GOLDEN ME AN

It’s called the Xtreme, but Toy­ota’s Arc­tic Trucks-fet­tled FJ Cruiser strikes a great bal­ance be­tween two ex­tremes, says wheels’ Sony Thomas

Friday - - MOTORING -

M ost SUV own­ers in our re­gion buy into a dream that they never live. Apart from the space and prac­ti­cal­ity they pro­vide, the lure of these four-wheeldrive be­he­moths lies in their abil­ity to let you leave the con­fines of the city and ex­plore the wilder­ness.

But in the real world, a good num­ber of SUV driv­ers don’t ven­ture off the tar­mac in their lux­ury high-rid­ers, mainly be­cause these are no longer the rugged, spar­tan and fo­cused 4x4s of the early days. SUVs to­day are as city-ori­ented as sa­loons and crammed with crea­ture com­forts – even those that are in­her­ently off-road-ready have their abil­i­ties re­stricted by low bumpers and cos­metic add-ons that are easy to dam­age and ex­pen­sive to re­pair. And those that are mod­ded-up specif­i­cally for the rough coun­try are pretty much un­us­able in an ur­ban set­ting.

This sce­nario is what lo­cal Toy­ota dealer Al-Fut­taim Mo­tors is seek­ing to rem­edy with its Xtreme ver­sion of the FJ Cruiser. Mod­i­fied by Ice­landic 4x4 ex­perts Arc­tic Trucks, the Xtreme FJ has been avail­able in the UAE since

2012, but it was more of a cus­tom-or­der job. Now, though, it’s been of­fi­cially added to Toy­ota’s lo­cal line-up, with all the mods ap­proved by the dealer and cov­ered un­der war­ranty. These in­clude an up­rated Fox stage 1 sus­pen­sion with an over­all lift of 40mm, chunkier rub­bers on 16in matt-black al­loy wheels, Bushwacker fen­der flares that al­low for the ex­tra sus­pen­sion travel and a bon­net scoop to let more air into the en­gine bay. There are a few cos­metic trap­pings in­clud­ing smoked LED front in­di­ca­tors

No elec­tronic nan­nies take con­trol when you go off the beaten track – you are firmly in charge

and tail­lights, front fog lamps and LED day­time run­ning lights.

Not much is dif­fer­ent in the cabin from a reg­u­lar FJ Cruiser, which means a clean dash­board lay­out with lots of hard but good-qual­ity plas­tics and rudi­men­tary con­trol knobs and but­tons. Al­though it’s a far cry from the typ­i­cal SUV cabin that’s padded with leather, wood and the lat­est giz­mos, the FJ’s cabin is a com­fort­able place to be.

There are no elec­tronic nan­nies to take con­trol when you go off the beaten track. Flick the low-range lever to four-wheel drive, and you are firmly in charge of the ma­chine, which is well-equipped to take on the tough­est of ter­rains.

A lthough I didn’t get the chance to go off to the desert, I spent some time putting the Xtreme through its paces around a vast off-road patch by the Dubai-Al Ain road. The Fox sus­pen­sion soaked up the im­pact from fast jumps over mounds of sand and shrub­beries with im­pres­sive ease. As against the de­tached feel­ing you get in many of the lux­ury SUVs, the FJ Cruiser Xtreme of­fers you a much more re­ward­ing off-road­ing ex­pe­ri­ence where you get a feel­ing of be­ing fully in con­trol as tech­no­log­i­cal in­tru­sions are kept to the min­i­mum.

Al­though the 4.0-litre V6 re­mains un­changed, putting out just 270bhp, it seems more than enough for aver­age off-road du­ties. It’s even bet­ter on the road, with quiet, smooth and ef­fort­less progress, com­ple­mented by a re­fined ride.

And the pre­mium Toy­ota asks of you is not much at Dh149,900, which is Dh5,000 less than the top-of-therange FJ. You can al­ways ar­gue that it would be cheaper to buy a base FJ at Dh114,900 and then do your own off-road mods on it, but then you wouldn’t have the peace of mind that all these ac­ces­sories are of­fi­cially ap­proved by the dealer and that your war­ranty is still valid.

It’s the per­fect ve­hi­cle for those who dream of own­ing an SUV that of­fers a mean­ing­ful com­pro­mise be­tween adept off-road­ing and com­fort­able ur­ban cruis­ing.

The in­te­rior is rudi­men­rary but good qual­ity

Off-road ac­tion and smooth city driv­ing; it of­fers both

i

Model FJ Cruiser Xtreme

En­gine 4.0-litre V6 Trans­mis­sion

Five-speed auto, AWD

Max power

270bhp @ 5,600rpm

Max torque 380Nm @ 4,400rpm Top speed 175kph 0-100kph 11.8sec Highs A good mix of off-road abil­i­ties and com­fort­able ur­ban mo­tor­ing

Lows Spar­tan in­te­rior

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