Sadly, it seems our world has gotten smaller, and people are more inclined to explore the storage capacity of their smartphone than they are the land around them. One company is trying to change that, and it’s doing so by prepping vehicles designed to visit some of the most beautiful areas in the United States. Xplore, which is more than just a name, is a company creating Adventure Series vehicles built to venture out to our national parks. In fact, each one sold comes with a one-year pass to do just that.
The first vehicle to emerge from the Xplore garage is a Toyota FJ Cruiser that’s been outfitted to handle all manner of tough stuff. Problem is, I don’t have a tough trip planned for the vehicle. Instead, my wife and I decided to point the bulky rubber and front brushguard toward Northern California. One of the top viticultural areas in the world lay over 400 miles away… and I was eager to “explore” it.
Napa might not be considered a national park, but it certainly serves as an attractive destination for millions of visitors every year. The endlessly resplendent views stretch into the horizon, filling our vision with distant hills, rows of vines and dots of California poppies. This scenery employs vast amounts of the color green, which pairs nicely with the dark matte-green wrap adorning our Xplore FJ. Some contrast is always nice too, and that’s picked up by the white roof and black side rails, brushguard, fog light surrounds, snorkel and wheels.
All of that hardware helps anger-up the otherwise-average FJ Cruiser buried underneath. The standard style of the normal Toyota comes off as a child’s off-road toy, whereas Xplore has shaped the FJ into a serious tool for adventurous adults. Method aluminum wheels support the large 285/70R17 BFGoodrich Mud Terrain tires, while also providing shade for the Bilstein 5100 series shocks and OME suspension package. Xplore stuck an ARB front bumper, Warn winch and IPF fog and driving lights on the nose, while an ARB roof rack and Simpson tent sit above our head.
The stance is mean, the face is gruff and the overall look is business casual, for those whose office happens to be a rainforest or raging river.
My office, however, happens to be behind the wheel of the Xplore, and the cabin space is a continuation of the dark exterior theme existing outside. Black and silver are the order of the interior, with faux metallic accents saddling up to the dark trim. Xplore has covered the seats with leather and suede from Katzkin, then added their logo so you know whose got your back. I expected the long ride to be a rough affair, but the front seats were downright shockingly comfortable. Our backs didn’t complain, our butts remained content and our eyes focused on the endless monotony of the 5 freeway.
That never-ending stretch of asphalt is not the ideal home for the off-road-ready Xplore FJ Cruiser. Still, highways are a necessity for my journey. The FJ tackled them quite easily, tracking down the road like it knew where to go while I remained coddled by the seats and the expansive iPod playlist pumped forth loudly from the Toyota’s sound system. This all helped our odometer turn over more quickly than I expected. It wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops however, as massive amounts of tire noise permeated the cabin. It was as if I decided to hitch up a trailer and then tow a tiger behind us. A tiger that was unhappy with its current situation, and roared continuously until I pulled over to stop for gas or food.
Luckily for the imaginary tiger, the Xplore FJ drinks fuel like a hipster frat boy that was just given the keys to a PBR brewery. My average fuel economy hovers around 11.5 miles per gallon… on the highway. I expected better from the 3.73 gears as that’s a terrible figure, but this rig wasn’t built to make the world a greener place. It was built to go visit the greenery while it still exists. Bring your GPS device, and someone else’s gas card.
My own expedition reached its end point when the green of Napa Valley came into view through the windshield of the canopy-like cockpit. I traded the freeway for vineyard-laden side streets. At around-town speeds, the FJ is an easy weapon to wield. The steering responds quickly, and the Magnaflow stainless-steel exhaust system barked orders to any traffic around us. Move. Over.
Those orders come courtesy of the 4.0-liter V6 engine mounted under the matte green hood. Xplore didn’t upgrade powertrain, so I made due with 260 horsepower and 271 pound-feet of torque that’s routed through a five-speed automatic transmission. Even with the added heft of the Xplore gear, getting underway was no problem. The upgraded exhaust system certainly made the rugged SUV sound meaner that it actually is. A few more ponies and pounds of twist wouldn’t be unwelcome, but I’m fearful of pushing the fuel economy figure further towards single digits.
Fuel economy be damned. Even after hundreds of miles, it was still fun to lean into the throttle and let the Magnaflow system out-scream the tires.
It was a long journey to my Napa Valley RV parking lot, and extended expeditions deserve rewards and down time. I didn’t have the extravagant New York City Explorer’s Club home office to lounge in. Luckily for myself and my wife, we were surrounded by our reward, and the local vintners kindly bottled it up so we could enjoy it at the appropriate time.
California’s Napa Valley is one of the top viticultural areas in North America. A variety of microclimates exist within close proximity of each other, which in turns allows for a variety of growing conditions that suit a range of varietals. Some grapes have to be tougher than others to survive, and it takes the close attention of a skilled vintner to transform fickle fruit into fine imbibable.
Xplore must’ve taken notes from the winemakers because it’s turned the Toyota FJ Cruiser into a fine road trip vehicle that’s able to tackle a variety of environments. Like any fine wine, this expedition-ready FJ isn’t cheap. Retail price is in the neighborhood of $60,000, but that includes everything: the cost of the vehicle and all of the gear you see bolted on to it. There are even a few options you don’t see right away. Once the day’s exploring is done, the Xplore FJ still has a few more tricks up its sleeve.
Up top sits the Simpson tent, which transforms the vehicle from mode of transportation into mini motel. The out-of-the-way RV park proved the perfect place to unfold our living quarters, and the task of doing so is an easy one-person job. A few straps, a zipper and a flip later, and a room has emerged above the Xplore FJ with enough room for two adults to sleep soundly. Our living area also includes a fridge in the trunk. The ARB 50-quart cold box sits in the rear cargo area, slides in and out thanks to the rail system it sits on and plugs into an outlet in the back of the FJ. Sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and sparkling wine rest inside, while our bounty of cabernet and pinot noir prefer to lounge away from the cold air.
I’m not a flag-carrying members of the Explorer’s Club. I didn’t summit Everest, dive to the Marianas trench or leave my mark on the moon. Though for a brief weekend 107 years after that club was founded, I got a taste of exploratory adventure. Tent opened, fire burning and wine bottles breathing, our exploration of Napa had come to an end. The cellphones were packed away, leaving our focus open to the road ahead of us and the world around us. We logged hundreds of miles in the Xplore FJ Cruiser, yet we’re ready for hundreds more. This Stage Four vehicle is equipped to do that, and then some. We barely dipped a toe into the capability pond, and the Xplore FJ has me wanting to wade deeper.
Xplore has the right idea in wanting to get people up and out, and the Xplore FJ Cruiser is a great first step in that direction. An Explorer’s Club member took an important first step of his own years ago, and his flag is now on the moon because of it.
The Xplore FJ Cruiser is angry looking, horrible on gas and loud… and I loved every minute of its company. Where do we sign up for the next adventure?