Jeep Wrangler or FJ Cruiser?
September 14, 2010 7:05 AM   Subscribe

Carshoppingfilter: Jeep Wrangler or Toyota FJ Cruiser? Please help this SUV newb pick a vehicle.

I'm beginning the painful process of car shopping, and could use some advice.

Some background info that you are welcome to skip:
I currently drive an 08 Solstice roadster (2 seats, convertible, no trunk). Prior to that, I had a Celica GT convertible for about 10 years. I really, really like small sports cars with removable tops. However, I also have 3 dogs, am involved with dog rescue (which involves driving dogs all over the place), and occasionally do that crazy thing called grocery shopping. Small sports cars do not really work for these things, so I'm considering "growing up" and buying a more practicle vehicle. This new vehicle will be my daily driver (about 1 mile a day) and also will be used for driving large dogs around the gulf coast.

I have narrowed down my search to two vehicles based on looks, space, and "cool factor" - a Jeep Wrangler or a Toyota FJ Cruiser. I am leaning towards buying an 07-09 model just to save a little cash, but I'm not opposed to buying new either. Here are my thoughts so far:

Wrangler: Pros - Is still a "convertible", looks cute, is cheaper than the FJ, is widely available in my area (south Louisiana), is available in a manual transmission, is a "rougher" car and therefore I wouldn't mind if it got roughed up by the above-mentioned large dogs. Cons - 2-door version doesn't have much cargo room, difficult top removal, uncomfortable/loud (?).

FJ: Pros - It's a Toyota, it's majorly big, it's got a lot more bells and whistles than the Wrangler, I could actually transport passengers, they are super neato looking. Cons - more expensive than Wrangler, limited selection, it's majorly big.

Gas mileage is not a huge concern considering how little I drive. Price really isn't a big concern either, I just want to make sure I love what I buy. I admit , I want something that is eye-catching and is maybe also fun to drive. In my dream world, I'd just keep my sports car and buy a second car, but that's just not practical.

So, any advice or experiences with these two cars to share? Is there another model that I'm not thinking of that might work for me? General suggestions on buying new versus used?
posted by tryniti to Shopping (12 answers total)
FYI - the FJ Cruiser is available with a manual transmission though it can be very difficult to find.
posted by Loto at 7:16 AM on September 14, 2010

Honestly? Neither.

If you're looking for cool and don't need to go far, buy an old Toyota FJ.

If you're looking for practicality and suitability, get a Hilux, with the cab extension. Put the dogs in the back. Wranglers don't have an awful lot of space.

If I had to choose one of your options, I'd go with the Toyota FJ for reliability every time.

Also, and I'm sure you've thought about this, but I presume the dogs are capable of jumping into the back of an SUV on their own, or you can lift them?
posted by MuffinMan at 7:20 AM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Look at '06/'07/'08 Honda Pilots. Good space, second and third row seats lay flat, 4WD in traditional 2/lo/hi available, reasonably peppy 3.5L V6, feels nimble in traffic, lots of interior anchor points and similar for however you move the dogs. Edmunds suggests $14K - $28K retail, depending on variant and model year (out of the above three). No manual transmission, though. We've put down rubber mats in ours for moving tools and such and the interior has stayed presentable.

I can't speak to '09-present models because they've been redesigned and I haven't driven one; they apparently have slightly more power and are a few inches bigger in all directions.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:26 AM on September 14, 2010

Perhaps a Honda Element would fit the bill, it's very popular with dog lovers. Honda makes a slew of accessories for your furry friends:

Ingenious rear seats fold down and then to the side, or can be removed completely. All plastic interior can be swiffered out.
posted by Scoo at 7:48 AM on September 14, 2010

I'd go with - and in fact, i've been shopping for - a four door Wrangler Unlimited. Still cool, still Jeep, but more cargo and better accessibility. Get a Sahara or Rubicon version with the larger tires to make it look more balanced (the "normal" tires look disproportionate to me). I can't speak to the FJ's mechanical platform, but I've driven Jeeps for years, and with a little routine care, the damned thing will run forever if you need it to.
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 7:49 AM on September 14, 2010

It is difficult to simultaneously choose a vehicle based on its practicality and on its 'cool factor.'

'Cool' is mostly subjective, and I don't think we agree on it, so I'll focus on the practical part.

Between the two vehicles you mention, the FJ is far more practical. But it's not a convertible and it's not a Jeep. And, really, if you're not doing off-road driving, neither is exactly practical, and it's unlikely you'll enjoy driving either as much as you enjoy driving sportier cars.

