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After climbing into the 2014 Trail Edition 4Runner and sliding onto the seat, it takes a minute to soak in the rather lavish interior. Starting the engine brings the colorful gauges and a mid-console screen to life. Gripping the steering wheel is a treat. A glance across the dash and console assemblies and one quickly realizes that Toyota has upped the ante with interior treatment. Toyota has brought elegance to off-roading in ways that were previously experienced only in the upscale Lexus models.

We’ve had the 7120 installed for about a month now, and so far so good. I’ve organized this review into a few sections: Entertainment, Navigation, and Phone integration.

Entertainment
The “Entertainment” category includes iPod integration, DVD/MP3 Audio, USB Audio, DVD Video, and DivX Video. The 7120 handles just about every type of media you can imagine. The unit is also satellite and HD radio ready, but I don’t use either of those services so I cannot comment on their performance.

The standard MP3 audio (WMA and unprotected AAC are also supported) from a DVD or USB thumbdrive sounds great. The interface is only as good as the organization on your disc or drive. I was impressed that you can use a full 4gb DVD of music, but if it’s all in one directory it’s difficult to find a specific song. This also applies to a USB thumbdrive. The largest I’ve tried is a 1GB, so I’m not sure how large of a drive can be used. I suggest that if you’re going to use either of these to play music, organize the directories in a manner that’s easy to find what you want.

I popped in a standard DVD and after about 20 seconds, the movie was playing. The interface for playing DVD or DivX movies is pretty standard as well. You can fast forward 1x-3x, but you cannot scroll through the movie. The chapter skip works fine for DVD’s, but pressing the same button on a DivX movie jumps to the next movie. The nice thing about DivX compression is that up to 4 movies can fit on 1 DVD. This is handy when on a long trip & space is limited. Keep in mind that video only works when the parking brake is pulled. It’s illegal in most states to watch video while the vehicle is in motion.

The iPod (in my case iPhone) integration is top notch. While you don’t get the ‘standard’ iPod interface, the Kenwood interface is intuitive and works well. I was very excited to plug my iPhone in for two specific reasons. First, I’m glad that this system charges the 3G iPhone right out of the box, many aftermarket accessories and head units do not. I was also excited to see a ‘Videos’ button on the Kenwood interface. I keep a couple of movies and video podcasts on my iPhone at all times, and the picture looks just as good as it does on the phone. Some aftermarket systems don’t support video through the head unit, so I’m very happy that this one does. Every once I a while the iPod connection will drop and I either get an ‘Authorization’ error or it just stops working. Most of the time simply unplugging the phone & plugging it back in fixes the error, but a few times I’ve had to completely power off the system (which means turning the engine off) to reboot the 7120. Even with this minor bug, the iPod integration is excellent.

 

Published in January 2009

Off road lights are on virtually every FJ owners wish list. Some form of additional lighting is vital if you plan to hit the trails after dark. There are literally dozens of different light combinations available for our trucks, how do you know which one is best? Ultimately the light setup that’s right for you depends upon how you intend to use them and your environment. FJ’s in the northeast will no doubt have a very different setup than those that spend most of their time in the desert. Combinations of large driving lights, amber lights for greater visibility in dusty areas, and smaller fog lights that are closer to the ground all have their place.

We gathered several FJ’s for a night run and light comparison late in December in an attempt to capture how some of the different setups perform. We were not able to test some of the popular brands of off road lights such as IPF and KC, but we did have enough combinations to illustrate some of the options available.

Published in January 2009

When armor modifications were first introduced for the FJ Cruiser, the only option for skid plates was steel. Steel is strong, durable, and has been trail proven for years. If you choose to go with steel, you won’t be disappointed. Within the last few months however, several new types of skid plates have become available. Aluminum skid plates from Rasta4x4 promise the same strength as steel at about half the weight. The latest technology, uses high density polyethelene (HDPE) material to deliver the protection you need with light-weight benefits and cost savings. These skids are an affordable alternative, that promise the same protection as the others.

The question is: How do aluminum & HDPE skids hold up in the real world?

In early June, we gathered a variety of FJ’s with several types of skids and modification levels to answer this question. Our goal was simple, determine without a doubt whether or not aluminum and HDPE skids protect as well as their tried and true steel brothers.

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Published in July 2008

In our opinion, the stock FJ Cruiser roof rack fits the truck perfectly. The only time we  have issues with it is when we go camping and would like to put our gear up top. The problem is that the stock crossbars are not very sturdy and leave many gaps in the rack. The plastic attachment brackets are the weak spot, so we dare not load more than the recommended 150lbs on the roof.

The thought of spending over $1000 for an after market rack that would hold more gear, never appealed to us. Most of the after market racks are built from thick steel, which makes them strong, but not light. With gas prices over $4/gallon, a 200lb roof rack (before adding gear) wasn't a practical solution for us. We always thought that if there was a basket that could attach to the stock rack, that would be the perfect solution.

Just a few months ago WAAG introduced their FJ Cruiser XS Rack. It was exactly what we were looking for, so we couldn’t wait to take one for a spin. The rack is simply a basket that fits perfectly inside the stock roof rack. It arrives as a single piece, (no assembly required) it's a welded steel basket, made of 1” steel tubing. This basket is STRONG, it’s light, and it’s powder coat finish maintains the original look of the FJ. The front of the basket is sloped and includes 4 front tabs  and 2 rear tabs for off-road lighting. Best of all, it’s very reasonably priced at $560.00 + shipping.

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Published in July 2008

So I finally decided I wanted some independence. I thought that I might start by freeing myself from dealer/mechanic scan tools.  It always drove me nuts when the check engine light came on and I’d get it checked immediately, only to find out it was a random sensor aberration and everything was fine.  The computers in our rigs are very complicated, and sometimes can be frustrating. The OBDII interface is a nice advantage since it allows us to take control of some of these issues.

After poking around and looking at scan tool options, I decided on the ScanGaugeII by Linear-Logic ( http://www.scangauge.com ).  Since I was planning on doing some intake modifications, I was looking forward to instant feedback on engine performance and fuel economy.  I also wanted immediate information about check engine light codes, so the ScanGuageII seemed to fit the bill.

For everyday driving, the ScanGaugeII offers trip computers that track data from the current trip, current day, previous day, or current tank. The information stored for each of these time periods includes maximum speed, average speed, maximum coolant temperature, maximum rpm, driving time, driving distance, fuel used, trip fuel economy, distance to empty, time to empty, and fuel (gallons) to empty.


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Published in April 2008

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