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2008 Toyota 4Runner Expert Reviews

Expert Reviews

2008 Toyota 4Runner

New Car Test Drive
© 2008

The Toyota 4Runner is a rugged SUV with impressive off-road capability. A full-framed truck with a solid rear axle, plus the latest in off-road electronics, the 4Runner delivers everything it promises. It's the cowboy without the rhinestones, the genuine article in a market saturated with station wagons posing as off-road adventurers.

The 4Runner can go anywhere a truck can go, and slog through the worst mess you can imagine. Its traditional design gives it an advantage in long-term durability especially over rugged terrain. Properly equipped, it can seat seven people and tow 7300 pounds behind them.

Yet the 4Runner is no rough rider. It's quite comfortable around town and on the highway, with a nice ride quality, almost luxurious. An optional linked shock-absorber system called X-REAS further improves handling in sweeping, high-speed turns.

For 2008, the 4Runner adds roll-sensing side curtain airbags to its list of standard equipment, complementing an impressive array of active safety technology that includes ABS, EBD, Brake Assist, traction control, and electronic stability control.

The 4Runner brings electronic sophistication off-road as well. In fact, you can't truly appreciate the 4Runner until you drive one over rugged terrain. This is a truly amazing vehicle in the muck. With Toyota's Downhill Assist Control, the 4Runner can walk you down a steep, muddy incline with both feet off the pedals, the system selectively applying the brakes to individual wheels as needed. This is an impressive display of technology and engineering. And with Hill-start Assist Control, the 4Runner is just as impressive climbing back up, as it maximizes any available traction. Both full- and part-time four-wheel drive are available, but even the full-time system comes with a locking function for when the going gets sloppy.

Both the V6 and the optional V8 offer responsive performance. We recommend the V8 for drivers who tow. Those who don't tow, or tow only light trailers, such as an ATV, should be more than happy with the V6, which provides excellent performance. Both engines benefit from a sophisticated variable-valve setup and drive-by-wire throttle, delivering strong, responsive acceleration out on the highway. Both come mated to a five-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy is an EPA-rated City/Highway 17/21 mpg for a 4Runner 4WD V6, 15/19 mpg for a V8 4WD.

Inside, the 4Runner is roomy and comfortable. An optional third-row seat expands passenger capacity to seven, but can be folded or removed to gain additional cargo space. The optional voice-activated GPS navigation system includes a rear-mounted video camera that lets the driver back to within an inch of the vehicle behind when parallel parking. It can also help the driver spot a small child before backing up. Bluetooth is available, as is a factory-installed rear-seat DVD entertainment system.

The 4Runner is noted for its quality construction, durability and reliability. If your weekend involves driving over rugged, punishing terrain, yet you want a vehicle that won't punish you in everyday use, the Toyota 4Runner is an excellent choice.

Model Lineup

Toyota 4Runner SR5 2WD V6 ($28,015); SR5 4WD V6 ($30,290); SR5 2WD V8 ($30,030); SR5 4WD V8 ($32,305); Sport Edition 2WD V6 ($30,325); Sport Edition 4WD V6 ($32,600); Sport Edition 2WD V8 ($31,705); Sport Edition 4WD V8 ($33,980); Limited 2WD V6 ($34,700); Limited 4WD V6 ($36,975); Limited 2WD V8 ($36,460); Limited 4WD V8 ($38,735)

Walk Around

The Toyota 4Runner is big and burly. Launched for the 2003 model year and last freshened for 2006, the current 4Runner looks small only in relation to the even bigger Toyota Sequoia. With its massive front bumper, prominent overfenders, and body cladding, the 4Runner looks off-road rugged and ready to hit the dusty trail.

Backing up that contention are skid plates for the engine, transfer case and fuel tank, which come standard on 4WD models. (Even 2WD models get the engine and fuel tank skid plates.) A molded-in step adds a functional look to the broad rear bumper.

