The FJ Cruiser is almost too cute to be a serious off-roader. Rather than the soft-edged blocky exterior and interior controls that have been oversized to clown-like proportions, I’d prefer to see something more utilitarian. With off-road credentials like this, the FJ deserves styling that tells people you didn’t buy this truck because it’s the MINI Cooper of SUVs, but because it can eat rocks for lunch. It needs less “look at me” and more “look what I can do.”
I was very surprised at how placid the FJ Cruiser was on the highway, with a comfortable suspension and a refined engine. At highway speeds, the wind noise and slight engine drone can be a bit tiring. In town, the suspension doesn’t work quite as well with slower-speed bumps encouraging the FJ to make full use of a suspension meant for bigger off-road obstacles.
Visibility is absolutely dismal. Thick pillars bookend the tiny rear-door windows, creating monstrous blind spots. Additionally, the exterior mirrors have a vertical orientation. There’s a reason every other vehicle on the road has horizontal mirrors – they give you a nice wide view of what’s behind you. The FJ Cruiser mirrors give you a nice tall view that’s largely filled with blue sky.
This truck is packed with novelty, and there’s something fun about driving a vehicle you know can get you through almost any situation. Furthermore, the FJ impresses with its ability to handle both paved and unpaved surfaces. On our way home from camping on the dunes of Lake Michigan, we saw dozens of seriously modified off-road vehicles being towed on trailers. If you’re an FJ Cruiser owner, you can ditch the trailer and the tow vehicle for a jack and a set of off-road tires.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
During my brief time behind the wheel of the FJ Cruiser, I decided to venture to Target in one of the busiest areas in Ann Arbor. Not a good decision. The FJ is not meant for small spaces or the tight maneuvers required in a parking lot or narrow city street. Its wide body, insufficient rear-view mirrors, and poor visibility give it a significant disadvantage when compared with similar SUVs. Toyota’s own 4Runner can conquer the same off-road tasks, has similar on-road manners, and has far less compromised visibility and maneuverability. It also has far less divisive styling and offers four full-size traditional doors. Better still, maybe Toyota should produce a Wrangler Unlimited-sized FJ. Its cute, Tonka Toy styling would suit a smaller vehicle and provide some competition to Jeep’s king of the hill.
Jennifer Misaros, Production Editor
What a fun vehicle. The FJ Cruiser fits in my personal, “I would never buy, but it’s sure fun to drive”, category. The history behind this off-road machine starts way before my date of birth, so any comparisons to the original FJ go out the window for me. Speaking of windows, the front windshield is angled at what seems like 90 degrees to the hood; and the roofline stretches way over the front seats making stoplights and other overhead objects difficult to see without leaning forward.
Driving the FJ Cruiser is less of a chore than I thought it would be. Looking at it from the outside I imagined a harsh ride with lots of wind noise, but it had neither. In fact, at times on the highway I glanced down to see I was traveling at 80 mph with ease. No way did I think I was going that fast. The 4.0L V-6 stays decently quiet too; and as Eric Tingwall noted, the suspension is comfortable enough for long trips.
Mike Ofiara, Road Test Coordinator
I’ve seen wild designs move from concept to production unchanged time and again, but few are actually usable in the real world. Ever try to erect the top on a Pontiac Solstice in a rainstorm, or put groceries in the “trunk” of a Plymouth Prowler?
The FJ Cruiser (largely unchanged from the 2003 concept) is the exception. Yes, the price is expensive, the looks divisive, and the B-pillars blinding, but there’s seating for four, acres of headroom, and a decent amount of cargo space, even with the rear seats locked in their upright position. The smooth ride was most surprising–compared with the original FJ40, this thing floats like an old Rolls-Royce (and, as shown by the inclinometer, pitches like one, too).
Since the FJ obviously places some emphasis on form over function, it does carry a few inherent flaws. My colleagues have already noted the visibility issues, and the rear view camera helps little, especially when changing lanes. The half-doors are nice for accessing cargo placed in the rear seat, but passengers need to watch out for that upper door latch when entering or exiting the vehicle–it’s quite painful if you smack the side of your cranium against it.
Would I buy one? I’m more likely to now, having seen how complaisant the FJ is in my everyday (and decidedly on-road) life, but I think I’m more prone to spend the money building up and restoring an original FJ40.
Evan McCausland, Web Producer
I don’t think I’ve ever been so tempted to go off-roading as I was in this FJ Cruiser. I actually drove over some grass patches in my apartment complex just to get it out of my system. Some six years since its initial introduction as a concept, the FJ still grabs your attention with its outsized, retro design and cute, yet tough details like the over sized, ribbed subwoofer in the trunk.
On the road, where I spent most–OK, all of–my time, the FJ comports itself surprisingly well. Its big 4.0-liter V-6 provides enough torque that I was caught a bit off guard when I nailed the throttle out of a stoplight, and ride quality is perfectly livable. As Evan noted, the FJ’s civility makes the FJ worthy of consideration for folks who aren’t hardcore off roaders, but still want a cool, useful everyday truck.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
2009 Toyota FJ Cruiser
Base price (with destination): $25,655
Price as tested: $32,951
Convenience Package – $2,175
-Keyless Entry, Cruise Control, Power Outside Mirror, Privacy Glass, Rear Wiper, Backup Camera
Running Boards – $345
Daytime Running Lights – $40
Upgrade Package #2 – $2,720
-Rear Differential Lock, Multi-Info Display, 17″ Alloy Wheels, AM/FM/MP3 6-Disc CD Changer, 9 Speakers, Leather Steering Wheel, Color-Keyed Interior Door Trim Inserts, Rear Parking Sonar, A-Trac
Towing Hitch and Wire Harness – $349
Security Plus – $479
Cargo Cover – $90
XM Satellite Radio – $449
Roof Rack – $649
16 / 20 / 17 mpg
Size: 4.0L DOHC 24V V-6
Horsepower: 239 hp @ 5200 rpm
Torque: 278 lb-ft @ 3700 rpm
Weight: 4295 lb
17″ Alloy Wheels