Monday, October 16, 2006

FJ Road Trip

It’s a rainy Monday in Texas.
Those words always remind me of that great Brook Benton song from 1970, “A Rainy Night in Georgia,” with its haunting melody, vivid imagery in the lyrics, and Benton’s rich baritone voice purring like molasses and peanut butter melting on a thick slice of warm toast.

This morning’s rain is the product of a Pacific storm system that has been pushed southeast by a Canadian cold front, and the moist, warm air is mixing over Texas to create torrential rains, spectacular lightning, and stupendous thunder.

It also created some flooding conditions, which afforded me the opportunity to test the 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser on my way to work this morning. The area in which I live generally has few problems with high water, although Big Cypress Creek snakes its way past our neighborhood, less than a mile away at its closest.

Most of this morning’s flooding was due to too much rain in too little time. I knew this before I left the house, so I shifted the transmission into 4-wheel-drive, and took on the commute like Jacques Costeau.

No dry road?
No problem.

The FJ Cruiser tackled water up to its axles (an impressive 9.5-inch clearance) without hesitation, although the spray pattern from the wheel wells did temporarily inundate the triple-bladed windshield.

I’ve driven lots of attractive cars, but none have drawn more attention and curiosity than the FJ. The odd body style is an equal-opportunity babe- or beefcake-magnet. At a weekend event, a 20-something couple stopped me in the parking lot to ask to peek inside.

Inside is roomy. There’s space for four adults, five if they’re compact people. Plus an ample cargo bay behind the rear seats. The décor is tastefully rugged, and ergonomics are fairly well thought out (although the push buttons for various functions is placed in an awkward position below the audio controls, and ahead of the transmission levers.)

A cluster of three instruments (compass, outside temp, and inclinometer) seem like geeky after thoughts, but they work with the overall, muscular theme of the FJ.

I drove the FJ roundtrip from Houston to Dallas and found the ride to be no rougher than other SUV’s in its class. Front visibility was great, but the rectangular side mirrors are odd in their vertical orientation. Rear visibility is hampered by the spare tire dangling from the tail gate. Toyota has thoughtfully added a sonic back-up assist to detect objects in your way while backing. The road noise was suppressed somewhat by a set of fine-treaded Bridgstone Bugler tires.

Toyota’s 4-litre V-6 is adequate for the FJ, and it has no trouble finding the groove when passing in traffic. I’d love to drop a turbo-boost and test the performance. Dallas to Houston took exactly two tanks full of premium fuel (as recommended on the filler door.)
This ain’t a cheap ride.
But it sure is fun.

No comments: