When I was about 17, I said to myself “when Toyota comes out with a proper Jeep Wrangler-like vehicle, I’ll be the first one to buy it!”. This was of course in my days of ignorance with respect to older Land Cruisers, 4Runners and such. Anyway, the present question is, would the FJ Cruiser be a good vehicle for me at this point and time in my life? It’s got a lot going for it… and a lot going against it.
I needed to rent a car for work in order to do some surveying in southern MA. Prior to that, I’ve developed quite a crush on the FJ; an off-road capable vehicle, with Toyota quality (I’ve never owned a Toyota before), funky love-it-or-hate-it looks, and, most importantly, an offering of youth and freedom which I was quickly losing.
I drove it for a day and 115 miles, mostly city and suburban side roads, some highway and even a dirt road covered with snow and leaves and mud. Here is what I’ve come up with:
2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser equipped with Convenience Package (remote doors, CC, P mirrors, funk mirror marker lights, tinted rear windows, rear wiper, back up sonar, DRLs), aluminum alloy wheels (these could have been standard on auto-equipped cars, not sure), roof rack, spare tire cover, all-season mats.
Toyota also offers two different factory upgrade packages (the only difference between is a subwoofer), an all-terrain package that varies by year, and a slew of dealer installed accessories which can be bought individually or as packages (these may vary by region).
In 2008, side airbags became standard, the door remote was integrated into the key. In 2009, you get new colors and different wheel design. That’s it, I think, but that’s off the top of my head.
Condition – The vehicle was a rental and had about 16,000 miles on it. Everything seemed to have been working correctly and I did not notice any broken trim or anything that was worn beyond expectations. It drove and handled fine, brakes were firm.
Likes: (in random order)
- Rubber floors, who cares about dragging in snow or mud. My car at the time was a ’01 BMW 325i that was quickly getting killed by… well, everyone and everything.
- Water resistant seat fabric, go ahead, spill that milk.
- Plenty of room, except driver’s knee room; weird dash design, affecting those with long legs.
- Sitting up high is nice.
- Looks; I like how it looks, others don’t. If you don’t, why are you still reading?
- Good power, good 5-speed auto transmission.
- Excellent stability + traction control in 2WD; tried hard to do something stupid and couldn’t. Read more.
- Cool sonar back-up alarm, which was a novelty to me at the time.
- Super high ground clearance is really cool for curb hopping, etc.
- Standard aux input, thank god I had my iPod because FM radio blows.
- Proper chassis-on-frame vehicle, with proper tow rating. (Unlike a Wrangler, which despite this, I love.)
- A truly off-road capable SUV.
- Handles like a truck, especially evident on the highway. No surprise.
- Rather large to drive easily in the city, I don’t think Steph (wife) would like it, much bigger and much different than her old Wrangler.
- Noise on the highway; vertical windshield, huge roof rack, and big tires.
- In 4WD the stability control shuts off, so you get traction but you can easily spin out, do donuts, etc… which in my opinion sort of defeats the purpose. I want to have traction AND control, especially if my wife is driving it with a kid in the back. Interestingly, models with manual transmission have full-time 4WD and I guess full-time stability control to go with it?
- Went to pick up Gabriella from daycare, and putting the rear-facing baby seat in the back seat was not easy. First, I couldn’t use the seat base because I could not find lower anchors easily.
- The front seats recline forward only a bit past 90 degrees, and so you have to squeeze through the rear doors.
- Fastening the seatbelt around the car seat was not easy; when I stood on the ground, I couldn’t reach. When I stood on the doorsill, my butt was six feet in the air, I was suffocating the baby and then I couldn’t get out of that pose. However, it must have looked hilarious from the outside.
- Tires; stock Dunlops were horrible in the snow, which I found quite surprising.
- Didn’t fit in my garage with the roof rack; would have without it.
- Tricky to back up, but sonar helps.
- You see just enough in the rearview. Blind spots are not THAT bad as long as you’re aware of them.
- Dark and drab interior, which suits this vehicle fairly.
- Averaged about 18 mpg, not a surprise.
I’m glad that I’ve rented it. I like this thing but now I definitely know that I don’t want to buy one. Not to say that it’s a bad vehicle, because it is not, it’s just not the right vehicle for me at the present time. In fact, I would love to have one if I lived in the suburbs and if I had a short commute it would work, but for my wife to drive everyday 30 miles each way on the highway, often in traffic, it just wasn’t good enough. On top of that, coming from a semi-luxury car, some things stick out:
- I really missed heated seats.
- No maps lights and few other missing things remind you that this thing is as loaded as a Corolla.
- Radio steering wheel controls are very under-rated. They are optional on the FJ.
As I was retuning this monstrosity, GPS took me some narrow side street which was going downhill. Turned out that the street was super icy (even to walk on). Getting toward the end of the street, up to a stop sign, going about 15-20mph, I break… and I get an excellent foot massage from the ABS and I continue going just like I was. I lay on the horn, and the Astro van in front of me starts moving, but not far away, and I hit him anyway. Since I was breaking, the front end of the FJ dipped, and the bumper height was on the exact height of the rear dumper of the Astro. As I hit him, we both slid about three more feet. I get out, look at both cars, look at the dude that drove the Astro, he looks at me… nothing. Absolutely nothing. Not a scratch, no nothing on either car. The guy shrugs, we shake hands and I bail before he changes his mind. In retrospect, if I either of us were driving anything different (small or bigger), things would have sucked.
Craziest thing; after the accident, when I dropped the car off at the rental place, that the brakes lights remained on, even though the car was off, and no one was pressing the brake pedal. WTF? It was like a message to the rental agency, “WARNING – THE ASSHOLE CRASHED THE CAR – WARNING!”. For the second time that day, I bailed.