Custom Toyota FJ Cruiser Review

custom 4x4 toyota fj cruiser review

Automotive tributes are nothing new, but too often they are created to cash in on the popularity of retro and to capitalise on the disposable income of baby boomers who love the nostalgia associated with an older car. The modern takes on the Mini and VW Beetle are classic examples.

This article was originally published in 4x4 Australia’s March 2012 issue.

If ever there was ever a four-wheel drive vehicle that was worthy of a tribute, it’s Toyota’s FJ40 LandCruiser. Even though it wasn’t the first LandCruiser, it’s the one most people recognise as the go-anywhere vehicle used by explorers and adventurers, and is associated with the construction of the Snowy Mountains Scheme – even if that was the earlier BJ25 model.

In 2003 Toyota paid tribute to the FJ of the 1960s and ’70s with a concept shown at the Chicago Auto Show called the FJ Cruiser. That vehicle took key styling elements such as the radiator grille with Toyota badging, book-ended by round headlights, and a white roof, and applied them to a funky modern body that looks more like a tribute to Lego than the classic Cruiser. The concept was a hit and the production version went on sale in the USA in 2006, while Australia didn’t get the FJ Cruiser until the updated 2011 model was launched.

Fred Cherrier’s father Alex had always been in to four-wheel drives, owning many of them over the years, his favourite being an 80 Series Cruiser. You could say the whole Cherrier family is into 4X4s; even Fred’s mum drives a tricked-up Wrangler two-door. Alex couldn’t wait to get his hands on the FJ Cruiser when it arrived here and as soon as he found out it was going on sale, he sold his 200 Series Cruiser and ordered an FJ with plans to modify it.

“My dad sold his 200 Series LandCruiser TDV8 to buy this car,” says Fred. “He wanted to modify it to an extent the 200 Series could not be modified and he was looking forward to customising it with parts from the USA. He wanted a tough-looking 4X4, not an SUV. Unfortunately, he died in a motorcycle accident about two months before the FJ landed.

“Being a motorcycle fanatic like my parents, I wanted to rebuild his Ducati as a track bike, but both my wife and my mum were adamant it wasn’t going to happen and they suggested I buy the FJ instead. Obviously outnumbered, I did the logical thing on one condition – that I would be allowed to build it as dad would have done, so this is in his honour and memory.”

This is Fred’s tribute to his late father.

Fred had to part with his wild 420 horsepower Subaru WRX STi to fund the FJ, but he is no stranger to modified four-wheel drives. His family car is a kitted-out 200 Series and before that he had a staunch 80. Going back further, there was a tough little Daihatsu Feroza that tore up the tracks out the back of the Gold Coast.

The white FJ Cruiser finally arrived in Queensland in April 2011 and the first step was to have it rust-proofed with a protective coating as well as an electronic rust prevention system. Living on the Gold Coast and with regular family trips to Fraser Island, the FJ will see some beach work, so it’s well protected against the elements.

The next stage was a performance upgrade for the V6 engine. The FJ Cruiser is fitted with the 4.0-litre petrol V6 the same as is used in Prado and HiLux. In this trim, it puts out 200kW and 380Nm – not enough for Fred. He sent it to Bullet Cars for a set of extractors and full 2.25-inch mandrel-bent exhaust system. Fred is also very keen to fit a supercharger kit from Bullet, but that is still under development so is set for future installation.

To get the most from the free-flowing exhaust, an XEDE processor from ChipTorque was installed and tuned on the dyno. The engine is now putting out a healthy 152kW at 5400rpm and 370Nm at 4300rpm measured at the wheels, which equates to around 220kW and 440Nm at the flywheel. It puts out a sweet sound from the custom exhaust which – at idle and low revs in the bush – could be mistaken for a V8 such is the burble from the pipe.

With five years of sales and huge following by the off-road fraternity in the USA before it arrived in Australia, there is a wealth of aftermarket gear available for the FJ from the States. Wheels and tyres, suspension kits, body kits, bar work – you name it, it’s available. Fred knew what he wanted, started ordering the bits, then enlisted the help of Wizard Performance to do the install.

