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Xplore FJ Cruiser: Explore our country, bring a gas card

Jeff Glucker October 13, 2011 Reviews, Road Test Reviews 57 Comments
Xplore FJ Cruiser
Exploration is about discovery and adventure, and in 1904, a man named Henry Collins Walsh brought a group of like-minded men together to form the Explorers Club. Their mission is to traverse land, sea, air and even space in order to better understand the world around us. Famous flag-carrying members include Sir Edmund Hillary, Chuck Yeager and Buzz Aldrin.

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.

Keep reading.

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.

Xplore FJ Cruiser

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.

Xplore FJ Cruiser wheel

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.

Xplore FJ Cruiser

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.

Xplore FJ Cruiser

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 FJ Cruiser

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?

  • Paul_y


    1996 called, they want their trim level back.

  • dukeisduke

    Jeff, did that rooftop camper flap at all when it was folded up? I had to borrow a friend's rooftop cargo bag recently (I didn't yet have the right hardware to mount our Thule box on our new van). That thing flapped the whole trip (several hundred miles), and it was annoying as hell.

  • M5Manny

    I love the FJ. The Xplore version is mean, green(Not so Green) and kick assed-ness! Great write up Jeff!

    • Thanks!

      • How long does the cooler last without running the engine? A three way set up (propane, battery, shore power) might be in order. Otherwise it seems like an ideal way for one or two to get some dirt between themselves and civilization.

  • P161911

    Looks like there might be a rather low weight limit on that tent setup.

    I'm not sure how much of the National Park system you can explore via a vehicle, especially one with not so great visibility. Something less than 10% of Yellowstone is accessible via the roads. Now National Forrest are a different story. Lots of great fire roads were something like this would shine.

    I always enjoyed camping in my old K-5 Blazer. Take out the rear seat and add some filler to the rear floorboard and you had about 7 feet of nice flat space to fill with an air mattress. As a bonus the rear seat made a nice campfire couch. This thing might bet 10% better mpg than the old K-5.

    • Well, I am about 225 and my wife is about.. um, WAY less than that.

      • P161911

        I was just curious if it said something like 300, 400, or 500lbs. limit. Roof racks aren't know for weight carrying capacity.

  • pj134

    For closed roof driving I've rather have the Grand Cherokee they did. At least the people who want to get in the back seat can keep their knees attached and I can see out of the damn thing.

  • That is genuinely cool that they throw in a full year park pass.

    Aside from that, I would rather have the wife's '05 Forrester and $50k.

  • topdeadcentre

    Did you have a chance to drive it up to the nearby Jack London house, to soak up some of the ambient explorer-ness?

    Napa is lovely. I have a friend who lives there who regularly taunts me from poolside about the lousy Boston weather and dearth of winery tastings.

    • Didn't visit that house, no.

      Also, tell your Napa friend that Central Coast wines are better…

  • EscortsForever

    That's no Explorer! THIS is an Explorer:

    <img src="http://i497.photobucket.com/albums/rr333/TrueBoolean/DSC_2732.jpg&quot; width="600">

    OH! Xplore? Carry on then…

  • RKW

    How big is the market for up-market off roaders that actually see regular off-road duty? Is it a western thing? A rural thing? Everyone I've ever known who goes muddin' (so, less than 5 people) uses a 20 yr old, sub $10K jeep or truck.

    • Hollis

      It's not muddin out west. Muddin sucks, but wheeling, that's a whole different story. When you're wheeling, you're getting somewhere, going to take in some scenery that most people don't see. I've lived in Colorado and California, and there are some beautiful wheeling trails. Sure, I took an old beat up K5 on them, but there are plenty of newer trucks out there, too.

  • Scandinavian Flick

    As long as I've lived here in Northern CA, (you know… like… all my life…) I have yet to really explore wine country. And I love wine… What is wrong with me…?

