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FJ vs. Xterra
2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser vs. 2006 Nissan Xterra Off-Road
By EDMUNDS.COM EDITORS


California's Anza Borrego Desert State Park is hard country. It's no place for those sensitive to sun, wind or cold. There are a lot of rocks, very little water and in the summer one might say it "gets a little hot." It's a place where the paved roads bear names like "Montezuma Valley" and "Peg Leg Smith." The dogs have three legs and the people wear full-brimmed hats and drive Broncos without tops or mufflers. In other words, it's the kind of place perfect for proving off-road vehicles like the 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser and 2006 Nissan Xterra.


Luckily, we were there for two days in April. But that hardly made it any milder. There were a few green leaves among the cacti, but the rocks were just as big and the sand was just as deep. Coyote Canyon trail wasn't any easier after a month of rain had enhanced its ruts and made its steep rock crawl look like some kind of sick joke.


Then there were the desert byways -- hundreds of them. With names like Hills of the Moon, Rainbow Wash, Devil's Slide Lane and our personal favorite, Blow Sand Trail. These faster desert roads gave us a good gauge for each SUV's chassis dynamics at higher speeds. Both SUVs also made the 300-mile round-trip to the state park and back on regular roads and endured several weeks of daily living with editors.


Hard SUVs for hard country
It's no coincidence that Nissan's Xterra Off-Road is the reigning king of midsize off-road performance. It's got the hardware to deliver the goods: a locking rear differential, brake-based traction control, hill-descent control, hill-start assist, Bilstein shock absorbers, full skid plates and 16-inch BFGoodrich Rugged Trail tires. Like any real off-road vehicle, the Xterra has a low-range transfer case, which is activated using a dash-mounted switch.


Motivating all that off-road hardware is a standard 4.0-liter V6 that makes 265 horsepower and 284 pound-feet of torque. Our tester was also fitted with the optional five-speed automatic transmission, Rockford Fosgate Audio system, Sirius Satellite Radio and carpeted floor mats. The tally, including destination charges, came to $29,115.


The FJ Cruiser was no less prepared. Upgrade Package # 2 gave our tester the goods for driving in the dirt: A-TRAC brake-based traction control, rear differential lock and huge 265/70R17 Dunlop AT20 Grandtrek tires on alloy wheels. Bilstein dampers are standard equipment, as are skid plates on the engine sump, transfer case and fuel tank. The FJ's high- and low-range four-wheel-drive modes are selected via a center-mounted lever.


A 4.0-liter V6 pumping out 239 hp and 278 lb-ft of torque powers the FJ through a standard five-speed automatic transmission. In addition to the aforementioned upgrade package, our tester came with the $1,840 convenience package, which adds remote keyless entry, cruise control, power mirrors, a rear backup alarm, tinted rear windows, a rear-window wiper and daytime running lights. Side curtain airbags, running boards, carpeted floor mats and a tow hitch added another $1,543 in options, bringing the FJ's total cost with destination charges to $29,883.


Dethroning the king
After 12 days and 2,200 miles of thrashing through the desert, sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic, hauling kids, mountain bikes and ass, the decision was not easy. On-road performance testing was a virtual wash, as was price, as was our subjective evaluation, which includes a comprehensive look at everything from engine performance to cupholder placement.


Before we reveal the winner, a few disclaimers are in order. This test is close. So close that many editors' subjective evaluations tallied in a dead heat. Zero-to-60 acceleration and quarter-mile performance was exactly the same and the $767 price difference is hardly worth considering.


The winner was decided based on off-road performance and which vehicle editors would rather drive and be seen in on a daily basis. Those factors combined with the FJ's more modern styling, marginally better interior design and preferred interior materials were enough to sway our scores in its favor.


Naturally, this decision comes with a few caveats. If all we were going to do was haul kids and family on the freeway, then the Xterra probably would have gotten the nod for being more usable, having more easily accessible passenger space and better visibility. Most editors preferred its road manners to the FJ's as well.


But reviewing these two SUVs without some serious off-road evaluation would be decidedly incomplete. And it was off-road where the FJ's strengths began to shine and we knew we had a winner. It hauled up rocky climbs that made the Xterra breathe heavily, without even breaking a sweat. It was also more comfortable on rough and washboarded roads, and the longer we had it in the desert the more its retro styling looked at home.


At the end of one long day in the desert, the attendant at the Borrego Springs service station voiced his disapproval. "Sure is ugly," he offered, looking at the FJ with obvious import-hating disgust. Maybe. But we're guessing it'll go just as many places as his Bronco. And with air conditioning, a real roof and mufflers it'll probably be more comfortable getting there.
 

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If I had to choose I would buy the FJ also.

Styling is "Outside the box" so it wins points with me based on that and all that torque.

Not sure about the blind spots.

Later. M.
 
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