Visual cues distinguish the three trim levels. Bumpers are body-color on all three models. On the SR5, however, the grille, door handles, and license-plate trim are chrome, and running boards are painted black. The Sport is distinguished by its hood scoop and a smoked-chrome effect for the grille and headlamp trim, and by a graphite-and-black roof rack. Tubular side steps replace the SR5's running boards. The Limited has a body-color grille, black roof rack and black running boards, which are illuminated. The standard aluminum-alloy wheels have six spokes on all models, but they grow from 16 inches to 17 to 18 as you move up the line.

4Runner's windshield, side windows, and side mirrors are made of hydrophilic glass and repel water like a waxed car or a window that has been treated with Rain-X. The glass causes water to form large drops, which are quickly shed by gravity or wind. The side mirrors are angled out to increase the driver's field of view. The available moonroof includes a two-stage wind deflector designed to reduce wind noise when traveling above 55 mph.

The high floor and low roof are side effects of a practical SUV design to pull the ground clearance up as high as possible while keeping the overall profile low for stability and clearance.


The Toyota 4Runner cabin is a good place to be in rugged terrain or nasty weather. For starters, it's roomy and comfortable, and it's highly functional. The quality of materials and they way they fit together is good, and loaded models are quite luxurious. Overall, the cabin looks traditional SUV.

The cloth upholstery that comes standard is nice. And the cloth seats in the SR5 and Sport Edition are comfortable, with side bolsters to keep the driver in place when cornering or driving off road. All seats offer adjustable headrests and the driver's seat adjusts eight ways, manually on the SR5 V6 and powered on all others. The driver and front passenger sit up high, as one expects in an SUV, yet flatter to the floor, as in some low cars like a Ford Mustang. The driver's legs stretch out, rather than down, toward the pedals. It's a feeling we've noticed in some Jeeps, going back quite some years, and is a result of the high floor, low roofline design for off-road use.

A two-tone dashboard houses the instruments. Gauges illuminate in orange, set in three deep binnacles that prevent the front-seat passenger from reading them, and aiding legibility for the driver in bright sunlight. The fuel gauge uses an inclinometer for accurate readouts when the 4Runner is tilted in the rough.

Automatic climate control is standard on all models, while the Limited comes with his-and-hers dual-zone temperature controls. The fan, airflow and temperature controls, are big and easy to locate; they are long on style and a little awkward at first, but become easy to use with familiarity.

The stereo buttons are easy operate. The auto-down button for the power windows is illuminated, but the central lock button is not and can be difficult and awkward to find in the dark, leaving impatient, would-be passengers tapping on your window as you fumble around for the switch, an annoyance. A display located just above the climate controls reveals time, ambient temperature, and trip data. A 115-volt AC power outlet is available, a real bonus in the backcountry.

An unusual feature is a pair of small convex mirrors at the rear corners of the interior, designed to help the driver see approaching vehicles when backing out of a parking space. The mirrors work on the same principal as those big convex mirrors mounted at the corners of large parking garages. In the 4Runner, they help the driver detect motion in a busy parking lot. Using them effectively, however, takes some practice, as it's hard to distinguish details. We're guessing most owners don't use them and may not even know they're there.

The rearview video camera works incredibly well and we highly recommend this option. Hidden in the rear bumper, it projects its image onto the seven-inch navigation screen on the center dash whenever the 4Runner is in reverse. The pictures are sharp, even in complete darkness (with the backup lights on), and cover the area directly behind and a couple of feet on either side of the vehicle. The extreme fish-eye view of the lens makes distances difficult to judge, but skilled drivers quickly learn how to use it to their advantage. When parallel parking the camera allows the driver to back up to within an inch of the car behind. The camera adds safety by giving the driver an opportunity to see what's immediately behind the 4Runner, whether it's a short metal pole or a child on a tricycle or someone pushing a grocery cart.

