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Is the time right for a Toyota FJ Cruiser comeback? Why the retro off-roader was ahead of its time | Opinion

The Toyota FJ Cruiser enjoyed only modest sales during its seven year run in Australia.

As the country recovers from the Coronavirus pandemic it seems adventure is on our mind, with sales of large SUVs up nearly seven per cent in the first six months of 2022.

According to the latest sales figures released for June, Toyota has sold nearly 13,000 examples of the Prado, which is up a sizeable 27.6 per cent over this time last year. In addition to this, the Kluger and Fortuner are both well ahead of the sales numbers they recorded last year.

It seems Toyota can do no wrong when it comes to SUVs... except for the FJ Cruiser.

The rugged, retro off-roader is one of Toyota's rare misses in the Australian market - or is it? Was it instead simply another case of the right car at the wrong time?

Toyota introduced the FJ Cruiser - which drew styling inspiration from the original J40 LandCruiser - in 2011 during a period when the brand was trying to give its image a boost. The FJ Cruiser appeared around the same time as the short-lived Rukus and the still-living 86, in the early stages of the brand's transformation away from its 'whitegoods-on-wheels' reputation.

Think of it as the forerunner to the Fortuner, an alternative to the Prado that is trying to appeal to a fresh audience.

The FJ Cruiser was based on the same underpinnings as the third-generation Prado, but was powered exclusively by a 4.0-litre V6 petrol engine (which made a respectable 200kW/380Nm). The lack of a diesel engine option was cited as a key reason for the modest success of the FJ Cruiser, but it was a symptom of its US-centric design focus. The American market is dominated by petrol engines so engineering a diesel option was simply not a priority.

Even so, the local FJ Cruisers did feature a local testing program that resulted in unique suspension and steering settings to make it more appealing to local customers.

Between 2011 and 2017, when Toyota officially discontinued the car locally, more than 12,000 FJ Cruisers were sold in Australia. Its best year was 2012, with nearly 3000 (2981 to be precise) examples sold, but by 2014 the FJ was down to just 1840 sales and continued to decline from there.

In many respects it's easy to see why Toyota Australia management pulled the pin. In 2016, the company sold 1330 FJ Cruisers but managed to find buyers for nearly 15,000 Prados - the comparison wasn't a good one for the retro machine.

Except, sheer volume was never really the aim for the FJ Cruiser. It was meant to add some 'wow factor' to a brand not known for excitement at the time. The off-roader came in bright colours with the option of a white roof, it has freestyle rear doors and it was deliberately polarising in its design. There's no mystery why it didn't sell in the same numbers as the Prado, it wasn't designed to.

Instead, think of it as the forerunner to the Fortuner, an alternative to the Prado that is trying to appeal to a fresh audience. They still want Toyota's reputation for reliability, value and off-road prowess, but also want something noticeably different to the conventional Prado.

Sheer volume was never really the aim for the FJ Cruiser. It was meant to add some ‘wow factor’ to a brand not known for excitement at the time.

Perhaps the addition of a diesel engine would have helped, but it seems like now is a better time for Toyota to introduce something like the FJ Cruiser. The overall large SUV market is now 10 per cent larger than it was when the FJ Cruiser arrived in 2011, Ford has revived the Bronco for the US market and, in Australia, the likes of the new Ford Everest, Land Rover Defender 90 and Ineos Grenadier demonstrate the demand for hardcore off-roaders with unconventional styling have appeal.

Perhaps there's no better sign that the FJ Cruiser was ahead of its time than the current used car prices for the model. While it was $46,990 (plus on-road costs) when it was discontinued, a check of the classifieds shows several examples well above that price listed for sale - several as high as $10,000 more than the then-new price.

An all-electric spiritual successor is in the works, but with Toyota likely expanding its new TNGA-F ladder frame platform (the same one that sits underneath the LandCruiser 300 Series) to the new-gen Prado and HiLux, the time could be right for an FJ Cruiser revival...

Stephen Ottley
Contributing Journalist
Steve has been obsessed with all things automotive for as long as he can remember. Literally, his earliest memory is of a car. Having amassed an enviable Hot Wheels and Matchbox collection as a kid he moved into the world of real cars with an Alfa Romeo Alfasud. Despite that questionable history he carved a successful career for himself, firstly covering motorsport for Auto Action magazine before eventually moving into the automotive publishing world with CarsGuide in 2008. Since then he's worked for every major outlet, having work published in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age,, Street Machine, V8X and F1 Racing. These days he still loves cars as much as he did as a kid and has an Alfa Romeo Alfasud in the garage (but not the same one as before... that's a long story).
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