Living in Texas, even in a big city, everyone inevitably has the need for something that will do a little off-roading now and then. Whether it’s a trip to the beach, hauling friends to a camping site, or driving down a friends “driveway”, you’ll need something a little more than your ordinary sedan. This is one big reason SUVs and trucks are so popular in Texas; because they work.
On first sight, this army green FJ Cruiser looks like a military vehicle. It’s tall with a short wheelbase, everything you’d be looking for in a true off-roader. So after a week of driving it around town and a few trails, what do me make of the FJ Cruiser?
The looks are polarizing, but almost everyone agrees that – and especially in this color – the FJ looks like a military vehicle. I even had a few people call it a Jeep. That’s a good thing for Toyota. When they told me they were bringing me an FJ Cruiser, my immediate reaction was, “No, I’m going to be driving around in one of those yellow with a white roof FJs.” To my surprise and delight though, the FJ in question is an army green with a roof colored to match the body. It looked good. Standing back and looking at this thing parked next to other cars you can tell it sits a little high, even higher than most SUVs on the road. Even though it has a high stance, it’s not too tall, as it has a short windshield that forces the vehicle to have 3 windshield wipers; this enforces the oddity of the FJ.
Running around town was done with ease in the FJ as it’s still a pretty short wheelbase, so it never felt overly big around town. The 4.0 liter V6 pushing 259 horsepower never felt lacking driving around the city either, although you always got a sneaking suspicion that the gas mileage was suffering badly every time you put your foot down and heard the roar of the engine and exhaust. I say this because unlike every other car I’ve driven from 2007 to the present, this FJ didn’t have a digital readout of the MPG. It’s rated at 17 city and 22 highway, but we never really bothered to calculate our average.
So obviously it works around town, even if it’s not the most efficient SUV, but what about when the going gets rough? This is where the FJ really shines. This is a press car so we are talking about factory tires here, not off-roading ones, but the FJ handled everything we threw at it like a champ. The reason to buy this SUV over any others is what you get for the price. You can get the FJ with a 6-speed manual transmission, although ours had the 5-speed automatic. The 4-wheel-drive models with manual transmissions have a full 4WD system that is permanently engaged. With the manual transmission, you get a front, center, and rear differentials that are made to take abuse. The auto that our FJ was equipped with still has a part-time system that uses a transfer case, much like the Tundra. If you opt for a 2-wheel-drive model, you only have the option of an automatic transmission and you get a limited-slip differential standard.
The suspension is built with the trail in mind as well. The FJ uses higher mounted double wishbone front suspension and stabilizer. A 4-link rear suspension with a lateral rod, coil springs, and stabilizer bar rounds out the rear. This is the same setup as the Land Cruiser. What all that means is that you can travel further off road and through more rough terrain without breaking vital components.
I was left at the end of the week wondering who would buy this over the 4Runner. Most people will not need the overly fancy suspension, but they do need space. Space is where the FJ is lacking. Although we fit 6 passengers in the FJ, one of them had to ride in the cargo area, and I wouldn’t call the rest of the passengers comfortable. The rear seat doesn’t have much in the way of legroom. The 4Runner though starts at $30,000 and to get a 4-wheel-drive model you’re looking at least $32k.
Our FJ as optioned was $28,000 but the base price comes in around $25k. So if you are looking for something that will get you anywhere, and room isn’t a big deal, then the FJ Cruiser seems to fit. If you are going to be driving mainly in the city and need something more comfortable and roomy, you might look at something else.