POCONO PINES, Pa. -- Bucket-size boulders liter a steep grade on a two-rut trail running across a forested slope in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, the granite slabs stacking up like a giant's notched staircase.
But those rocky chunks are no impediment for our FJ Cruiser, Toyota's go-anywhere four-wheel-drive SUV, as the high-tech 4WD equipment goes to work and we climb the stone stairway in steady bump-bump-bump increments.
Boxy square with chiseled shoulders and a flat roof floating over the five-passenger cabin with narrow windows in the image of an armored military vehicle, Toyota's dedicated off-road SUV looks like it came out of the Auto Nouveau School of Chunky Car Design.
The name pays homage to Toyota's legendary Land Cruiser FJ40 from the 1960s and '70s. The FJ40 was the go-anywhere 4WD expedition vehicle transporting the likes of Jungle Jim or Marlon Perkins on safari in Africa or Asia.
FJ Cruiser presents a flush face featuring round headlamps linked to a horizontal grille, styling traits of the FJ40. The hood is virtually flat and the windshield's nearly vertical, with the roof also flat like the FJ40.
On each slab flank there are double doors: Front one's hinged at the front but the adjoining rear door has hinges on the tail side and both doors open wide in suicide-door fashion to forge a broad pillar-less opening on each side.
Inside, FJ Cruiser has a flat-faced dashboard and decorative touches of metal finish and paint in the sheetmetal shade.
The cabin contains a front row of bucket seats with center console and a three-person bench in back with fold-flat seatbacks followed by a cargo bay clad in a rubberized hard surface that sweeps out and wipes down fast.
Toyota's modern Cruiser is also a rugged off-road vehicle designed for serious work on dirt or pavement with most issues stocking 4WD traction and under-chassis protective skid plates plus a powerful V6 engine.
There is only one engine for FJ Cruiser and a single trim version loaded with standard equipment, but gear packages are available to customize the vehicle or hone its dirt-dog prowess.
Top off-road version FJ Cruiser Trail Teams Special Edition for 2012 switches from Sandstorm body paint to a unique hue dubbed Radiant Red, with blackout paint coating front bumpers and grille, door handles, wheelwell wraps and tubular roof rack, and new off-road lights with an air dam posted on the roof.
It carries components of FJ's optional Off Road Package, such as trail-tuned Bilstein shocks, a rear differential lock and Toyota's active traction control (A-TRAC) system, plus under-chassis protective skid plates fore and aft, rock rails and Toyota Racing Development (TRD) alloy wheels capped by BFG Rugged Trail tires.
Extra equipment aboard includes illumination markers on power-motivated side mirrors, an auto-dimming interior mirror with integrated backup camera video monitor, new red fabric inserts on the water-resistant seats, rubber-type all-weather mats lining the cabin floor and cargo bay plus 12-volt and 115-volt power points.
And additional amenities populate the cabin, like a remote keyless entry device, multi-information display, cruise control, color-keyed trim on doors and dash, a rear wiper, steering wheel audio controls and upgraded audio kit.
Like a truck, FJ Cruiser is constructed with a body-on-frame chassis. Suspension amounts to an independent double wishbone design up front with tubular shock absorbers and a solid axle in back set in four-link arrangement also with tubular shocks and anti-sway bar.
FJ Cruiser in two-wheel-drive (2WD) format stocks a limited-slip differential (LSD) tied to a sophisticated traction control system (TRAC) to manage the grip of both rear wheels on slippery surfaces.
A disc brake mounts at each wheel with linkage to the anti-lock brake system (ABS), brake assist (BA) and electronic brake force distribution (EBD) equipment, plus TRAC and vehicle skid control (VSC) devices.
Toyota's dual-cam 4.0-liter aluminum-block six-pack is on tap to propel the FJ Cruiser and the engine has a dual VVT-i (variable valve timing with intelligence) system featuring variable phasing for both intake and exhaust cams.
Output climbs to 260 hp at 5600 rpm and 271 lb-ft of torque at 4400 rpm.
FJ transmission choices are a six-speed manual or five-speed electronically controlled automatic.
The two-speed transfer case employed with a 4WD FJ Cruiser varies with manual or automatic transmission.
For the six-speed manual, a full-time 4WD system has a limited-slip open center differential which can vary the power to front and rear wheels. It normally channels 40 percent of the torque to front wheels and 60 percent to rear ones, although these proportions may change depending on the steering angle and slippage of wheels. In lock mode, the system splits torque evenly -- 50/50 -- between front and rear wheels.
With an automatic transmission, the 4WD system has a part-time transfer case with automatic disconnecting front differential.
Toyota sets MSRP figures for 2012 FJ Cruiser models at $26,120 for a 2WD automatic transmission, $27,290 for the 4WD manual shifter and $27,710 for a 4WD automatic.
The 2012 FJ Cruiser Trail Teams Special Edition adds $6,020 with manual transmission or $6,360 for the automatic.