Every once in a while at work, we get an out of state deal (typically Rhode Island) that usually requires me to deliver the new car to the buyer at the DMV, register it for them in the dealer express line (and I’m using “express” loosely, as nothing at the DMV is ever speedy), and drive back in their trade-in.
It’s a nice change of pace to be out on the road for the day and the part I look forward to is getting to drive the trade-in back, which in every case so far has been a car I’ve never driven before. The drive back to South Shore MINI gives me a good hour of real world driving to give the car a proper road test, and form a concise assessment of its pros and cons.
For my most recent RI delivery, I met the buyer of a certified pre-owned 2013 Countryman All4 at the DMV’s main Cranston branch, and after an hour or so of small talk while waiting, registered it with no paperwork issues (thankfully), and drove off in his 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser.
Before getting on the super brief RI-37 to get me to I-95, I stopped off at the Whole Foods up the road to grab a quick lunch before heading back to the Bay State. With its wide turning radius and minimal power steering assist, maneuvering the tall and wide FJ Cruiser in the tight parking lot was certainly a different experience than say, in a MINI or even most compact and midsize CUVs. I performed a full 180-degree turn to pull into a space, and let’s just say I was way over the line.
Backing up out of the space in the busy parking lot was also somewhat difficult, as the combination of the FJ’s high ride height, wide C-pillars, and tiny rear windows, greatly limit visibility. Once back on the road, the FJ was much more manageable. It’s certainly a big vehicle, but its short length relative to most other large SUVs and pickups make turns and lane changes noticeably easier.
Expectedly, its 239 horsepower/278 pound-feet torque V6 and 5-speed auto doesn’t produce quick sprints off the line or for highway passing maneuvers for this 4,300-pound truck. Nonetheless, once the Cruiser made it up to 70+ mph, things still felt pretty smooth and confident from behind the wheel. I couldn’t say the same for its straight-line levelness, as the strong cross winds combined with its soft suspension and height required a firm grip on the steering wheel to avoid being blown out of my lane. The aftermarket-looking yet factory Pioneer sound system was excellent, though its omission of a knob for a quick scroll through the radio stations was an great annoyance.
My biggest dislike about the FJ Cruiser, however, was its seats. Lacking much support, the driver’s seat was very soft and I felt like I was sinking into it the whole time. Additionally, unlike most SUVs where you sit in a very chair-like, high off the floor position, I felt like I was sitting on the floor even with the seat manually adjusted as high as it would go. With the high beltlines, this further decreased already poor visibility and general comfort.
In any event, the FJ Cruiser was a fun and interesting ride for the day. I was only disappointed I didn’t get the chance to take it off road. There really is merit behind the idea that driving a big, towering SUV heightens one’s sense of feeling that he or she owns the road. For better or worse, this massive, encompassing yellow tank of a vehicle certainly gave me a more laissez-faire attitude towards other motorists. Though it would never be a car I’d want to buy, even if I was in the market for a large SUV, it was an entertaining drive, and a driving experience I shall never forget.