Even Toyota Cuts Corners

Yeah, it’s true. Sometimes, the best auto makers in the world cut corners. Even beloved Toyota, with its $46 billion cash hoard, sometimes does things on the cheap. For proof, go climb in the cabin of the new FJ Cruiser. The dashboard is laden with the kind of cheap plastic that I and other auto writers have ripped GM for using over the years.

I knocked on the dashboard and it reverberated with the hollow sound of a Tonka toy. Then I grabbed the silver air vent to the left of the steering wheel and it shook about as if I could yank the thing off its moorings. The center console—which is stylistically colored to match the exterior paint of the truck—also felt pretty cheap. This isn’t the kind of solid feel and quality we’ve come to expect from Toyota.

Now, I fully understand the fact that Toyota has priced the FJ to grab young buyers who want a rugged vehicle that has character. And as Toyota styling goes, the FJ styling is loaded with character. Plus, you can get in one for under $22,000 and add four-wheel drive for around $23,000. That’s less than the average price of a car of any kind these days. But jump out of the FJ and into the $35,000 Hummer H3 and it’s night and day. The H3 feels much more solid. The knobs and buttons are snugly attached to the dash. The interior fits its rugged image.

Toyota can certainly make the good value push on this one. For a lot less money, the FJ has a 239-horsepower V-6. That’s a much better power-for-the-buck equation that the H3’s 220-horse I-5 engine. But let’s dole out the jabs evenly. This interior feels so old GM, or even Nissan. I give them 10 demerits for penny pinching on the FJ.

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