I hate to admit that until last week, I had never driven a Toyota FJ Cruiser. The very capable off-roader with the funky look was introduced way back in 2006 as a 2007 model ... so I'm way behind the curve on this one.
Perhaps the time gives me some added distance to judge this ready-for-anything SUV as I am coming to it uncontaminated by any PR hype. Plus, I approach the big blue 2009 Toyota FJ Cruiser as someone who would never, every buy one of these things. I don't go off-roading, and I don't want to look like I do when I'm not. End of story.
My review looks at the FJ Cruiser as a provider of transportation, nothing more. However, one can't review the 2009 FJ without commenting on the styling. It certainly looks like nothing else out there. The tall stance, short windows and huge exterior mirrors look ready for anything. Unfortunately, the tall stance, short windows and huge exterior mirrors make it darn hard to see where you're going in Drive or Reverse.
2009 Toyota FJ CruiserEnlarge Photo
The mirrors attracted considerable ire because of their tall, rectangular shape. Useful mirrors aren't tall ... they're wide. All the FJ's manage to do is block forward vision, which is already limited by the high, square hood and the huge windshield pillars.
Once you've gotten beyond the fact that you can't see very well, the FJ Crusier drives pretty well. The tires don't hum loudly like so many all-terrain doughnuts. My experiences generally concur with TCC editor Bengt Halvorson in his 2009 Toyota FJ Cruiser Bottom Line review, but I think I may like the plushness of the ride even more than he did. Acceleration from the 4.0-liter V-6 is ample, and the truck takes a nice set in corners, but there is noticeable body lean (something that you would expect).
Inside, the retro-tough-guy look continues. Hard surfaces, many painted the body color, look purposeful and work well enough. The three gauges on top of the dash look silly. They're supposed to look purposeful but they just further obscure outward visibility. And amazingly, I did not once feel the need for a slope meter while driving in my subdivision. If I were an enthusiast, I might really like those gauges... Beyond what I've already pointed out, access to the back seat is limited because of the half-door arrangement. The set up is similar to extended cab pickups, and the doors open in a reverse fashion.
The big tail gate swings out effortlessly, providing good access to the cargo area. The piston-assist helps considerably, and holds the gate open even when it's windy.
Our 2009 test vehicle that was provided to TheCarConnection for evaluation had some miles on it, but even though the odometer was well into four digits, the big FJ was squeak and rattle free. Plus, the materials inside were holding up well to hard use from other journalists in the Detroit area.
In short, the 2009 Toyota FJ Cruiser works even for the non-off-roader, but it does require compromises. If you dig the style, those compromises won't be a problem.