When we think of Toyota, we don't think of edgy, look-at-me styling. But, as is usually the case when we fall prey to stereotypes, something comes along and knocks us upside our collective head, something like the new-for-2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser. The unique and unusual FJ has inspired us to compare it with the equally unique and unusual Mini Cooper.
Like the Mini, the FJ features an overly stylized, funky interior and a retro-inspired exterior. It's difficult for FJ drivers to see traffic lights and for FJ passengers to get into and out of the rear seats. Ditto the Mini. (At least the Toyota makes use of its larger size, adding rear clamshell doors.) Both the Mini and the FJ boast reasonably affordable base prices. And both can get plenty expensive after a trip or two down the options list. For example, a two-wheel-drive FJ Cruiser starts at just over $22,000. After adding four-wheel drive, a five-speed automatic transmission, a couple of options packages, side-curtain air bags, and satellite radio, our voodoo blue FJ Cruiser cost a few bucks north of $30,000.
We might have saved the money for the autobox, because the only 4WD available with the automatic is a part-time system that, when engaged, deactivates stability control--good for off-roading, bad for winter driving. FJ Cruisers with manual gear selection, on the other hand, use a more sophisticated full-time 4WD system with a Torsen limited-slip center differential that works happily alongside stability control. Hold on--what are we saying? Sophisticated? This is an FJ Cruiser, not an Avalon. Let's hit some trails.
720 miles "I love the interior, especially the dashboard, with its body-colored binnacle around the CD player and the pod that encases the clock, compass, and inclinometer," says creative director Richard Eccleston. "The wild exterior had my Tundra-owning neighbor over to the driveway like a shot."
800 miles Road test coordinator Marc Noordeloos has little praise for the FJ: "Thank goodness for parking sensors, because the huge C-pillars and tiny windows make for extremely poor rear visibility. And putting a baby in a rear-facing child seat in back is next to impossible with the clamshell rear doors."
5755 miles The FJ's logbook pages are starting to fill: "The FJ towed a 4000-pound boat with ease."
5827 miles "I was shocked to learn that the FJ requires premium fuel--why?"
6125 miles "It's a handful to keep straight on the highway in windy weather. Blame it on the dead spot in the steering and bricklike aerodynamics."
6347 miles The Toyota's extroverted styling leads the staff to give it some interesting nicknames, including the Monsters, Inc.-mobile.