FJ can yet the Jeep has a more modern 285-horsepower V-6 engine that is smoother and gutsier than the FJ's truck-like V-6 (260 hp).
In fairness, my latest Wrangler tester, an Unlimited Polar edition, came all-in at $47,920, with a starting price of $34,095. That number equals the base price of the FJ Cruiser I also just drove ($33,540). Fully loaded, my FJ test ride came to $44,988. The point, though, is that Jeep can sell Wranglers in volume because many models are budget-friendly. Not so with the FJ.
Both are rugged off-road adventurers. Tough, capable, willing to slog through mud, down craggy rock faces and so on. The Jeep, however, has a modern infotainment system and interface, while the FJ looks as if it was a new idea seven years ago. And it can function as a city-friendly car. Not the FJ.
So long, FJ. You were cool once, but the Jeep Unlimited has left you in its tracks.
2014 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara Polar Edition 4x4
- Base price: $34,095. Price as-tested: $47,920 (including $1,695 freight)
- Engine: 3.6-litre V-6
- Transmission: Five-speed automatic with Hill Descent Control
- Drive: Part-time four-wheel drive
- Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 13.2 city/10.0 highway, using regular fuel
- Alternatives: Nissan Xterra, Toyota FJ Cruiser.
When a basic design last nearly 75 years, as has the Willys Jeep look, something is extremely right. Here is a classic rugged look that comes in a functional size. Macho without being offensive to non-macho types. Genius, really.
The seating position is high, which makes for excellent visibility and surprising comfort – your knees are not above your hips, as in many cars.
The optional Uconnect infotainment ($1,225) with its easy-to-use touchscreen controls and colourful readouts, is a model of simplicity.
Cargo space is tight.
The Wrangler Unlimited is precisely what it's billed to be, a tough, capable four-by-four with authentic looks to match is all-around backcountry skills. Jeeps sells all it can get because this truck delivers on its promises.
You'll like this car if … you're a seriously outdoorsy type, or if you fancy yourself as one.
2014 Toyota FJ Cruiser 4WD
- Base price: $33,540 Price as-tested: $44,988.45 (including $1,690 freight)
- Engine: 4.0-litre V-6
- Transmission: Five-speed automatic ($1,000 option)
- Drive: Full-time four-wheel drive
- Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 13.8 city/10.3 highway using regular fuel
- Alternatives: Nissan Xterra, Jeep Wrangler Unlimited.
Yes, it looks a bit like a cartoon car, but there is something so over the top, so completely exaggerated here that I find it appealing. The roof rack is astonishing and the massive knobby tires look almost scary.
Cramped. That's the perfect word to describe the cabin, especially if you're in back. Those rear-hinged doors are not ideal for entry and exit, either. It's an effort to climb in and because of the impressive ground clearance, the seats themselves sit quote low. Not the most comfortable on long trips. And the electronic features while functional, look like they were designed years ago.
The automatic climate control works nicely and gets the cabin cool quickly on hot days. An optional ($8,625) Trail Teams Special Edition package includes such things as an inclimometer, outside temperature gauge and so on. But it's a big price to pay
The huge roof rack is there because the cargo room is not great.
The FJ is super-capable, but the whole package looks and feels dated.
You'll like this car … if you're a Toyota fan who spends time in the backwoods or dreams of living that lifestyle.
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