2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser (Manual)

One FJ To Rule Them All 
By Imthishan Giado


Toyota’s ubiquitous FJ Cruiser SUV has been our streets for quite a while now – four years to be exact – and in all that time, it has hardly changed at all.

Yes, local distributor Al Futtaim has seen fit to add a few standard niceties like Bluetooth, an essential reversing camera and some optional matt paint for the unfortunately-titled ‘Stealth Edition’, but essentially, this is exactly the same car that debuted here in 2008. Not that this has hurt sales at all; you see an FJ on the streets of the UAE approximately every seven seconds, and virtually every possible modification has been done to the poor thing.

But there’s one modification we hadn’t seen until now: an FJ with a manual gearbox. A stick shift has been available in the US from the onset, but it’s taken a long time (and a lot of pushing and prodding) for us to finally get a proper six-speed of our own. In offering a manual option, the FJ joins a very select group of offroaders – the only other SUVs available with a self-swapper are big brother Land Cruiser, the Nissan Patrol (both new and old Hard Top models) and the Jeep Wrangler (only in short wheelbase form).

2012 Toyota FJ Manual

Why the fuss, you ask? Why, you wonder, would anyone want one over the – admittedly, well sorted – standard five-speed auto? Anyone who visits the desert regularly will know why: having a manual transmission offers you much finer control over your gear ratios in difficult terrain. Not to mention, you can use the little-known ‘clutch kick’ method to self recover, even if you’re buried up to your axles in the sand. Downsides? The manual box is one more thing to manage in the heat of the moment, so it’s not for everyone. Secondly, an automatic can change gears much faster than you can so on big climbs, it provides a smooth, uninterrupted flow of power.

2012 Toyota FJ Manual

It may only be a transmission, but the manual FJ is actually considerably different from the standard model. Let’s start with the external bits: in true stripper fashion, most of the visual jewellery of the regular FJ has been omitted, ostensibly because you’ll modify most of it, but in reality, because it saves a hefty bit of cost. What’s missing? The sidesteps, which make getting and out a bit of a faff. Then there’s the lower FJ mouldings on the doors, the external lights on the wing mirrors, all the stickers from the exterior (which is not a bad thing) and sadly, the parking sensors and backup camera from the rear bumper and spare wheel cover respectively. For what it’s worth, you do have the front fog lights and too-common-now LEDs, the latter I could not switch off on the test car for some reason.

2012 Toyota FJ Manual
Inside, the cost cutting continues, and here it actually helps. The cheesy steel-effect dash appliques have been binned and in their place is a smooth piece of plastic with a metallic flake paintjob, which upgrades the ambience considerably. The steering wheel is missing audio controls, which is a slight inconvenience, and cruise control, which is a big one. Speaking of audio, the head unit is the same one you find on the 86, and actually sounds much better here then it does in that car. Chalk that up to the better 6×9 speakers you find in the FJ’s voluminous doors, although it is missing the big subwoofer you normally find near the back door. Sound quality doesn’t seem to suffer, and just like on the 86, there’s optional Bluetooth audio which works well, although call quality can be a bit muffled sometimes.

2012 Toyota FJ Manual

No doubt it’s a basic place to be and there isn’t a soft touch surface anywhere to all, but the cabin feels quite robust and well built. Get it dirty? No problem, hose it down and wipe clean. There aren’t too many controls to deal with and everything falls to hand easily. Compared to say, a Wrangler, there’s more cabin space and proper accommodation for four people, although I would like a telescoping steering wheel in the next FJ please, Toyota!

2012 Toyota FJ Manual

On the road, the FJ isn’t exactly car-like to drive; this is after all a proper body on frame SUV with a live axle mounted in the rear. Though it may look like a funky crossover, the FJ drives in a truck –like fashion, the three-spoke steering light and low on feedback, with a lag between your inputs and an actual cornering motion. That doesn’t mean it flops over the bends – the FJ corners in a surprisingly competent fashion, thanks to the grippy 17-inch wheels, though there is copious amounts of body roll. You just have to turn in and trust, so to speak.

But it’s off the beaten path where the FJ truly shines. I’ve never driven a car that is as easy to drive offroad, or empowers the driver with as much confidence to take on even the toughest dunes. The steering that was eerily light on road becomes crisp and connected off it, allowing you to point the agile FJ across the soft stuff with unerring accuracy. Kudos must go to the suspension which hits just the right balance between being stiff enough to maintain traction and soft enough to provide a compliant ride, and yet there’s plenty of travel and articulation for deep ruts and bumps, none of which fail to upset the FJ’s forward line. Yes, you can fit improved suspension from the likes of Icon and Old Man Emu, but with a stock setup this good, one really has to wonder why you’d bother.

Of course, this review is all about the drivetrain and it’s here where the FJ really shines. Few are aware that under the hood, this truck is packing an upgraded dual-VVTi version of Toyota’s big 4-litre V6 with 270bhp and it feels ably matched to the six-speed manual. Where the old unit felt slightly breathless at higher revs, the upgraded V6 maintains a unbroken flow of torque. Controlling it is easy with a light clutch that’s especially forgiving of clumsy shifts, although you won’t be making too many with the slick-shifting box. About the only criticism that I can level at the transmission is that the throws are slightly long; if that really bothers you, TRD makes a short shifter which resolves the issue.

2012 Toyota FJ Manual

Verdict

Real dunebashers swear by the FJ – it’s proven itself time and time again in our harsh environment. Adding a manual transmission has only improved its appeal, and a significantly lower starting price (AED 126,500) cements the proposition.

