Toyota's FJ Cruiser Offers the Ultimate Off-Road Capability When Stuck Between a Slippery Rock and a Hard Place

Need proof the FJ Cruiser has traction control on tough terrain? Rest assured, the FJC is the only toolbox you'll need for handling slippery rocks, mud and sand.

Aug. 01, 2006 By Katrina Ramser

The FJ Cruiser looks like a member from the Toyota Land Cruiser family tree, but is it a vehicle that really lives up to the off-road capability of going anywhere and doing anything? The foundation for FJ Cruiser – the design and the capability – is built using the same genetics and philosophy for the Land Cruisers. Thus the FJ Cruiser possesses legendary off-road performance when it comes to traction control –and them some.

The Nuts, Bolts & Brakes of It All

All of Toyota’s SUVs are equipped with the STAR SAFETY SYSTEM™, which includes Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) and traction control (TRAC), as well as an anti-lock brake system (ABS) with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) and brake assist (BA) as standard. All 4x2 models will come with a standard automatic limited slip differential (ALSD). The Active Traction Control System (A-TRAC) is optional with the upgrade package.

The four-channel, four-sensor standard ABS helps prevent the wheels from locking under hard braking, while the EBD distributes appropriate braking force between the front and rear wheels dependent upon driving conditions. The VSC system helps keep the FJ Cruiser on the driver’s intended course by detecting and correcting front-and-rear-wheel slide during cornering and attempting to control slide conditions.

The TRAC helps reduce tire slippage during challenging conditions. TRAC means running a milder tire, kicking up fewer rocks and digging fewer holes. Shifting into 4Lo enables usage of the TRAC. It also splits engine torque between front-and-rear differentials 50/50. Maneuvering a tough trail is hard enough without your vehicle having a mind of its own. When you start traversing an embankment or a slope, TRAC keeps the diffs open and helps you stay on course. A locked differential can put a lot of strain on an axel shaft and ultimately cause breakage –TRAC avoids any binding.


Electronic Brake-Force Distribution (EBD)

  • Independent proportion of brake force between all four wheels
  • Controls brakes front-to-rear and side-to-side based on wheel loads and braking conditions
  • Uses ABS sensors
  • Works by measuring minute amounts of wheel slip under braking to balance individual wheel cylinder pressures to available traction


Vehicle Stability Control (VSC)

  • Controls wheel spin to preserve steering control when accelerating on slippery surfaces
  • Two-way communication between the Skid Control ECU and ECM
  • Reduced throttle opening
  • Selective brake application transfers torque across each axle to the wheels with traction


TRAC & A-TRAC System

  • TRAC enhances the start-off performance during low-grip surface conditions by restricting the acceleration effort (prevents wheel spinning)
  • A-TRAC can be activated/disabled by dashboard switch
  • A-TRAC helps restrain wheel spin by controlling the brake fluid pressure and distributes drive force (effect similar to ALSD)


Locking Differentials

  • Electronically activated B2ON type locking rear differential for precision and predictability when moving at a slow pace
  • Both 6-speed manual and 5-speed automatic transfer case will split torque 50/50 between front-and-rear differentials
  • Rear locking actuator sealed to the rear diff case with a gasket to stay waterproof


Automatic Limited Slip Differential Feature (ALSD)

  • Standard on 4x2s
  • Read only relative speed of rear drive wheels and attempts to match
  • Allows drive wheels to spin in relation to the driven wheels for enhancing traction conditions (spin to get the vehicle moving)
  • Switch on dashboard engages/disengages the system



  • Standard full skid plates for radiator, power steering rack, engine, transfer case, and fuel tank
  • Drive shaft section flattened and muffler tucked up to body
  • Ball joint used to connect front-and-rear sections for system flexing
  • Gas tank has multi-layer resin to resist punctures and rust



  • Short wheel-base and wide track with 30-degree maximum climb angle and 41-degree maximum side slope angle
  • Approach and depart angles are 32/39 on 2wd and 34/30 on 4wd (with a break-over angle of 27.4 degrees on 4wd)
  • 32” tires
  • 9.6” of ground clearance on 4x4 models
  • Water fording maximum depth of 700mm – 27.5”


Has the FJC Lived Up To the Test – Literally?

Many of these off-road capability features and options are what Toyota’s Senior Technician Joe Bascal refers to as instant “tools in the box.” After test-driving the FJ Cruiser at the infamous Glamis Dunes, Bascal reported his enthusiasm of the choice to use (or not to use) TRAC – especially because it is as easy as flicking a switch. In Glamis, where the sand is thick and loose, Bascal had the TRAC turned off and switched the transmission into 4Lo to maintain momentum with the kind of torque still capable of keeping on top of the steep, desert terrain areas such as Oldsmobile Hill. Bascal noted from a functionality standpoint, there are many features that make the FJ perform so well in sandy conditions. For example, the 50/50 torque split of the locking differentials really helped put the power down evenly and kept the truck on top of the sand.

But on a trail like the Rubicon, the TRAC is a much-needed “tool.” Internationally recognized 4x4 trail vet trainer Bill Burke knows the Rubicon will take its toll on any vehicle. A locking differential is expected, noted Burke, and he suggested using the Toyota E-Locker and electronic TRAC as an excellent combination to stay on the designated course. Burke also reported the OEM Rock Sliders on the FJ Cruiser will help minimize body damage.

When is comes to a combination of mud, water and snow, the Upper Tellico ORV Area is a perfect place to test the FJ Cruiser’s traction control capabilities. That’s exactly what off-road driving instructor and rock crawl competitor Tim Scully thought. With the rear tires resting on slippery river rocks and the front on slick snow, the active traction control fed power to whichever wheels had the best toehold on traction. In regards to commenting on the FJ Cruiser’s TRAC system, Scully kept it simple: “It’s truly amazing technology,” he noted. To find out where the next Toyota Trail Team will be showcasing the FJ, check out

Daring to venture into dirt, mud or slippery rocks demands precise control and a vehicle that commands it. The Land Cruiser created a reputation for the ability to crawl over obstacles on challenging environments, and the FJ Cruiser lives up to the history by being a capable all-weather, all-condition instrument. The FJ Cruiser delivers true durability at an affordable price for Land Cruiser and outdoor enthusiasts alike. Newsletter
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