x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

2010 Toyota FJ Cruiser

The FJ Cruiser gets a makeover inside and out, but it still has the capabilities of a top off-roader.

The FJ Cruiser will humble most off-road challenges, but rear visibility is a constant bugbear.
The FJ Cruiser will humble most off-road challenges, but rear visibility is a constant bugbear.

The FJ Cruiser looks like the dorky lovechild of a Fisher-Price toy truck and a Hummer but, if only for its sheer ubiquity on our roads, the risky but outrageously successful styling has grown on me. The FJ is a retro take on Toyota's original FJ40, its legendary, utilitarian 4x4 manufactured between 1960 to 1984. The new design, both inside and out, was a style gamble for Toyota but, in the Middle East market at least, it has paid off handsomely with solid sales figures. The signature bright yellow and blue paint colours were also revived for the latest incarnation with a contrasting white roof. Suicide doors are another quirky feature which may divide potential buyers, but haven't harmed the vehicle's popularity.

One of the first people in the UAE to own an FJ Cruiser was Tahani Al Beidh - she featured as one of the first subjects of Motoring's My Car spot last December and shared the tale of how she spotted the car online, fell in love with its looks, and then imported one from the US before they were on sale in the UAE. But the success of the FJ Cruiser in the UAE market is not just down to its love-it-or-hate-it looks. As Tahani ably demonstrated to me when she took me for a spin in the dunes behind Dubai's Dragon Mart, it has the added appeal of being a seriously capable car off-road, staying true to the FJ40 heritage in intent as well as looks. After all, not all 4x4 buyers just want their car for the school run.

As well as a slick gearbox that is dead easy to use off-road - although the large gear shifter does resemble a karaoke microphone - the chassis feels near-indestructible, the suspension won't cause your teeth to snap in half if you take on a bump at speed, and the clearance at the front is so high, a small family could comfortably live under the grille. Add to this some impressive torque - 377Nm - and it's clear the FJ Cruiser has the ability to take on a steep dune in a single bound, or tow a horsebox without endangering the nerves of a highly strung Arabian steed.

The brilliant suspension is not so spongy that you feel divorced from the road, so you still get the thrills of lumps and bumps, and it made all the more comfortable by super- supportive seats. When I borrowed the FJ Cruiser, I drove to the Festival City showroom from Abu Dhabi in my 2005 Pajero, a car that I adore, but as soon as I got behind the wheel of the FJ Cruiser, the difference in power was immediately noticeable. Swapping 182hp for 240 ponies made motorway cruising a breeze. It does 0-to-100kph in 8.5 seconds, a spritely time for a heavy 4x4.

As well as being a powerful highway performer, it is astoundingly quiet - all the better to enjoy the excellent sound system. The interior of the latest model FJ Cruiser has thankfully been toned down since the first model was launched. I tested the relaunched FJ back in 2007 and the fake pressed metal that was actually a particularly noxious plastic made the interior look cheap and gimmicky. It has been replaced by a more sober black and silver dash which makes the chunky, Toyland shapes of the centre console and glovebox far more palatable. Also excellently chunky are the stereo and AC controls. Tiny buttons with symbols that require a magnifying glass to decipher are the bane of modern car stereos and A/Cs. Give me simple dials that can be easily grabbed without looking away from the road please - and this is precisely what the FJ Cruiser offers.

Not so ergonomic was the rear-view mirror that required a yoga-like arm stretch to adjust. However, it was fitted with an excellent viewscreen for the reversing camera, which is a must-have in a vehicle with a couple of Jupiter-sized blindspots. A screen that reveals itself from behind the mirror when needed, as opposed to being found on the dash, is an excellent idea. It means you get two clear pictures of what is going on behind you without looking down. The FJ Cruiser's reversing camera picture is crystal-clear and saved my nerves while reversing out of tight Abu Dhabi parking spaces and spotting delivery guys on bicycles and errant children lurking behind.

The large wing mirrors are also an essential component on this car, with all-around visibility taking a backseat because of the military vehicle-inspired narrow windows. The wing mirrors on the FJ allow you to pretty much see into the next emirate and this was a blessing when changing lanes. Without them, I would have mowed over countless small cars that just don't show up when you glance over your shoulder.

The blindspots made me nervous in traffic, but when I took the car for a rugged and rocky drive to Hatta, that was soon forgotten as it took the tough terrain in its stride. The FJ's looks are a matter of personal taste, but it is pretty hard to argue with its capabilities off the beaten track. glewis@thenational.ae