    Awesome writeup! That looks like a damn lot of fun. You should have stopped by Hollister Hills State Vehicular Recreation Area on your way back though to see what that bad boy can really do…

    "So, hey… Xplore… about that FJ you loaned me…"

    <img src="http://www.4crawler.com/4×4/HollisterHills/Images/sammy.jpg&quot; width="500">

    • Scandinavian Flick

      After exploring their site a bit, I like their support of national parks, but also a statement on their website: "The road less traveled is appreciated best from the seat of a or a really cool vehicle."

      • Jeep Jeff at Work

        Dude, you really need to go cruise through wine country. It's pretty. There are lots of killer country roads. It's pretty. It's close, seriously, hop over the GG and you've got less than an hour driving to get to wine country. Did I mention that it's pretty?

        I've only been in Norcal for six years, and I find myself up there regularly. I'm not even much of a wine drinker, and I still end up going…

        • Scandinavian Flick

          Yeah, I honestly have no idea why I haven't been through the wineries and such… I have been up north, all along the coast out on Point Reyes, through some of the awesome driving roads up there, and to Hog Island oyster farms. That's where I actually discovered my love for oysters/clams/mussels, etc. It is absolutely gorgeous country. I need to take more day trips…

  • So, a nice Toyota diesel power unit might be in order, then?

    Toss in some compression ignition, a steering wheel on the other side and de-stitch the Xplore embroidery from the seats (they're a bit, er, North Face Ford Explorer for me), and then we're getting somewhere.

    Nice write up, anyway.

    • Yeah, I was wondering if a bigger powerplant might actually be helpful. The FJ only gets about 15 mpg stock, and with the extra weight, bigger tires, and tent adding drag it's pulling a lot more than stock. An upgrade to a larger unit may actually help a bit since it wouldn't be so strained.

      • I've been driving a lot of diesel Mercedes 4x4s of late, and you really notice it when you drop down in engine capacity. The GL450 V8 CDi has serious thump to it, and in comparison the GL350 CDi feels like it's wearing its trousers round its ankles. And this was on flat pavement with road biased tyres.

    • It makes the most sense that Toyota trucks should have diesel power. My friend did a co-op with Toyota at one of their US facilities and told me that they would not be doing so any time in the near future. He also told me the new Tundras had a nasty leaf spring rust problem.

      But this was almost 2 years ago so hopefully both those things have changed.

  • SSurfer321

    That's deplorable fuel mileage! My F150 is on 295/70 R17 (33") and I get better than that. I have 3.55 gears but I am carrying an extra 1000lbs in curb weight.

    Did they neglect to recalibrate the speedometer?

  • pj134


    • P161911

      There is something that seems just a little wrong about exploring America's National Parks from a Japanese truck.

      • pj134

        I would call it wrong, just a little strange.

        Taking a submarine shaped like a Zero to explore Pearl Harbor, now that would be wrong.

  • I looked at this a while back when I got the Cherokee and started researching expeditionizing it. Very cool concept for a company.

    • pj134

      What are you doing to said XJ? (or is it not an xj?)

      • It is an XJ!

        So far I'm doing maintenance items and repairing a few things. The motor seems to be strong still, and most everythign still works. I'd like to lift it 3", put on some 31s, new front and rear bumpers with recovery points, and add in some equipment for long trips (I've had my eye on the ARB fridge…) and then explore the country with it. Or at least the upper midwest. Maybe for whole North America explorations I should get a Raptor.

        • pj134

          I had 32×11.5's on my 3″ lift Cherokee and the tuck was perfect. Had I had the money I would have gotten bushwhacked flares and sawzalled the hell out of the fenders. The 32's gave it a properly mean stance. Why would you need a raptor? Rebuild the 4.0, get some hood vents from quadratic and you'll be golden for long trips highway or offroad.

        • I wish Jeep still made a Jeep with that Jeepocity. The new Wrangler Unlimiteds are close but a tad too refined and remind me of a G-Class.

          A friend borrowed an XJ as his family's Grand Cherokee was getting work done. He thought it was the ugliest most useless SUV and now drives a Tahoe. I think it's the best looking Jeep after the Wagoneer.

          • pj134

            Yeah, FSJ's, Comanche and then Cherokee as far as looks for me.

