For me, the FJ Cruiser is the one that started it all. After only slogging around in boring economy cars, I bought mine used with 80,000 miles on it. Specifically, I wanted something to start my infant some adventuring in, but I bought it a few years too early for that–though we did our fair share of off-roading and other muddy fun with it.
What really happened is it got me interested in driving.
I have always loved driving. I never had an interest in cars, however. Cruising around, feeling free, motoring was always more of a moving meditation for me. I have held several jobs with long commutes; some of which kept me in the car up to four hours a day. Unlike many, I never minded the hours on the road. When I decided to go for my first SUV, I was less concerned with mileage, thanks to taking a new job demanding less time driving. Like most Americans starting a family, I thought I needed more space, more capability, more, well, automobile than I was used to having. I planned to do typical family stuff, but I also planned to haul loads of messy gear from adventure to adventure–to merge driving with another favorite pastime of mine, namely being outdoors hiking, camping, mountain biking, kayaking, and exploring. In retrospect, these are not good enough reasons to own an FJ Cruiser when an Outback would suffice.
Owning a type of enthusiast vehicle had an unexpected effect on me, however. It made me an actual driving enthusiast. After a few years of keeping the FJ stock and on-road, I began researching mods. Most of these were because I developed an interest in prepping. (Becoming a father really warps a guy’s mind!) I worked to hone my loadout in case TEOTWAWKI occurs, organizing and reorganizing my bugout stuff. I even tried designing several tailgate rack systems before just dropping a huge Husky tool box full of gear in the rear.
Gradually, I had an off-roader modestly prepped for the Apocalypse. There was only one problem. I had never really taken it to the trails! That changed when my son was a bit older, and I picked up a pair of Goodyear Wrangler Duratracs. We learned of some runs nearby, and we started getting out nearly every weekend for some excellent fun.
Other than getting stuck one time, it was always a blast and it got me interested in improving my rig as well as, by necessity, my driving skills.
I began making some low-level performance and aesthetic mods. Other than the tires (the most important one) I Plasti-Dipped the hood and roof, I sprayed the front skid plate and license plate frames red, and I added a rockrail/side step combo. Aside from grab handles, a power inverter for two Aiwa Exos speakers I mounted in the back instead of upgrading the stereo, and LED head lights/reverse lights, that was about it. I had lots of fun making these upgrades. I’m sorry I didn’t take too many pictures, but I never thought I’d start producing content about cars!
On to the actual review. The Toyota FJ Cruiser, more than a Jeep Wrangler, is the ultimate civilian all-terrain vehicle. It isn’t Trail Rated. It is “Third-World Militia” rated and can neither be stopped nor killed. The only issues I ever had with it? Some of the instrument panel lights went out. I didn’t bother fixing them. The wheels needed to be replaced because they corroded, so I got steelies to bang around with. I broke the ABS system when a branch caught the undercarriage, and I needed to take care of that one.
Otherwise there was some body rust and the suspension was starting to give a bit, making for more of an unsightly and rough ride than I wanted to live with in a primary vehicle. Still, not bad for a body-on-frame SUV driven for 100,000 miles beyond its original, significant mileage.
The FJ Cruiser handles great on-road despite its off-road setup. It’s better than a Wrangler JK because it can tow more, and it drives nicer in most situations. It’s not as smooth as the new JL but it is quieter and a lot more reliable. See my post and YouTube videos about the 2018 Jeep JL Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon that I traded for if you want to see what I mean. The FJ handles better than a 4Runner because despite being so similar it has a much shorter wheelbase. It’s also plasticized inside like a kid’s playhouse, unlike the 4Runner which is better appointed but harder to clean. If you would like a Tacoma or small truck instead of an SUV for the extra cargo space, that’s fine. I still think the FJ rides better than its open-bed sibling thanks to rear coil versus leaf springs.
My reason for trading my 2009 FJ Cruiser was because it needed some work, it still held significant value despite its nearly 180,000 miles, and I was ready to drive something a little nicer to my new job and long-again commute. I still love and miss my FJ every day. With its funky looks, go-anywhere ability, and solid reliability, the FJ Cruiser can be your awkward, steadfast adventuring companion for years to come–even if you buy it with high mileage. Like your friend from high school that you still go on road trips with, this vehicle loves making memories. I’ve owned two other vehicles since the FJ, but if you’ve taken anything away from this review its that this vehicle–maybe more than any other–is about creating stories. Here’s the moral from mine, and it’s the reason I started this blog…
Don’t just steer through life. Drive.