2010 Toyota FJ Cruiser
Base price: $24,180 – $29,850
As tested: $30,304
MPG: 17 city/21 highway
- Excellent off-road capability
- Want to make a lifestyle statement
- Style still looks great
- Not suitable for daily urban driving
- Horrendous visibility
- Quirky rear doors, claustrophobic back seat
By Jim Prueter
Superb off-roader comes with caveats
Unless you’re an avid off-roader, there’s little reason to consider owning an FJ Cruiser. Unless, of course, you’re wanting to make a lifestyle statement: “I’m hip, bold, outdoorsy.”
Major warning here. Take heed and repeat after me: “I will not buy an FJ on impulse, regardless of how attracted I am to the styling.”
For the most part, the FJ is not an urban dweller, content with daily commutes to the office and jaunts to happy hour. Running kids to school, a friend’s house, soccer practice? The drive-thru line at Starbucks or McDonalds, loading groceries, negotiating a parking spot at the mall, traffic? Forget it. Consider a Toyota Highlander, 4Runner or RAV4, not an FJ.
Of course, the FJ sits on the dealer lot with a magnetic attraction, much like certain men or women who are fun to date, but not the kind you marry. Irresistible in design, FJs are painted in candy colors, topped by a white roof and equipped with huge 32-inch P265/70R 17-inch tires. It’s all very attractive, easy on the eyes and turns heads everywhere, but also comes with a lot of issues, baggage and drama.
Ok, let’s get all the gripes out of the way first. We’ll start with visibility. One journalist so aptly described the FJ as having so many blind spots it ought to come with a white cane. Credit the poor visibility to the FJ’s unique body style, starting with a windshield that seems to be five feet from the driver, making it impossible to see the front edges of the hood, let alone reach the rearview mirror for adjustment.
Next are overly wide A-pillars, massive side roof pillars between two small windows, a small rear window that is partially blocked by the rear-seat headrests and tailgate-mounted spare tire, all of which compromises visibility. It helps to be lucky when parking. Yes, there is an optional backup camera that’s fixed inside the rearview mirror, but the tiny two- to three-inch screen is nearly impossible to see, given its distance from the driver and its diminutive size.
You can also forget about tight turns or just pulling into a parking spot at the mall on the first try. The FJ’s turning radius is almost 42 feet, about the same as a three-quarter-ton pickup truck.
The FJ actually has four doors. With only two visible door handles and rear-hinged rear doors, it’s nearly impossible to notice and ingress and egress to the rear cabin is close to a gymnastics event. Once back there, the feeling is claustrophobic. With minimal room and very small windows, I felt trapped because front doors must be fully open before the rear doors can swing out.
The FJ has a tumultuous handling feel on the road, but once off-road feels right at home. Once on the trail, the FJ is fantastic, easily crawling over rocks and boulders, deep ruts, logs and streams. Short overhangs afford exceptional approach and departure angles with ground clearance both generous and appreciated.
FJ comes in just one model and is available in either two-wheel or four-wheel drive, five-speed automatic or six-speed manual (with full-time 4WD model) transmissions. A 4.0-liter 260-horsepower V-6 engine powers all FJ Cruisers. Unlike previous FJ models, Toyota now says it’s okay to use regular unleaded rather than premium unleaded gasoline.
There’s a new special edition package for 2010 that comes with off-road equipment, including Bilstein shock absorbers, a locking rear differential, skid plates and BF Goodrich all-terrain tires
Four-wheel drive models include a two-speed transfer case, but if you choose the manual transmission, four-wheel drive is then full-time. Automatic equipped models, like the FJ we tested use a part-time transfer case with a manual shift lever. That means you can shift into four-wheel high range while moving, but the low range gears requires you to stop the vehicle, shift into neutral and shift the lever to four-wheel low.
Another oddity: FJ does not offering hill-descent mode, a feature that engages the brakes to maintain control on steep downhill descents. This feature, available on Jeep, Land Rover and other capable off-road vehicles, is practically a necessity for off-road enthusiasts. Same for a front-mounted winch, which is, again, unavailable on FJ and a necessity for serious off-roaders.
Still, there is much to love about the FJ and there are loads of optional features to civilize the off-road beast: upgraded audio system with CD changer, MP3/WMA playback capability and nine speakers including a subwoofer; cruise control; privacy glass; luggage rack; running boards; keyless entry; and numerous dealer installed extras to personalize your FJ.
Interior space is especially generous and includes easy-to-clean rubberized flooring and water-resistant cloth-covered seats. The broad dash features white-faced gauges and you can even color key dash and door trim panels to match the vehicle’s exterior color. In addition to a standard glove box on the passenger side, there’s a pop-up bin just beyond the steering wheel that can house an optional Garmin Quest 2 navigation unit that’s removable for hiking.
Safety features include Toyota’s STAR Safety System with stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution, and brake assist. Side-impact and side curtain airbags are standard, same for first and second row side curtain and dual-stage front airbags. The FJ Cruiser earned the government’s highest five-star rating in front- and side-impact crash tests, and the highest “Good” rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in front crash tests.
Overall, FJ is an enjoyable vehicle to drive, especially when romping off road, and is generally a bargain considering everything included in the base price. But our FJ wasn’t nearly as much fun and rather tedious to drive during a daily commute in heavy traffic.