  • Kamil_K

    I love this. I have an unexplainable FJ fetish, almost bought one. I hope you managed to get it dirty… Armol-all'ed M/Ts are a no-no.

    • I'm a closet FJ liker. Shhh..don't tell anyone.

      • pj134

        Have you driven one yet? If you haven't, once you do, you won't anymore. IFS, no visibility and less space than a Tacoma extended cab for your rear passengers. I loved them until I drove one. That was followed by me hoping in my pillar free XJ and smiling. For the money, the JK is the better choice. Fantastic visibility, still little room, but it's not on a platform with a relative with much more room all around. Plus, windows down and your arm rests perfectly on the door. It's lovely. I'll be back later, need to check JK prices.

        • Kamil_K

          I drove an FJ and a JK (unlimited Rubicon, 2010)…. I think I loved them and disliked equally at the same time. Ha,

          • pj134

            For me, the problem with the Wrangler is it automatically makes you a bro. My problem with the FJ is that it wasn't well thought out. I've only driven the SWB JK so it may ride a bit differently.

        • I've only sat in one. The visibility is horrible and the interior feels cramped. It's completely irrational, especially given my disdain for Toyota.

          • pj134

            Its all of the bad parts of the Tacoma and no bonuses. Too bad, old Land Cruisers were awesome

  • mattc

    This is a nice blend of two of my favorite things; the FJ Cruiser in a proper setup and Napa Valley (also Sonoma Valley). Great writeup. I have been to Napa/Sonoma several times in the past but not since my kids were born. This just reminds me that I need to get back there. It really is marvelous country.

  • facelvega

    Alfa Heaven, which has been featured around here before, sold this K5 M1009 for $6500. They say it gets about 20 mpg highway, which is not crazy judging from M1009 owner's boards. The underbody is ruthlessly spotless, and everything works. Complain about the 6.2 diesel if you want, but for me this truck emasculates the pricey and slick Xplore FJ or the underwhelming AEV Wranglers, at a price significantly lower than the Xplore stage II equipment package without the truck it goes on. Do you want signed leather and suede seats, or a vinyl hose-out interior on your serious truck? Personally, I'll take the vinyl.

    <img src="http://www.alfaheaven.com/MilitarySection/Blazers/Blazers-Images/MC161IntFrtLf.jpg"&gt;

    • pj134

      If we're going old here, the M715 gets my money.

    • CJinSD

      The 6.2 liter engine that came in this one lasted no longer than 48K miles. This thing does not emasculate a 4 liter Toyota V6.

  • I have said before the FJ is my favorite Toyota and I'll stand by that. It looks built for fun and the potential is there if you're willing to take a romp away from the commute and the shopping malls.

    There really aren't any honest to God SUVs anymore. We have plenty of crossovers, sport utility trucks, and bloated people movers. I want a solid axle, V8, locking hubs, and heck that roof tent is pretty sweet too. The XTerra, 4runner and Unlimited are the models that come closest to being real SUVs- cars i could drive off the asphalt onto dirt and up a mountain without a care.

    • pj134

      The only solid axle all around of those is the JK. It's a damn shame.

  • pj134

    I'm still upset at myself for not having the cash for this [REDACTED]

    It was only 15 minutes away from me! Alas, I'll have to wait until I have unimog money.

  • hortonc88

    What type of exhaust system are you running?

  • NHC1911

    11.5 MPG is very bad for an FJ even with slightly (very slightly) larger tires. I've got a '12 and I had an '08. I always average 19-20 on the highway but I drive pretty gently. I've got to wonder if the drag from the tent just killed it… I had a '10 Tundra with the Flex Fuel 5.7. Got decent mileage for a truck. I towed a uhaul trailer (maybe 3500lbs?) from Florida to Arkansas and no matter how i drove, it got 10 MPG. the truck acted like the trailer wasn't even there but the mileage was just totally gone. That was one reason I went back to an FJ.

    I've only had it about a month and so far I'm averaging 19-20 even around town…