Toyota FJ Cruiser road test: Rugged all-terrain vehicle nearing retirement

2014 Toyota FJ Cruiser Ultimate Edition

2014 Toyota FJ Cruiser Ultimate Edition

It is almost time to say good bye to the Toyota FJ Cruiser  When the last of its  2014-model off-road vehicles has been sold, the Cruiser will officially be put out to pasture, so to speak..

This undoubtedly does not come as good news to  many of the faithful, who have recently bestowed upon it a special honor. The FJ Cruiser has been rated tops in the Active Lifestyle-Mainstream category in the annual Motorist Choice Awards.

Toyota FJ Cruiser controls

Toyota FJ Cruiser controls

The awards are based on information gathered by the data tracking service IntelliChoice and the automotive research firm Auto Pacific, Inc. The honors are meant to determine vehicles that deliver customer satisfaction and low operating costs.

To commemorate the end of its 8-year run, Toyota is offering a special 2014 FJ Cruiser Trail Teams Ultimate Edition. Toyota says it is the most capable FJ Cruiser ever offered and only 2,500 copies will be offered for sale.

For those not familiar with any of the 200,000 mid-size SUVs  sold since 2006, the FJ Cruiser is a modern interpretation of the Toyota Land Cruiser FJ40, which was popular in the 1960’s. Its natural competitor is the Jeep Wrangler, although unlike the variety of body styles offered by Jeep, the Cruiser has been offered only as a single hardtop model.

I recently had the opportunity to spend a week with the Ultimate Edition FJ Cruiser and found a lot to like and a few important features that are not to like.

Toyota FJ Cruiser cargo space

Toyota FJ Cruiser cargo space

The major upgrades in the $8,185 package that separates the test car from the standard model (base price $29,270) are a specially developed Bilstein front suspension and rear Bilstein shock absorbers that enhance off-road capability, a 1/4-inch-thick aluminum front skid plate, 16-inch gray bead-lock wheels with meaty all-terrain tires and a three-gauge package that contains an inclinometer to display the severity of the grade being traversed, an outside thermometer and a compass.

The Ultimate Edition can easily be identified by its “Heritage Blue” paint,, unique white grille trim and blacked-out bumpers, exterior mirrors and door handles.

Like all FJ cruisers, the Ultimate Edition has a 4-liter V-6 engine that generates 260 horsepower and 271 pound-feet of torque. Teamed with a 5-speed automatic transmission, It is a capable, but not particular spirited powerplant.

Fortunately, It will run happily on regular-grade fuel because it gulps a lot of it.  Even though I had minimal opportunity to test its off-road ability and no opportunity to fill the 4,300-pound Cruiser with 4 passengers or up to 66.8 cubic feet of cargo, I barely averaged 17 miles per gallon in several hundred miles of mostly urban and suburban driving. The EPA estimates the FJ Cruisers at 17 mpg city/20 mpg highway, but I wouldn’t count on it.

Although FJ Cruisers are available in two-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive configurations, the Ultimate Edition is available only with part-time four-wheel drive with two-speed transfer case and off-road traction control, crawl control and vehicle skid control.