A more practical choice would probably be an older minivan, station wagon, pickup-with-cap or SUV (only because old gas-hog SUVs are fairly cheap on the used market these days). Something like a Scion XB or Honda Element might be a little cooler, for certain definitions of 'cool.' Maybe it would be possible to buy something older and cheaper, then keep your fun car?
posted by box at 9:05 AM on September 14, 2010

Seconding (and thirding) the Element. I've got one and it's terrific. Slightly disappointing gas mileage (about 20 mph) and slightly hard on the lower back after a 400-mile, day-long drive. But beyond that, it's the perfect utilitarian vehicle: I haul 2x4s, palm trees, bags of mulch, and could easily stuff three big dogs in the back with the seats removed (I removed them the day after I bought it). And the upholstery is wipeable. Rubber floor mats (aftermarket carpet available).

As for cool, check out some of the colors you can get: metallic lime green, ditto copper, ditto lavender, etc. Okay, that's superficial cool, but most cool is superficial anyway.

Be prepared for people to say, "Nice box, where's the car that came in it?"
posted by fivesavagepalms at 9:23 AM on September 14, 2010

Sorry, I meant to suggest checking "Consumer Reports" before you buy.

I've learned from my past. I used to check CR after I bought something to see how bad I got screwed.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 9:25 AM on September 14, 2010

Here's a tip on buying Jeeps: If it doesn't have the 4.0 online six cylinder engine, then don't buy it. V6 and V8 Jeeps don't come close to the reliability and ease of maintenance that the 4.0 is legendary for. The down side is that they discontinued that engine a couple years ago, so that would put you in the market for a used Jeep. But, considering that I've seen several 4.0 Jeeps with over 300k on the odometer, used is a totally fine option.
posted by Jon-o at 9:54 AM on September 14, 2010

Jeep Wranglers are crude vehicles at best. They are optimised for off road performance and this makes their on road performance...suffer. The newer ones are less off road oriented but still pretty crude.

The FJ looks cool, has terrible visibility (you can't see out of it) and is really bigger and heavier than it needs to be. Toyota reliability isn't what it used to be either, but it is still pretty good. Their trucks are not nearly as reliable as they used to be either in the Hilux days.

I think what you need (notice need, not want) is one of the roomier crossovers. The honda Element is a great little car and probably perfect for a decent to drive dog hauler-but any of the B class bread vans would be good(Scion Xb, Kia Soul, or even a Ford Transit).

If you want a jeep that is good off road but has some manors the grand cherokees are pretty good-but get either a brand new one with a warranty or an older one with the straight six. Hell if you must get a wrangler get an older one with the straight six until Chrysler catches a clue and starts making them with a diesel. The wife currently has a Jeep Liberty with the V6 and I am underwhelmed with it compared to the cherokee I had before it with a straight 6. The car has a nice, but cramped, interior, drives ok but it doesn't get the mileage or have the power of the 4.0 straight six. Here again, a turbo diesel would be great (the CRD liberties might be worth looking into).

If you want something with interior space but still sporty how about a Mazdasport3 or a subaru WRX or Legacy GT wagon. The legacy GT wagons are real sleepers and can run with fast cars suprisingly well. If you can manage to score a B spec version (mostly has a tuned suspension) you will be amazed at what that car can do. If you want something distinctive but unusual and can stand the ugly the accord crosstour looks to be a very comptetent vehicle (so was the aztek). Any of these will transport dogs very well, isn't big or heavy like an suv and can still make you smile on a twisty road, not grip the wheel in terror like an SUV can when you take a corner a whee bit too fast.
posted by bartonlong at 10:17 AM on September 14, 2010

Sounds like you might want to consider a Subaru Forester; eminently practical, relatively fun to drive, plenty of room for dogs or people, and extremely reliable. Plus it's got all-wheel drive so it could conceivably be taken off-road if you wanted to do that, too. And it handles more like a regular car than a SUV, so you won't have to tiptoe around corners like the higher center-of-gravity vehicles do.
posted by motown missile at 12:22 PM on September 14, 2010

Response by poster: Just in case anyone was wondering - I ended up buying a 2008 certified Toyota FJ Cruiser, and I LOVE IT! I test drove both 2- and 4-door Jeeps and found the engine to be terribly sluggish and non-responsive. The FJ is fast, peppy, and accelarates almost as good as my old sports car. It's perfect for hauling dogs around, as there is no interior carpet and the seats have a stain/water/fur-resistant covering. It's very similar to the Element, just a bit roomier. I've had it for about 2 weeks and am very happy with my decision.
posted by tryniti at 10:52 AM on October 8, 2010

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