I don’t write often about things I own. I don’t, for that matter, own all that many things. Well, that’s a lie, sort of. I “own” a lot of stuff, but most of it is household crap, or actually belongs to my kids, or my wife. I’m talking about things that are mine, and that for the most part nobody else cares about. I have a Martin D-18, and a couple of good computers, a few hundred books, my Canon A650-IS, and a 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser. Pretty much everything that isn’t clothing or tools fits in my small office off the kitchen. Except the FJ.
When I bought my truck (from Muller Toyota in Glen Gardner, which dealership I heartily recommend to prospective Toyota buyers) gas prices were just starting to head north again. Sales had fallen off. A lot of people had bought one when it was the coolest new thing, only to encounter its true character and trade it in. Inventories were building on the new and used sides of lots across the country. I was able to get a good deal. That was a little over a year ago, and in the last fourteen months I have had a chance to put the FJ through just about every kind of terrain that it will ever encounter under my hand. That covers just about everything except rock-hopping, which I have no interest in unless the rocks stand between me and something neat. I have collected a few pictures of the truck in various places. Hope you have a chance to check them out.
I’m not quite a motorhead. I don’t have time to get greasy very often. But I am a motorheart. I love my vehicles, and I love to be nuts about them. By the time I buy something I have spent six months, minimum, researching every angle of it. Success, to me, is when I get into the thing a year after taking delivery and still get a charge out of driving it. The FJ does that for me, and more. It ain’t the perfect vehicle, about which more below, but it is hands down the best 4WD truck I’ve ever owned, and one of the best vehicles of any type that has ever graced my driveway. It’s funny-looking from some angles, pugnacious from others, but tough as nails and more capable in stock trim than any 4WD to come down the pike in a long time. The first time I test-drove one I broke into a spontaneous grin that lasted an hour and cramped my cheek muscles, and I swear to God that still happens, even if I’m just heading to the deli for cigars.
Let’s face it, very few people really need a truck like this. If the ones who do were the only market they’d have to pay $80k to get a base model. Truck manufacturers have long been selling these rigs to the armchair suburban adventurer, and many of those units never see anything more challenging than some snow in the winter time. Over time the realities of this market have pushed SUV’s, as we now call them, from simple, tough utility vehicles to AWD-equipped crossovers with leather seats and all the acoutrements of luxury. Many of the people who buy these things rushed to get the FJ when it was new and interesting, only to discover that it is a throwback: it’s a simple, tough vehicle. Note that I didn’t say “utility” because even I couldn’t keep a straight face while typing that. The FJ has about as much practical utility as a Harley Soft-tail.
Not that it matters. What you get with the FJ is a combination of a few things that make it shine: the welded body on a heavily-gusseted 4Runner frame; the nearly 10 inches of clearance under the differentials; the torquey 4.0 liter V6; the old-fashioned tough-as-titanium part-time 4WD drive train; active traction control and rear lockers; the generous amount of suspension travel; sharp approach angles; the truly excellent road manners and driveability. The truth is that it’s the closest thing to my 1980 Ford Bronco that you can get today: it’s just a truck. If that’s what you’re looking for, and pickups are out, then what else are you going to buy? A Jeep? Please. We FJ guys occasionally get a little good-natured attitude from Jeep guys. I tell them there are only two words needed to explain the wisdom of my choice: “Chrysler,” and “Toyota.” Jeeps are good vehicles, but you have to get a Rubi to have the capabilities of a stock FJ, and as far as road manners and handling go… it’s not even close. Like I said… Chrysler… Toyota… just repeat that a few times. We’re not comparing apples and oranges here.
As for capability in the terrain the vehicle was built for, I’ll line my stock FJ up behind any Jeep and go where it goes, as long as we aren’t hopping rocks. People who hop rocks break stuff, and the ones who are good at it will admit they break stuff. They’ll even joyfully relate exciting tales of breaking stuff. I’m into not breaking stuff. Beyond that, if you’re laughing at the FJs offroad abilities then you haven’t driven one. Ask the guy who had to stop his Wrangler and air down his 35’s on Cape Hatteras the other day, while I scooted past him on 32 PSI stock Bridgestones. The FJ pretty much goes where you point it. A couple of days later and not far from there I used my strap to yank a 3/4 ton Home Depot utility truck out of the sand. Didn’t even bother getting into low and locking up the rear. A good-looking blonde girl standing nearby pronounced herself surprised that the FJ could do it. She shouldn’t be, but I guess it’s that whole funny-looking California surf beach vibe thing that the Yota marketers were shooting for. Underneath the retro-cute exterior this is a ballsy damn truck.
So what’s not good about the FJ? A lot, actually. Enough that, if you are the ordinary American truck buyer and you’re perusing this site, I can say confidently that you don’t want one. The gas mileage is abysmal for a small 4WD. If I can get 18 mpg on the open highway I’ll write a ballad about it. The truck is boxy, the windshield is nearly verticle, and it just shoves its way through the air at great cost in naptha. The suicide doors are stupid. The rear seat is barely usable. There are no windows that roll down behind the front seat, and the rear is like being stuck in coach class on a packed flight with no ventilation. The windshield is so narrow and forward that you have to lean in to see stoplights. Rear visibility is not worth discussing. There is a lack of interior storage. The plastics scratch too easily. The factory roof rack is ridiculous. The bumper wouldn’t stop a trotting poodle. In fact the only thing standing between Toyota and having a truly legendary utility vehicle is that it has so little true utility. It’s a two-seat adventure machine that sucks on gas. Oh yeah, you need to be an optimist to own one of these.
As for me, I’m an optimist, and I’m optimistic that when another twelve or fourteen months have passed I will still be getting a thrill from driving my FJ to new places, or old ones for that matter. If you think you’re like me, then you might want to give this truck a try. If not, then please don’t buy one. If I want to sell mine and get a ’09 sandstone I don’t want to be competing with your trade-in. You’d be better off with almost anything else short of an Excursion.