It's Boxy, Noisy, and So Very Cool
Toyota has a reputation for nearly perfect automobiles--which also happen to be somewhat boring. The FJ Cruiser is going to alter both of those perceptions.
First, the excitement. Unlike the famously smooth Camry, the FJ Cruiser is loud and overwrought and unnecessary. And that's likely to make it very popular. The boxy shape and bulky fenders and retro round headlights conjure up a safari vehicle--or a Hummer lite. It certainly gets attention. In a week with the FJ, I attracted more young gawkers than Tom and Katie having a public spat. And most probably weren't aware how economical this joyride is: Prices start at less than $23,000.
Now for the flaws. The FJ's square contours produce so much wind noise that it sounds like you're riding in a motorboat. The windshield, almost perpendicular, catches more bugs than a plague of frogs. The rear "suicide" doors, which open toward the front instead of the usual direction, are a nuisance, especially for kids, since you always have to open the front doors before you open the rear ones. The FJ is bulky and guaranteed to ding other cars in tight spaces, and real-world gas mileage is less than 20 mpg. That means there are lots of folks who will be turned off by the FJ: practical people, parents, environmentalists, and anybody who craves a soft ride. On the other hand, if you have a wild side, the FJ is an antidote to that humdrum commute. Save the boredom for your other car.
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This story appears in the May 22, 2006 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.