2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser Manual  
Specs
Price: AED126,500
Engine: 4.0-litre V6 , 270bhp @ 5600rpm, 271lb ft @ 3700rpm
Performance: 0-100kph 8.5s (est), 180kph, 12.3L/100km
Transmission: six-speed manual, full-time four-wheel drive
Weight: 1946kg

 


18 responses to “2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser (Manual)”

  1. Ali says:

    Thank you for the review, we really need more these types of review in the Middle East.

    I am interested to buy the manual but have been worried about 2 things:
    1 off road driving skills needs to be better than average.
    2. Reselability, would it be hard to sell? Since everyone is looking for an auto?
    To me manual is thought than an auto but times are changing, and for most of us who go desert may be 3 times a year and don’t do any real dune bashing it would be great if you could include in your review the actual driving experience compared to an auto.

    Regards
    Ali

    • admin says:

      [Imthishan] Hi Ali, thanks for your comment!

      In reply to your questions:
      1) There’s no question the manual requires more effort to drive than the automatic and if you’re new to the desert the latter is definitely what you should be go for – it’s just easier to drive.
      On the other hand if you’re serious about your offroading (and many people who get into it casually find it quite addictive) then a manual car offers you far more options in terms of gear ratios – plus, it’s very easy to self-recover with a manual, where it’s near impossible with an auto. The choice is yours, but as a semi-experienced offroader and someone who started in the desert with manual gearboxes, there’s only once choice for me.
      2) With Toyotas, resale value isn’t really a question – people tend to snap them up almost immediately! And in the case of a manual offroader I would actually argue that there is a *higher* demand for them than automatic cars, since they are so rare and come up for sale so infrequently, people buy them much quicker. Put it this way – I sold my manual Land Cruiser mere hours after the ad went up and all told, there were more than 80 calls!

      The actual driving experience is completely down to the transmission – if you like engaging with the car then this is a good gearbox and a friendly clutch and feels pretty tough to boot. If you don’t care about any of that then the 5-speed auto the FJ normally comes with is a superb unit, changes gears quickkly in the sand and as a bonus, slightly better on fuel.

  2. Ali says:

    Thank you so much for the response,

    I keep hearing about self recovery with a manual, how is the done?

    Cheers

    • admin says:

      [Imthishan]

      Self recovery for a manual is worthy of its own article! Basically, it boils down to putting the car in low range first gear or reverse (depending on which direction you need to move) then pumping the clutch continuously while moving the steering wheel to full lock in either direction back and forth. It takes a very long time and can be very, very hard work, but eventually, your car will work itself free.

      Word of advice: get an expert to demonstrate it first!

  3. ali fatemi says:

    good article, I hope you shed more light on this manual beauty in future. but I wonder if you are going to replace some if its parts with TRD accessories. I don’t know if there are any TRD parts in Dubai at all.

    • admin says:

      [Imthishan] TRD parts are not officially available here yet – I believe Al Futtaim will bring them in next year, starting with parts for the 86. In the meantime, you can always import and fit the parts yourself – check with shops like Extreme Performance or Lap 57 and they’ll be more than happy to help you out.

  4. Apilav says:

    Great review!
    If you like driving manual is the ultimate experience. You are in full control. There is no intermediary gearbox taking decisions for you. If you master manual shifting, you contol the beast!

    I think that the onlything that could make the FJ better is Toyota’s 3 liter DVD diesel engine…. or perhaps the 4 liter one. Low rpm diesel torque delivers the ultimate control and off road capacities. It delivers also more authonomy.

    • ali fatemi says:

      yes but turbocharger starts warm up, working above 1500RPM; In sand dunes or similar places, if you your engine RPM comes down lower than 1500, engine stalls and you sink! I believe petrol is far better especially the modern ones which get their max power in lower RPM compare to old designs. thats why VVTi stands for!

  5. ali fatemi says:

    I suppose there is no difference between manual engine and auto; both have dual- VVTi engine if I am not wrong.

    • admin says:

      [Imthishan] No difference in the engine – but there is a difference in the gearing, manuals have longer gearing which changes acceleration and top speed.

  6. Akif A. says:

    Hi Imthi… whats your opinion on the FJ cruiser Xtreme Edition? Do you think Arctic Trucks blessing is required for serious offroading or is the FJ cruiser capable enough without the mod? I really think the xtreme ed. looks nice and beefy but I’m concerned about onroad tyre noise. Share your thoughts please.. Help me make a choice 😉

    • Akif A. says:

      ……. Ill wait till we’re done with the Motoring Meet for you to answer this question

    • admin says:

      [Imthishan] The Artic Trucks version gives you beefier tyres which mean better traction in really soft sand but for the most part, the basic FJ is a very capable vehicle. The Extreme kit is a “nice to have addition”, but it’s not essential.

  7. Sinith Chandran says:

    I would like to buy an FJ in India, when it will be launching in India? I wish to know when it arrives in India to book / buy it at earliest.
    Pls reply………….

  8. Madda says:

    عندى سؤال بس ابغى الرد علية بالنسبة للسعر تويتا FJ موديل 2010كم سعرها

  9. mbns says:

    which is faster 0-100?

    is it true that fj cruiser will be discontinued after my 2014?

    • admin says:

      [Imthishabn] What are you comparing it to in terms of 0-100?
      The FJ will definitely be with us next year; in fact it’s due for a round of updates as well.

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