The navigation system is among the best, intuitive and relatively easy to use. It features a touch-screen monitor, voice guidance and Bluetooth capability. Map data for the contiguous United States and major cities in Canada is stored on one DVD. The integrated Bluetooth feature provides a hands-free communication system using a cellular phone. The system is integrated into an eight-speaker JBL AM/FM/CD stereo, which is automatically muted when a call is received. The stereo speakers then act as t

Driving Impressions

The Toyota 4Runner is available with a V8, but we found the standard 4.0-liter V6 engine impressively responsive. It never leaves us feeling short changed. The V6 features variable valve timing, an electronically controlled throttle, and lightweight all-aluminum construction. It's rated at 236 horsepower, but more noticeable is its 266 pound-feet of torque. Torque is that force you feel when you accelerate from an intersection or power up a steep hill. Torque is crucial when driving over rugged terrain, when the engine is running at low rpm yet under a heavy load because you're geared way down and lugging up a steep slope.

A 4WD V6 4Runner gets an EPA-rated 17/21 mpg City/Highway, while the 2WD V6 is rated 18/21 mpg. And Toyota no longer recommends premium fuel. The V6 is the engine we for anyone who doesn't plan to do a lot of towing.

The 4.7-liter V8 is smooth and tractable and never struggles when thrust is needed. The V8 features variable valve timing with intelligence (VVT-i) and electronic throttle control with intelligence (ETCS-i), turning it into a real performer. It's rated 260 horsepower and 306 pound-feet of torque, and adds about 200 pounds to the overall weight. The torque figure is the key number here. In the case of the V8, torque is important for pulling a trailer. The V8 is EPA-rated at 16/20 mpg with 2WD, 15/19 with 4WD, but Toyota has dropped its recommendation for premium fuel.

Both engines feature a cranking system that keeps the starter engaged until complete combustion is achieved, freeing the driver from holding the key until the engine turns over. This is a nice feature, and one usually associated with expensive luxury sedans.

Both engines come with a sophisticated five-speed automatic transmission. More gears means better response for any given situation along with better efficiency and this five-speed is more flexible than a four-speed and better able to keep the engine running in its optimum rpm range, whether you're after power or fuel economy at any particular moment. The transmission is equipped with Artificial Intelligence Shift control, which changes gear-shifting patterns according to driving conditions and driver intent. It works well and seems to understand when you want to cruise and when you want to get with the program, and it shifts smoothly around town.

The 4Runner handles very well for a truck with a live rear axle. We drove V6-powered models over twisting back roads along the Oregon coast and found them easy to drive at a quick clip. We've also spent a lot of time in V8 versions around Los Angeles.

The suspension damping is excellent. When the road got bumpy, we could tell our truck had a solid rear axle rather than an independent rear suspension, but the 4Runner still handles more confidently than other live-axle SUVs. Rack-and-pinion steering gives the 4Runner quick response and good steering feel.

Still, the 4Runner is a truck, not a car. Rather than using unit-body construction like the Toyota Highlander and RAV4, the 4Runner is built on a separate ladder frame that features full-length box-section frame rails. Toyota also steered away from using an independent rear suspension like the one on the ladder-frame Ford Explorer. An independent rear suspension would have offered a cushier ride around town and allowed for a roomier interior, but off-road capability was a high priority for the 4Runner, and its live rear axle provides more suspension travel. In other words, if your driving consists almost entirely of commuting to work, hauling kids around and running errands, you might be more comfortable in a Toyota Highlander.

The 4Runner starts making a lot of sense when pull off the pavement. The ride quality on unpaved roads is smooth and well-controlled, important on long gravel treks over washboard surfaces on the way to a remote fishing spot. Well-tuned damping and progressive-rate spring bumpers are to thank here.

Rugged terrain

The Toyota 4Runner is a highly capable trail vehicle. It will get you over the rocks and through the muck, but it won't make you regret its durable construction when you're cruising the Interstate. It's smooth and quiet on the road and there's plenty of room for family and friends. The V6 is our first choice for its combination of power and efficiency, but the V8 delivers excellent response and is the better choice for towing. If you want serious recreational capability with quality, durability and reliability, the 4Runner is an excellent choice. On the other hand, if you rarely venture onto unimproved trails, then you may find the Toyota Highlander and other car-based SUVs smoother and more comfortable.

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