Mike Stevens | May 28, 2008

Don't get me started on Toyota. The manufacturer that once churned out exciting cars like the budget mid-engined exotic MR2, rally-minded Toyota Celica GT-Four, horsepower-mad Supra Turbo and drift-ready AE86 is now the richest car company in the world, but has somehow managed to cull any semblance of excitement from its lineup. True, there's the upcoming Lexus LF-A and rumored Toyobaru RWD coupe, but the fact remains that as of now, 2008, there is not much to get excited about when driving past a Toyota dealership. Unless, of course, you happen to live in America.


Yanks have always lamented the fact that all the good stuff goes to the rest of the world, but the rest of the world doesn't get the Toyota FJ Cruiser. Not even Japan, where it's built. When I was there in 2005, an FJ-crazy Japanese friend took me to a location near the FJ Cruiser's Hamura plant west of Tokyo. Truckload after truckload of the SUV rolled by, destined for lots across the Pacific, much to his chagrin.


Why is this the coolest car in Toyota's worldwide portfolio? It's a dirt cheap go-anywhere off roader that would be the ideal vehicle to own if the events of Mad Max actually transpired. It has a 4.0L DOHC V6 with VVT-i rated at 178 kW at 5200 rpm, and 377 N·m of torque at 2700 rpm. You can get it with a six-speed manual transmission, a locking rear diff, a clutch cancel switch and a high mounted air intake. Everything about it has been engineered with uncivilized driving conditions in mind, and it's based on the legendary Land Cruiser Prado chassis. It's only drawback is an independent front suspension, but with a starting price of about US$23,000, I can live with that.


And if all that isn't enough, it's got a retro FJ40 Land Cruiser-inspired design, complete with white capped roof (the early Cruisers didn't have A/C, so the white roof was meant to reflect heat cheaply), making it quite possibly the most thoughtfully designed Toyota in existence today. Sign me up.


[Images: Toyota]


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