- Better fuel economy than most V6 engines in its class
- Comfortable ride and responsive handling makes you forget that you’re driving a truck
- Intelligent shift patterns from the 5-speed gearbox account for smooth performance
- Interior is overdue for a makeover
- Third rowing seating suitable only for munchkins, yoga masters, or inflicting torture upon backseat drivers who need a timeout
Launched in 1984, the 4Runner has always been Toyota’s smaller and more affordable sibling to the proficient Land Cruiser. Even though the original 4Runner was a compact SUV and little more than a Toyota pickup truck with a fiberglass shell over the bed, it proved itself as being rugged and tough. Over the years, the 4Runner has earned its own reputation as a durable vehicle — off-road and on.
During the SUV-crazy ’90s, Toyota introduced more models into its product lineup. Thus, the 4Runner grew a few notches in size, accessories, and price. Still built using body-on-frame construction, however, the current Toyota 4Runner boasts old-school brawn, which helps to set it apart from the other midsize SUVs in its class, especially those that have moved into crossover territory.
The current generation midsize Toyota 4Runner SUV comes in three trim levels: SR5, Sport Edition and Limited. Each trim is available with two engine options. A base 4.0-liter V6 engine puts out 236 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque. A more powerful 4.7-liter V8 makes 260 hp and a healthy 306 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed automatic transmission and rear-wheel drive are standard across all trims, and four-wheel drive is optional. We tested the Sport Edition 4×2 trim with the burly V6 and observed 20 mpg on the highway when fully loaded with camping gear and bikes on the roof. Combined city and highway fuel economy was 18 mpg overall.
The Sport Edition comes with the expected roof rack, side steps and foglights, but it is more than just an appearance package. There are bigger front brakes, 17-inch alloy wheels and Toyota’s X-REAS suspension system, which reduces body roll in turns. The Limited is the top-of-the-line model, adding the usual premium features, such as leather seating, dual climate control and a CD changer. All trims are fitted with the latest electronic widgets and gear. Downhill Assist Control automatically modulates the brakes and throttle to maintain smooth descents. Hill-Start Assist Control helps prevent the SUV from rolling backward.
What makes a very big difference, however, is the X-REAS suspension that’s standard on the Sport trim level (optional on base SR5 and high-zoot Limited). X-REAS stands for Diagonally Linked Relative Absorber System—the X stands for “cross-linked,” the RE is “relative” and of course, AS translates as “absorber system.”
Basically, X-REAS diagonally links the shock absorbers. As the 4Runner leans in a corner, the shock fluid is transferred from the front shock absorber chamber that’s being compressed as the truck leans to the opposite diagonal rear shock absorber that is trying to expand, but into the top of the shock. This acts against the rear shock from expanding and the front shock from compressing.
Handling performance is exceptional for this midsize SUV. We test drove the 4Runner on curvy mountain roads in the Sierras and found it to be well poised in and out of the turns. No excessive body roll, good throttle response, and smooth shifting from the 5-speed added up to an enjoyable drive in the mountains – even though the weather was on the damp side. Our road trip took place during the first week of June, but the weather was behaving more like it was November. I think someone forgot to put a call in for spring weather. No worries. The 4Runner worked like a trooper and didn’t even sniffle at the rain and hail that came down on us during our long weekend getaway to the Sierras.
Stuffing 3 people and relevant camping gear into the 4Runner was accomplished with some careful packing skills. The 4Runner has a typical truck body-on-frame construction and this limits total passenger volume to 103 cubic feet. The back seats fold flat increasing interior cargo space from 42 cubic feet to 75 cubic feet. Also very useful if you have to use the rear cargo area for sleeping.
Third row seating is an available option with the 4Runner, but may only be suitable for people of small stature or yoga masters. We did like how the rest of the interior is well laid out and includes numerous cupholders. The cloth seat upholstery is rugged yet soft, with dark charcoal sides and light gray inserts. Good side bolstering and firm padding makes the driver’s seat a comfortable perch, and good quality plastics keep the interior looking upscale. Noticeably, the controls for the HVAC look a bit dated and the navigation system also needed a serious update. Fortunately, the fifth generation 4Runner is due to be released for the 2010 model year.
There’s a reason that Toyota’s 4Runner has survived over 25 years and four generations — it just plain works and is a solid choice in a marketplace that is crowded with mid-size SUVs. The Dodge Durango, Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ford Explorer are all extremely capable vehicles from US manufacturers. The Nissan Pathfinder will do the job, and the Nissan Xterra is a cool, aggressively styled SUV with off-road pretensions and on-road acumen. Don’t overlook the Kia Borrego as you traverse the SUV landscape. Pound-for-pound, dollar-for-dollar, we think the 4Runner is a smart choice.
|The official website of Toyota – www.toyota.com|