Review: 2014 FJ Cruiser Trail Teams Ultimate Edition

Aug. 28, 2014 By Josh Burns
Somewhere between Texas and New Mexico, we toss around the FJ Cruiser Trails Team Ultimate Edition in the dirt.

There are some who probably shed a few tears at the end of last year when Toyota announced that 2014 would be the last of the FJ Cruiser; others ran out the door and headed to the nearest Toyota dealership to put in an order for a 2014.

For those who’ve been on the fence about buying an FJ, Toyota decided to send its popular niche off-roader out with a bang by offering a 2014 FJ Cruiser Trail Team Ultimate Edition. We spent a week logging in some serious road and dirt time to get a lasting impression of the FJ, specifically in the coolest package Toyota has offered of its unique SUV.

With its Heritage Blue paint job, Toyota put together a nice package to send off the FJ Cruiser in style with the Trail Teams Ultimate Edition.

There are quite a few additions to the Ultimate Edition FJ, but some of the key features are unchanged. There are no changes to the motor on the 2014 Ultimate Edition, as it is powered by Toyota’s VVT-i 4.0-liter V6 engine, which produces 260 horsepower and 271 lb.-ft. of torque. Toyota offers the choice of a five-speed automatic transmission or a six-speed manual (the manual comes standard with a rear locker; it’s an option in the automatic but standard on the Ultimate). Toyota claims a 15 city/18 highway mph rating for the six-speed manual transmission, while the five-speed 4x4 automatic is rated at 17 city/20 highway (the 4x2 auto model is rated at 16/20).

Mounted to the dash of the FJ is a floating-ball instrumentation panel that features a compass, inclinometer and temperature gauge for the air outside.

The FJ Cruiser boasts some great features that you won’t find on most vehicles without making the upgrade yourself. Situated atop the center console is a floating-ball instrumentation panel that features a compass, inclinometer and outside temperature gauge. Unique to the Ultimate Edition FJ is its Heritage Blue coloring, which pays homage to the Land Cruiser FJ40 from which the FJ Cruiser spawned. The white front grille design, which is featured on all FJs, has also been borrowed from the original FJ40, and its serves as a bridging of the gap between the old and new.

A heavy-duty storage rack comes standard on the Ultimate Edition FJ, providing plenty of storage space for the next adventure.

Toyota has worked with Bilstein Suspension on a number of its off-road vehicles over the years, specifically on its Toyota Racing Development packages on its truck and SUVs. For the Trail Teams Ultimate Edition, Toyota fitted the FJ with TRD-tuned Bilstein shocks that are designed to increase articulation and provide added high-speed stability for off-road terrain. Since the Ultimate Edition goes the extra mile on its upgraded features, it should come as no surprise that the rear shocks are fitted with remote oil reservoirs for larger oil capacity to decrease damping fade when in the really bumpy stuff. Toyota also employs TRD race coil springs in the front to level out the front end of the Ultimate Edition for improved approach angle.

Toyota fitted 16-inch bead-lock-style TRD wheel with BFGoodrich’s ever-popular A/T KO tire for good on- and off-road performance.

Off-roaders will appreciate the 16-inch wheels on the Trail Teams Ultimate Edition FJ, not just because the cool TRD wheels feature beadlock-styling in a sleek gunmetal color but because of the added tire sidewall gained with a smaller wheel, meaning a smoother ride off the pavement. The tires used are BFGoodrich’s A/T KO that have a long history of being one of the best all-around tires for on- and off-road capability.

A 1/4-inch-thick TRD front skid plate provides added protection on the Ultimate Edition FJ.

A rocker panel’s best friend: Toyota outfitted the Ultimate Edition FJ with some quality rocker rails for added trail protection.

For added protection for the trails, Toyota outfitted a one-quarter-inch-thick TRD front skid plate on the Ultimate Edition. Drivers will have added peace of mind while negotiating obstacles and rocky ledges thanks to the rock rails equipped on the FJ that provide added rocker protection. Toyota also thoughtfully elevated the air intake to provide a water-fording clearance height of 28 inches should an unexpected water crossing arise.

The FJ Cruiser features suicide doors that open up to reveal the backseat.

Ergonomics & Interior Features
The FJ may provide some cool vintage-style features with the floating-ball instrumentation, but it’s heavy on modern amenities as well. The FJ’s steering wheel features controls for audio and the Bluetooth phone system so your hands don’t ever need to leave the wheel. A Sirius/XM capable radio is equipped on the FJ, while USB and auxiliary inputs are featured as well to connect devices. Long-time off-roaders will appreciate the manual four-wheel-drive shift knob located just to the right of the shifter. It offers options for two-wheel drive, neutral, four-wheel high and four-wheel low.

The FJ's interior is a touch of modern with a flare for vintage style. Note the Ultimate Edition plaque on the right of the dash.

Speaking of off-road capability, the Ultimate Edition's trim package is designed to enhance the off-pavement performance of the FJ. Included on the Ultimate Edition is Toyota’s A-TRAC system, or active traction control, which functions in four-wheel-drive low to provide additional power to the wheel with the most traction; though unlike a locking differential (or locker), the differential stays open to provide the driver with complete steering control. Our Ultimate Edition FJ also includes Crawl Control (CRAWL), allowing the driver to use the uphill or downhill mode to literally crawl up or down rugged terrain at a designated speed – all the while allowing the driver to focus purely on driving on not worry about the gas pedal and braking.

THE CRAWL system on the FJ Cruiser is controlled via a speed dial mounted on an overhead control panel on the roof. The CRAWL system provides uphill and downhill speed control in 1/2-mph increments (there are five settings). Much like the like the A-TRAC system that provides additional power to the wheel with traction, the CRAWL system can only be operated in four-wheel-drive low.

