Suburban Dad: Toyota FJ Cruiser

I have looked longingly at the FJ from afar. Its offbeat but muscular looks are enticing; they remind me of my (then-single) youth back in the 1980s, when I drove a couple of Toyota pickups. Sure, those were low on comfort, but they were high on feelings of freedom — the open road, helping everyone and their brother move into their next dorm or apartment. Followed by feelings of free beer.

These feelings were reinforced just minutes after I got into the new FJ. A guy in a convertible Saab let me merge into his lane in traffic, then pulled alongside me to ask, “Is it as cool as it seems?” It may be the SUV equivalent of the midlife-crisis car.

The FJ sounds cool; the exhaust note is a deep, throaty rumble when heard — and felt — from inside the car, though my wife said she could also hear me coming from down the block.

It feels cool. The six-speed manual transmission is easy to handle and was perfect for the rain I drove through, since I prefer more control over acceleration. I’ve also heard (but haven’t experienced) that the automatic can be a little pokey. The stick shift reminded me of my early pickups, but I know that issue alone would keep it off my wife’s list, since she doesn’t drive stick.

It looks cool; I could use it to commute, go to the mall — and then run it offroad down to South America.

The high ride is cool, but I found getting into the car without running boards a little awkward, not to mention painful to my knees.

Even the dash is cool: The oversized center controls give the FJ more personality than a lot of SUVs these days have.

Sadly, despite all that coolness, when it comes to being a family car the FJ falls short. The reactions from my family — and my own reality check — forced the FJ off my wish list.

The Wife: This car had been on her consider list since she first saw it in Cars.com’s Tailgating feature, and she was excited to hear I was bringing one home. She loved the space for the front two passengers, but the love affair quickly went south. “There’s just too little space for the kids” in the backseat, she noted. If only Toyota had moved that second row back about 4 inches, they might be comfortable. Since they’re just getting to be teens now, it would only get worse.

The Teen Son: “Oh my God, that car looks cool,” were the first words out of his mouth when he saw it parked in the driveway. That was rare praise from a normally critical source, but his joy soon turned to mutterings. He didn’t like the suicide doors in the back, complaining that they’re too hard to get through, just look at the picture below. That lack of second-row legroom also ticked him off.

The Tweener Daughter: She hated the suicide doors too, but only because she hated that they were called “suicide“ doors. She wasn‘t a fan from the get-go; she found the FJ too big, too hard to get into and lacking a third row of seats.

The 10-Year-Old:
He was the only one who came close to enjoying the FJ as much as me; he loved the triple wiper blades on the windshield. “It makes it look like an insect,” he noted. Still, he joined everyone else in complaining about backseat space and the difficulty of climbing in and out.

In my mind’s eye, I can see myself — 20 years younger — driving an FJ down a two-lane highway, window open, on a hot summer day. Can I see myself buying the FJ for my family? Not in this lifetime.

 
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