The FJ Cruiser suspension is basically the same as 120 Series Prado with a coil-sprung live rear axle under the back and coil IFS up front, so it is relatively easy to modify. Icon Dynamics adjustable coil-over shocks and swaybar were fitted to the front of Fred’s FJ, while 80mm raised coils and Pro Comp shocks went under the back. The lift is around 80mm all round to give added ground and tyre clearance.

The tyres themselves are Mickey Thompson MTZs measuring 33 x 12.50 inches. They are fitted to 17 x 9-inch Pro Comp alloy wheels in tough black finish. Flares were needed to keep the rubber within the bodyline and a Bushwacker flare kit was imported from the USA and fitted by Fred.

Fred found his front bar and winch locally with an XROX bar and VRS V9500 winch from Tony at Opposite Lock on the Gold Coast. The tube steel bar also mounts a pair of Lightforce 240 spotties that are awaiting an HID upgrade and a pair of small fog lights in the bar. A pair of 35-watt LED lights at the rear to help with reversing in the bush at night.

To keep power up to the winch, lights and other accessories, a second battery is fitted in the engine bay. It is a NS50 80Ah with the main battery replaced by an Optima yellow top. The system is managed with a Piranha DBE-140S system. An extra fuse block and 12-volt outlets have been wired to the cargo area to power accessories.

Dual battery systems explained

Also drawing electrical power is the updated audio/visual system fitted by Fred and Gold Coast Car Sound. The head unit is an Alpine IVA W502 with DVD player; touch screen, GPS navigation, Bluetooth, and an Alpine module to work with the factory steering wheel mounted controls. The screen on the head unit also shows the image from a front-mounted camera which helps driving in the bush while the image from the factory-fitted rear-view camera is displayed in the rear-view mirror screen.

Delivering the decibels is an Alpine PDX-4 amp plus an Alpine monoblock amp, to six-inch front component speakers, factory rear speakers, and a pair of Alpine Type R subwoofers. Fred likes his sounds big, and this system delivers in droves.

Other interior accessories include a Scan Gauge II, Uniden UHF radio and a Garmin Nuvi 1390T hand-held GPS. The FJ’s interior is functional and practical with hardwearing cloth on the seats and vinyl-covered floors to make cleaning out mud easy. The rear-hinged, half-sized back doors allow easy access to the back seat for Fred’s children, Lucas and Gabrielle who love the family’s off-road trips.

Heading bush for our photos was the first time in the dirt for the FJ and it proved that the modifications done have added to the FJ’s already strong off-road performance. The rear axle provides heaps of articulation to keep the big Mickeys in touch with the gravel and the Icon front-end offers more travel than the short springs on the standard set-up.

More 4x4 Australia custom reviews

The standard electronic traction control goes a long way to keeping momentum up when the grip is limited, but when that runs out there’s a rear locker, which is standard as well. Fred plans to supplement that with a front locker at some time in the future.

Other future plans include the supercharger install, a roof rack that was proving hard to get at the time of our photos, a rear bar, BRC diff and transfer case breather kit, full underbody bash plates, and Fred will construct his own rear drawer system to make the most of the limited cargo space in the back.

Fred uses the FJ as daily transport, which often involves ferrying customers for business on the Gold Coast. But he’s keen to hit the beaches with it and it should look a treat alongside the 200 on the family trip to Fraser Island around Easter time.

Getting the FJ to this stage has been a major undertaking and Fred has plenty of people to thank for their support.

“My late dad, whose car this was meant to be; my mum; my wife for putting up with the modifying; my son Lucas for his handiwork; my daughter Gabrielle for the refreshments; Brent from Wizard Performance; Tony from Opposite Lock Gold Coast; Dean from Australian 4WD; Bullet Cars; Brian from Alpine Australia; and Gold Coast Car Sound.”

Together, these people and companies have created a vehicle that is a fitting tribute not only to an iconic 4X4, but also to a man who loved his four-wheel drives.  

Get the latest info on all things 4X4 Australia by signing up to our newsletter.