Our Cars: Toyota FJ – Weeks 7-8

Parting as it turns out, is not such sweet sorrow

By Imthishan Giado

16h March  – 22nd March – Read Report For Weeks 6-7

Toyota FJ Long term

Relationships with cars are just like relationships with people – they’re based on lots of initial desire, a honeymoon period and then the slow, hard grind of really getting to know each other.

To say that I was looking forward to our long-term FJ is an understatement. Manual, meaty V6 and enormously capable in the sand, it’s very nearly a car that I considered buying over my own Toyota 86. And two months later as it goes back to local dealer Al Futtaim, I should be shedding big hot manly tears over its exit, waving from the top floor of my villa with moist eyes.

Toyota FJ Long term

And yet…I am not. Or perhaps it is more correct to say that it never quite captured my heart as much as it did when I first saw it. On paper it made so much sense – I loved the spacious interior with its clever storage spaces and big boot. Then there is the engine, as easy to drive in traffic as a Corolla with an intuitive clutch (once they had fixed it anyway [link]) and easy shift action from the six-speed ‘box, but blessed with prodigious reserves of torque for climbing even the biggest dunes. Couple that with suspension that provides a relaxing, stable ride both on and offroad and this could well be one of the most capable offroaders on sale today. More refined than a Wrangler, better riding than an Xterra, quicker than even a mighty 4.8-litre Patrol, and far safer than a Defender.

But there’s one element that proved hard to live with. The lack of visibility made life in the FJ feel like driving around Osama’s cave from Tora Bora, all blackness and gloom. And like our deceased kidney patient who (rightly) worried about retribution raining from above, I was worried about the hidden sides, where anything up to an Armada could be lurking in an epic blind spot. Part of the joy of driving a giant don’t-mess-with-me-SUV is that you sit high, lording it over other traffic. But in the FJ, you sit high but can’t actually see very much, which kinda negates the point, like driving a Camaro on stilts.

A note on the initially appalling fuel economy: it eventually improved to the point where it was merely terrible fuel economy; I couldn’t escape the feeling that it would be far cheaper to run a 2WD regular automatic FJ most of the time, complete with its more desirable cruise control switch. And for that matter, electric mirrors!

It’s a strange thing, desire. Desire is what makes people buy Defenders, a car wholly unsuited to the modern motorway. Passion is what has kept the Wrangler on sale since 1947. Madness is what makes people modify Patrols until they’re faster than Lamborghinis. Over its two month tenure, the FJ proves that it has enormous, world-beating competence, a fact proven time and time again by the thousands of people who’ve not bought one.

But not passion. Not desire. Not even a hint of madness. And sadly, competence doesn’t win my heart.

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