Car Advice

How to drive the 2015 Toyota FJ Cruiser offroad

The 2015 Toyota FJ Cruiser isn’t just a funky looking 4×4, it’s also one of the best offroad too. But only if you know how to get the most from its technology.

LIKE ALL MODERN 4X4s, the Toyota FJ Cruiser is chock-full of features that can help you drive off the beaten path..if you know how to use them.  We asked Dave Darmody of the Australian Offroad Academy to explain what’s what:

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4X4 modes – the FJ Cruiser is of the traditional ‘Part Time’ four wheel drive mould meaning that drive is delivered only through the rear wheels (4X2, four wheels, two driven) on hard surfaces. There is no drive directed to the front wheels until one of the two 4X4 modes is selected. 
 
As soon as you’re on to dirt, or into more challenging terrain like sand, mud or ruts, engage 4X4 by using the selector lever in front of the gearshift.  Don’t forget to change back in 4X2 as soon as you hit the blacktop again to avoid transmission damage known as “windup”.  You can change to/from 4X2 to 4X4 at any speed up to 100km/h, and there will be a dash light to indicate you’re in 4X4.

The two 4X4 modes are:

High Range – when you move the lever into 4H.  Just drives all four wheels.

Low Range – as set of crawler gears, also driving all four wheels.  Lower speed but increased torque (I like to describe torque as the “Rotational Capacity to Climb”), making steep hills less of an obstacle and delivering greater precision to the driver.  To move into low range stop, select neutral, move the selector lever to 4Lo, wait for the dash light to indicate 4Lo and you’re away.  Slowly.

Use high range 4X4 for dirt roads, and offroad above about 30km/h.  Use low range 4X4 for tough, slow offroad work below about 30km/h.  Use 4X2 mode for all on-road driving.

  
VSC –  Vehicle Stability Control. Toyota’s name for electronic stability control.  Keeps you from losing control or spinning out by applying the brakes to individual wheels, cutting the throttle, or both.   A great technology, but not good offroad as it won’t let the car do its natural slipping and sliding on terrain like sand or mud.  So you need to switch it off.   In high range 4X4 VSC is still active, but remapped to be more suitable for loose surfaces. On loose dirt roads, VSC in 4×4 or 2×4 is a very good and practical safety feature and should be left turned on.
 
To deactivate VSC you just short-press the VSC button, and you know it’s off as there will be a light on the dash.  However, VSC will only be temporarily deactivated until you either exceed 50km/hr or turn the FJ off. 
 
If you are out on the beach, or in other areas of soft sand it is important to turn VSC off. The peculiar traction conditions of sand and some types of mud or snow can see all four wheels traveling at different speeds due to the varied resistance offered by the surface, can confuse your FJ into thinking that something really bad is happening – it will react by applying the brakes and possibly cutting your throttle inputs – this could leave you bogged.
 
VSC is automatically turned off in Low Range 4X4.
 
Leave VSC on at all times unless you are driving in slippery or soft conditions.  
 
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Here’s where you want 4X4 engaged, and VSC off. No need for low range, it’s not slow going enough.
 
A-TRAC – (or A-TRC) this is our off-road Traction Control, enabled by a switch in the roof on newer models and a dash switch on older ones.  The A-TRAC uses the same hardware as it does with VSC, but the software is mapped to offer us assistance, not hindrance, offroad.  A-TRAC has the ability to sense a different level of traction and to apply the brakes to just the wheel that is spinning – even if it is completely off the ground – this allows the drive to be distributed to the wheel(s) with traction and allows the vehicle to move. There is an element of experience and confidence required to get the best from your A-TRAC.  
 
Enable A-TRAC at all times when offroad.  It will only help.  If anyone says “disable traction control” what they really mean is VSC.
 
Rear Differential Lock –  your FJ Cruiser comes with a standard electronic Rear Diff Lock. In High or Low Range this feature physically locks the left and right wheels on the rear axle together meaning that there is drive delivered to the ground even of the opposite tyre is completely off the ground – your diff lock is a preemptive move. It does not wait to sense loss of traction. Employing the rear difflock will affect your vehicle’s handling to some extent, by making it harder to steer.
The rear differential lock is rarely needed but is useful in rocky ascents or terrain where one or more wheels are lifting in the air.  Generally do not use at speeds over 30km/h, and not in slippery conditions like sand, mud or snow.
 
Crawl Control – (only on more recent models)we love Crawl Control!  It’s a neat feature that lets you dial in your speed and concentrate on the steering without needing to touch the pedals.  Crawl Control gets a bad rap from some writers and drivers but we find that many of them have a preconceived idea, or have only used the feature under a very limited range of variables. We like Crawl Control because it puts a focus on never losing traction. Your FJ takes over the application of brake and throttle applying these to maintain your preselected speed over whatever terrain you choose. It’s not an option if you want to travel fast – it is called crawl – but it’s great when you are covering broken ground, up a hill, in the wet, with a trailer.
 
Use crawl control when you need to travel really, really slowly, for example up or down very steep hills or across very deep ruts.  You can take over at any time.
 

To see how all this tech worked out in real life check out Jane Nicholls’ FJ Cruiser roadtest, and her Girls Got Grit story about her experience on Fraser Island.

 

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An FJ Cruiser in its nautral environment. Photo supplied by a follower on facebook.com/4WDHandbook.


Australian Offroad Academy

Australian Offroad Academy

Based on Queensland's Fabulous Fraser Coast, and now operating throughout Australia, and beyond, the Australian Offroad Academy is a family business offering qualified, professional and passionate specialised offroad training to the public, government, industry and mining. www.australianoffroadacademy.com.au