2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser 4x2 Review
Form Wallops Function
In the off chance you don’t hunt buffalo or forage through the Guatemalan rainforest on a regular basis, driving a dedicated off-roader like the Toyota FJ Cruiser might seem like passing out machetes with the shrimp forks at your next dinner party. To a logical mind, it is superfluous overkill—why drive something on pavement every day that is intended for fording through streams and climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro?
Well, because sometimes form wallops function. Folks buy SUVs like the FJ for their boxy, brawny looks and the right to say, “I’m incredibly macho and to prove it, I shall drive over this twelve-inch curb.” In fact, almost all reflections on the FJ should be viewed with the notion that people will buy it for its quirks and ergonomic incorrectness. They will like the humongous 20-inch C-pillar, the rear suicide half doors, the three windshield wipers, the futuristic subwoofer and the far-forward, flat-as-Kansas windshield. If they didn’t, they’d buy a RAV4. Toyota knew this and designed all these quirks using the same concept that has made Mini, Hummer and women’s shoes in general so successful—sometimes image is more important than usefulness.
Having said all that, it’s important to note that the FJ is no Hummer. Macho looks aside, its interior quality is top-notch and it’s friendly to drive around town. Its well-weighted, reasonably direct steering is nicely suited for city driving and is connected to a small, sporty steering wheel boosted from Scion. The FJ may look retro, but everything else says modern Toyota quality. The 239-horsepower V6 is reasonably quick and offers decent fuel economy for a vehicle its size. This all adds up to a truck that isn’t completely preposterous as an everyday driver, despite its deceptively large size and blind spots you could lose a Freightliner in (chalk this up to the looks-first design too).
Although the FJ appears to be a two-door SUV, it actually has Honda Element-style suicide doors that provide easier access to the smallish back seat. The only handle for these mini doors, however, is located too far inward for easy grabbing from the outside—form-over-function allowances only go so far. There are also issues with the swinging rear door that seems to weigh upwards of a Miata-and-a-half with its full-size spare tire bolted on. The rear glass can flip up separately, but it’s located very high and can only be popped using the key rather than a dedicated remote button or exterior handle. The luggage compartment is nevertheless pretty large and with the rear seats folded, creates a very useable hauling area that can be hosed out if the need arises (the FJ’s entire floor is covered in a water-proof rubber material).
Ergonomic foibles disappear up front with the well-thought out instruments and controls. Color-keyed to the exterior (in our case, Ryder Van yellow), the dashboard provides enough brawny charm while also being easy to use. Radio and climate controls are so huge they could be grasped by a fully-equipped beekeeper let alone someone with plain-old winter gloves. The large stock attached to the gear selector has a definite nautical feel to it and for added flair, an instrument pod sits atop the dash complete with digital clock, old fashioned compass and inclinometer (never leave home without one). Adding to the bigger is better motif, our tester came equipped with the upgraded stereo’s large subwoofer that’s attached to the side of the trunk and resembles some sort of deflector shield generator on the starship Enterprise—mostly useless, but it certainly looks cool.
Which is a pretty good way to describe our rear-wheel drive FJ Cruiser, that despite its limited slip differential, isn’t particularly well suited for rock crawling or running through sand dunes. The optional four-wheel drive is needed for that, but for the majority of folks who merely want the appearance of being able to go off-road, the 4x2 model should meet their wants nicely.
The entire argument that the FJ Cruiser’s many ergonomic quirks can be overlooked for the sake of styling only works, of course, if you happen to find it stylish. Quite a few people think it’s atrociously ugly, especially in garishly bright colors like school bus yellow. Yet, considering the number of them spotted in and around trendy Malibu, Calif., it certainly seems that enough folks have fallen in love with the FJ as an “it” car of the moment—just like they once had with the “form over function” Hummer H2 and Mini Cooper. You may never take the FJ Cruiser through Guatemala, but at least you’ll look the part—and sometimes, image is all that matters.
Warranty/Service: 3-year/36,000-mile basic warranty; 5-year/60,000 powertrain warranty.