Our Take
This isn’t the first FJ we’ve had the chance to drive over the years, but it’s been a while we’ve gotten behind the wheel of one. Once seated, it takes a little getting used to. The seat’s height in relation to the dashboard feels low, which is part of the unique charm of the FJ, but it feels a little funny at first. It didn’t take long to get a feel for unique SUV, however, and before long we were on the road for an extended road trip.

Don’t Mess with Texas and its chilis unless you know what you’re in for. Our long-distance trip sent us to Texas and back and across asphault and dirt. We came away impressed with the Ultimate Edition, and by the number of head turns we got while on the road, we weren’t the only ones.

We spent the better part of the week in the FJ, traveling from California to Texas and back. We logged in plenty of miles on the road, but we also had our fair share of fun in the dirt. On the highway, the FJ offers an active driving experience. For a dirt-minded SUV it handles well, but it does tend to have a loose, bouncy feeling on the road. Getting into rougher roads requires an added level of attention from the driver, because while the FJ tracks straight it tends to feel slightly wobbly at times. The FJ is still fun to drive on the highway, but it certainly doesn’t have the most refined on-road prowess.

Whether on fire roads or soft sand where four-wheel drive is a must, the FJ really shines off the highway.

When it comes to getting off pavement, the FJ starts to really show its chops. Drop the transfer case into 4H or 4L and get into some loose dirt or sand and the FJ feels right at home. The Ultimate Edition we tested offers a little something for off-roaders of all levels as well. With a standard rear locking differential, most accomplished off-roaders will have all they need to get in and out of some tough trails, thanks in part to great approach, departure and breakover angles. Those less experienced will appreciate the CRAWL option for speed-controlled uphill or downhill operation in four-wheel-drive low; experienced drivers won’t care for the detached experience of not controlling the gas and braking, but it’s still a nice option to have. If a wheel loses traction while in the dirt, the A-TRAC feature will aid in getting out of a low-speed jam by transferring power to the wheel that does have traction.

Due to the low-situated seat, visibility isn’t the greatest for the driver. On the highway this didn’t come into play (it just took some getting used to), but at times off the highway the lack of outward visibility made it tough to see the trail or that next obstacle. Part of the charm of the FJ is its unique feel for drivers and passengers, but that uniqueness does have a catch when it comes to overall trail visibility.

A backup camera is thoughtfully incorporated into the rearview mirror. Although the screen isn’t large, it is easy to use and plenty big to aid in seeing obstacles on the trail or cars in a parking lot.

The front seats are comfortable and spacious; the same can’t be said for the back seats, but they aren’t so crammed that they are uncomfortable. With a full car, a compromise must be met between the front and rear passengers to make sure the front seats aren’t slid all the way back – otherwise, no one will fit in the back other than a small child. The good news for taller drivers, however, is that the driver’s seat can slide back to comfortably fit drivers well over 6 feet tall (I’m 6’0” and there was plenty of space to still back the seat up). The biggest gripe for the back seat is that it’s slightly awkward to climb into and out of – the suicide doors don’t offer much in the way of handholds for accessing the back seat.

Whether on the street or the dirt, the 260-horsepower 4.0-liter V6 offers plenty of power. Our Ultimate Edition is also outfitted with a TRD exhaust that reduces backpressure to improve performance and give the FJ a little added growl. We were really happy with the overall performance of the motor everywhere we took it. As far as fuel economy is concerned, we averaged a blend of street/highway mileage at 16.68 miles per gallon over the course of multiple fillups. It was a little lower than we expected but still within Toyota's 16/20 range. Our best tank was 18.75 mpg, while our worst was 15.5 mpg.

Will we ever see the FJ Cruiser again in Toyota’s lineup? Only time will tell, but the Trails Team Unlimited Edition is a great send-off party for sure.

Sayoonara, FJ Cruiser
The FJ Cruiser is a unique vehicle that is both homage to Toyota’s past while keeping a solid grasp of its present and future. The FJ was a bit of a gamble for Toyota, but with over 200,000 units sold the vehicle has clearly been a huge hit. The FJ has a loyal fanbase as well, with hundreds of owners gathering in Colorado each year for the FJ Summit and other events around the country. The driving experience of the FJ, both on- and off-road, is unique in that it’s not quite a traditional SUV and it’s not some throwaway Jeep knock-off.

The TRD exhaust is a nice addition on the Ultimate Edition FJ.

The MSRP of the Unlimited Edition is $37,455, though with only handful left in dealership it's possible you'll have to pay a little more. In our eyes, the added features on the Trails Team Unlimited Edition is a great send-off for what has been a hugely successful return of the FJ to Toyota’s lineup. With a limited run of only 2,500 units made, you’d be hard pressed to find one, but once you hit the dirt you’ll be happy you did.

Specifications – 2014 Toyota FJ Cruiser
Engine: 4.0-liter V6 DOHC, 24-valve w/
Horsepower: 260 @ 5600
Torque: 271 lb.-ft. @ 4400
Transmission: 5-speed auto, 6-speed manual
Height: 72 in. (not including storage rack)
Width: 75 in.
Length: 183.9 in.
Wheelbase: 105.9 in.
Approach Angle: 34 degrees
Departure Angle: 31 degrees
Breakover Angle: 27 degrees
Ground Clearance: 9.6 in
Curb Weight: 4332 lbs.
Gross Vehicle Weight Rating: 5570 lbs.
Towing Capacity: 4700 lbs.
Fuel Tank: 19 gal.
Seating Capacity: 5
Gear Ratio: 3.91:1
MPG Rating: 16 city; 20 highway
Aver. MPG (tested): 16.83 mpg Newsletter
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