No one can accuse Toyota of not addressing the SUV market. The company has, by my count, at least six models on the market….and that doesn’t include Lexus.
They come in all variations, from hybrids, to crossovers, to full-size luxo-wagons, and the RAV4, for example, is one of the most popular SUVs in the country.
And then there’s the 4Runner. This mid-sizer has been around since 1984 and, while not exactly a hot seller, has been a steady performer for Toyota. These days it comes in one model, with five permutations – packages – offered.
All are powered by a 4.0 litre V6 engine that develops 270 horsepower with 278 foot pounds of torque. This engine is used elsewhere in Toyota’s line-up….the Tacoma pickup, for one. Transmission choice is a five-speed automatic only with a part-time 4WD system accessed through a console-mounted knob.
And this is one SUV that can handle itself off-road. It has a well-built feeling about it and features body-on-frame construction and decent ground clearance….almost ten inches. It has a hill start and hill descent assist features and can also be had with a locking rear differential, skid plates, and a Bilstein heavy-duty shock package. Not to mention, meaty 17-inch wheels and tires. In my mind, it takes up where the now-departed FJ Cruiser left off, and is probably the most capable off-roader in Toyota/Lexus’entire line-up.
Not too shabby inside either. My tester had a full leather interior, climate control system, heated seats, eight-way power adjustable driver seat and all the other modcons we’ve come to expect in today’s breed of SUV. Off-road ready? Hell, yeah, but pretty damn comfy too. One small feature: it can be had with running boards, which really help ingress/egress.
That said, the 4Runner has a rougher ride than many of its competitors and you feel every bump and dimple in the road. You definitely feel like you’re piloting a rock-hopper behind the wheel and the ride may be a little too harsh for some folks.
I must also kvetch about the rear seat seat-up. Yes, the back seats fold down and yes, you can carry up to seven people, but, folded down, the back seats don’t provide a fully flat rear deck. Not a big deal but worth noting. With all seats folded, there is nearly 90 cubic feet (2548 litres) of cargo space.
I also found the engine in my tester to be far too underpowered. At 2111 kilograms (4655 pounds), this is a heavy mother, and you’ve really got to give it some welly to keep up. Parking lot maneuvers and city squeezes can also be challenging with this one.
The 4Runner is kind of an odd duck. It’s not a true down-and-dirty mudder…nor is it a fully-fledged luxo-wagon.These days, it seems to me, many buyers in this market just want a big comfy hauler; they don’t go off-road much and don’t really need anything too grippy. As long as it can handle the odd bit of snow and mud, that’s enough.
The 4Runner will do that and more and those buyers that may have gravitated to the FJ cruiser in the past probably make up much of the 4Runner’s customer base. It’s much more than a grocery-getter, and, arguably, a little less civilized than some of its rivals.
A word about price. The 4Runner starts at just under $45,000 and, after taxes and extras, you’re just shy of fifty large. If you get it with the TRD (Toyota Racing Development) package, you’ve be up and over fifty-two grand before you can say “traction control”.
AT A GLANCE
Engine: 4.0 litre V6
Transmission: Five-speed automatic w. part-time 4WD
Horsepower: 270 hp @ 5600 rpm
Torque: 278 @ 4400 rpm
Price: $48,604 as tested.
Alternatives: Ford Explorer, Chev Tahoe, Honda Pilot, Nissan Pathfinder, Jeep Wrangler, Jeep Cherokee, GMC Terrain Denali, Land Rover Discovery Sport.