1. home
  2. news
  3. Armageddon, Here We Come: Icon FJ44 Petersen Edition Review

Armageddon, Here We Come: Icon FJ44 Petersen Edition Review

Driving Icon's hulking homage to the FJ Cruiser makes you feel prepared for anything

Rory JurneckawriterWilliam Walkerphotographer

LOS ANGELES, California -- By the time you read this, the historic Sixth Street viaduct bridge shown in these photos—a landmark of Los Angeles' booming 1930s and the art deco architecture that defined the growing city for a time—will be no more. It seems the concrete used in the bridge has a sort of cancer, a high alkali content that caused a chemical reaction over the years, cracking its structure, and rendering it likely to collapse should another major earthquake hit Los Angeles—an eventual certainty. In its place will be a new bridge, styled with elements of the original but free of the concrete blight that sealed its predecessor's fate.

Jonathan Ward, founder and CEO of Icon, stands underneath this bridge next to the FJ44 Petersen Edition, an homage to the Toyota FJ Cruiser. Like the new bridge, this vehicle was also given life through death. Each FJ that Icon builds begins as an original Toyota FJ—Toyota's legendary go-anywhere, do-anything vehicle—that has been rusted, damaged, or simply driven to the point where a factory-correct restoration would make little sense. From this "end of life" FJ, as Ward calls it, some structural parts are saved, along with other bits and pieces. Roughly 13 months later, a new Icon FJ is complete—a vehicle that builds and improves on the original's concept without losing any of its charm. And it doesn't look too threatened by any earthquake.

"The whole idea is a sense of continuity from the original FJ," says Ward. "Everything on the original FJ has a purpose, and it's almost immediately digestible. As soon as you see it, you know why it's there and what it does and why it's made out of that material. The view was to honor that tradition."

That's where the obsession starts. Ward, who began retooling FJs nine years ago, is consumed with all of the details pretty much all the time. He fell in love with the FJ during his world travels, finding the vehicle a key source of transportation in some of the world's most rugged environments. Such was his passion for the model that he quit his well-paid 9-to-5 job to start a company supplying components to keep old FJs on the road. Ultimately, Ward's all-conquering creative side coaxed him into not just maintaining but improving the FJ. That's how Icon was born.

Nearly every part on the Icon FJ is reworked from the ground up to function, look, and feel better than the original. A new mandrel-bent steel chassis replaces the stock C-channel frame, and it's both longer and sturdier than any FJ Toyota built. In addition to the four-door configuration, two-door versions are available, as is a pickup variant. Buy an Icon, and you're buying a hand-built vehicle of which no two are exactly the same.

The Petersen Edition FJ44 is the most recent of more than 90 Icon FJs built to date, and it'll soon be part of a six-month display in Los Angeles' Petersen Automotive Museum. Most significantly, it boasts about 30 new features that Ward agonized, sweated, and, yes, obsessed over. These features are soon to be regular production changes that will further evolve the Icon into what he considers to be the third-generation of the "Ultimate FJ."

Said features are a mix of form and function, but some are more functional than others. At the top of the heap is this FJ44's engine, a crate version of the 6.2-liter V-8 found in the previous-generation Chevrolet Corvette and Camaro SS. It makes 430 hp and 424 lb-ft of torque stock, but this one is augmented by a Magnuson supercharger, bumping output to somewhere in the neighborhood of 540 hp and 495 lb-ft. Then there's the new Sport Brake package that marks Brembo's first application for an Icon vehicle. It's a six-piston front, four-piston rear setup with a hydro-boost-style master cylinder supplied by Wilwood. Other changes are found in the suspension, with new Fox Racing coil-over shocks and a radius-arm-style front suspension. Articulation over the standard Icon setup is diminished slightly, Ward says, in the name of improved road manners and ride quality. New forged aluminum 18-inch wheels are designed by Icon and made at Wheel Pros in California. Not only are they lookers in Icon's Volcanic Black finish, but they're also lighter than the previous 17-inch wheels.

Hoist yourself into the FJ44, a slight climb, and you'll find all-new knobs, gauges, fold-down windshield clamps (from the industrial refrigeration field), and glove-box panel. The list goes on to include new interior and exterior mirrors, door handles, center console, audio system, dome light, parking brake, LED headlights, seating surfaces, and more. Ward has worked on all of these changes for some time, building prototypes, refining each to his version of "right." All these changes came about because a little bug in Ward's brain said Icon's previous designs, materials, and details were excellent but not excellent enough. You begin to wonder if Ward will ever think one of his FJs is perfect or if the target is forever moving.

Body panels are all marine-grade aluminum, except for the hood; it carries a genuine Toyota parts number and is stamped from steel. The front grille is the real deal too, as are parts of the pedal box and the firewall. Not much else remains from the standard FJ, however.

The big V-8 fires up quickly and settles into a burbling idle, giving the FJ44 a sound to match its menacing looks. Slip the slightly vague column shifter from Park into Drive, dip your foot into the throttle, and the Icon rumbles off, presumably in search of something to crush beneath its giant tires.

Skulking around downtown Los Angeles, the FJ44 is quick, fairly comfortable, and slightly ponderous. Its turning radius is large, so U-turns and parking locations are given more consideration than in your average Jeep Wrangler. But really, other than that, the FJ44 is remarkably easy to drive for such a brutish, 17-foot-long vehicle. It goes insanely well—the abundant torque makes it no trouble to chirp tires through several gears—and the steering lightens up nicely above parking speeds. The Brembos are supremely powerful and have pretty decent feel to boot, which is a pleasant surprise in something this large with this much power.

Yes, that's right: The Official Vehicle of Armageddon is actually quite pleasant as you tootle down to the local boutique coffee shop. Ward thoughtfully added some pretty nice cupholders too, in case you don't finish your java before meandering back to your trendy loft in downtown Los Angeles. Or your yak-hair tent in Tibet, for that matter. The FJ44 seems as if it would be perfectly content with either destination.

The thing is, though, it receives a lot of attention. Pedestrians and other drivers alike slow and stare. The police stare too, visibly conflicted on whether what we're driving is street legal. In the end, they opt to not investigate further, to which the FJ grumbles, "Smart move." Or maybe I did, bolstered by its machismo. In any case, this model has no roof, and the doors are fairly low-cut, so be prepared to play a highly visible supporting role in the action movie your life morphs into while driving it.

Yes, that's it! An action movie! Let's see, "The Big One" hits downtown L.A. leaving rubble in its wake. Traffic out of the city is jammed. The Icon FJ, meanwhile, is ready for its close-up.

2016  Icon FJ44 Peterson Edition Specifications

On Sale:  Now
Price: $195,000/$235,000 (base/as tested) (est)
Engine: 6.2L supercharged SOHC 16-valve V-8/540 hp @ 5,900 rpm, 495 lb-ft @ 4,600 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Layout: 4-door, 6-passenger, front-engine, 4WD SUV
EPA Mileage: N/A
L x W x H: 205.0 x 78.0 x 65.0 in
Wheelbase: 114.0 in
Weight: 4,250 lb
0-60 MPH: 6.5 sec
Top Speed: 120 mph (est)