OJAI, Calif. -- Voodoo Blue is the shade of body paint we select among colorful tints like Sun Fusion, Titanium Metallic and Black Cherry which decorate a row of retro-styled SUVs coming to Toyota's line.
Boxy square with chiseled shoulders and a flat roof floating over the cabin with narrow windows in the image of an armored military vehicle, this new SUV draws inspiration from the Auto Nouveau School of Chunky Design.
A badge on the swing-out tailgate identifies the vehicle as the FJ Cruiser.
The name pays homage to Toyota's legendary Land Cruiser FJ40 from the 1960s and '70s. It was the go-anywhere four-wheel-drive (4WD) expedition vehicle transporting the likes of Jungle Jim or Marlon Perkins on safari in Africa or Asia.
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 engine.
But it's the look of this wagon that snags the eye and teases the mind with its outrageous posture.
Actually, the design is quite striking, inside and out.
It originated as a concept vehicle from Toyota's Calty Design Research of Newport Beach, Calif., and debuted in Detroit at the North American International Automobile Show of 2003.
Reaction to the conceptual Cruiser from automotive media critics and the public was so strong that product planners at Toyota went to work building a business case for a production model.
The result of that effort rolls out as the 2007 FJ Cruiser.
Blur your vision and you may see that this new Cruiser carries styling traits from the original FJ40 Cruiser.
The flush face features two round headlamps linked to a horizontal grille like the FJ40.
Bumpers bulge in front and wrap around flanks to form angular wheelwells.
The hood is virtually flat and the windshield's nearly vertical, with the roof also flat in a white cap like FJ40.
On those flat sides, check out the 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 extends the design theme of retro-cool with a flat-faced dashboard and decorative touches of silver 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.
Like a truck, the FJ Cruiser is constructed with a body-on-frame chassis.
The ladder-format platform with boxed steel rails comes from Toyota's 120-Series Land Rover Prado and forms a rigid foundation to support a welded steel body.
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.
The scheme sets up a generous amount of suspension articulation (7.87 inches of vertical wheel travel up front and 9.1 inches in the rear) to enable the FJ Cruiser to scamper up a stairstep set of boulders or crawl over logs and other lumpy obstacles along a trail.
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 standard set of wheels on the FJ measures to 32 inches, which positions the chassis ground clearance at 9.6 inches for 4WD or 8.7 inches for 2WD.
And with wheels set on corners of the structure, the SUV scores solid numbers for approach/departure angles (34 degrees/30 degrees for 4WD or 32/29 for 2WD).
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.
And for the 4WD Cruiser, there's electronic four-wheel traction control, dubbed active traction control (A-TRAC).
Unlike most trucks, however, the steering is controlled by rack and pinion with hydraulically assisted power. It reacts quickly and feels firmly weighted.
Toyota's aluminum-block 4.0-liter six-pack is on tap to motivate the FJ Cruiser.
It pumps 239 hp at 5200 rpm and 278 lb-ft at 3700 rpm.
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 the front wheels and 60 percent to the rear ones, although these proportions may change depending on the steering angle and slippage of the wheels.
In lock mode, this system splits torque evenly between front and rear wheels.
With FJ's automatic transmission, the 4WD system has a part-time transfer case with automatic disconnecting front differential (ADD).
We tackle a steep off-road course in the Santa Ynez Mountains of California steering a 4WD FJ in Voodoo Blue paint with manual shifter and the differential locked. Yet the task of crawling up a rocky trail becomes a rather tame exercise due to so many electronic controls which keep the tires clawing for traction and moving steadily up the slope.
FJ Cruiser packs a lot of standard equipment including a stereo audio system with AM/FM/CD and six speakers.
Options include a convenience kit and upgrade package plus curtain-style side air bags, running boards, deluxe audio gear with a six-disc CD changer and subwoofer, or a dash-top display with altitude and compass gauges.
FJ's bottom line drops to $21,710 for the 2WD edition.