2009 Toyota FJ Cruiser

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

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