The Toyota 4Runner is built for durability and all-terrain capability. Using rugged body-on-frame construction, the 4Runner is intended to be a tough and reliable sport utility for the more adventurous owner. If you're not towing something or planning on four-wheel drive Toyota's own Venza and Highlander may be better candidates.
For 2014 the 4Runner has added premium versions of the SR5 and Trail models, added a few standard features and repackaged others, and received a new nose, exterior and cabin trim and infotainment systems. A rearview camera and electronic trailer sway control are standard on all 4Runners.
All new 4Runners are powered by a 4.0-liter V6 that generates 270 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque, backed by a five-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy ratings are 17 mpg City, 19 combined and 22/23 mpg (2WD/4WD) Highway. Maximum towing capacity is 4,700 pounds by most recent SAE standards, enough for light boats, ATVs, snowmobiles, and motorcycles.
Most versions offer a three-row seating configuration for seven passengers and most offer a choice of rear or four driven wheels. Rear-seat room is tighter than average for many three-row utes, while cargo capacity is on the large side.
The 2014 Toyota 4Runner comes in three distinct models, each with specialized equipment packages, to suit a variety of luxury, recreational capability, and affordability priorities. All are sturdily built, with an extensive suite of safety features, flexible seating, and multiple cargo options.
The 4Runner SR5 is the standard grade with cloth upholstery, automatic air conditioning, and 17-inch wheels, while the Limited is loaded with leather, dual-zone climate control, and 20-inch wheels. The mid-range Trail Edition is designed to maximize off-road performance with superior approach and departure angles, high ground clearance, and an array of functional upgrades for the most demanding active outdoor enthusiast.
We found the 4Runner has good on-road dynamics with rack-and-pinion steering and well-proportioned disc brakes. It rides like a civilized pickup truck, smooth enough for a road trip. But the key point here is that the 4Runner is far more capable and much more durable for use on rough terrain, like a road trip without the road.
With genuine sport-utility vehicles a shrinking market the 4Runner's principal competition comes from Toyota's own FJ Cruiser (less versatile, less family friendly, difficult to see out of), the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited (more choices, open top, less expensive, less refined, less efficient) and the Nissan Xterra (choice of transmissions, better power-to-weight, lower EPA, smaller cargo, less expensive). None of those offer a third row of seats.
The Toyota 4Runner has a boxy form with a wide stance, with wide fenders to suggest muscularity. The grilles are pronounced, the lights literally stick out front and rear. The wheelwells are squared off and generously sized for larger tires, like the FJ Cruiser. The bumpers add a sense of heft and they're carved away from the ground not for aerodynamics but for clearance off the pavement. Roof rails are standard on all models, as is a tow hitch—this truck is built to be used.
4Runner is shaped like a truck with a flat roof and horizontal window lines nose to tail. Basic boxiness makes it easier to load cargo and see out of with defined corners and no pinched, tucked or wrapped over pieces like most wagon and van based SUV wanna-bes.
SR5 and Trail are styled to project rugged good looks and a sporting nature. Nothing speaks macho like a bumper that looks like a brush bar is built in; none of that bolt-on towel rack stuff for the 4Runner. Trail has a faux hood scoop, its own wheel style, color-matched exterior trim and bumpers, and a dark smoke treatment on the headlights and tail lights.
The Limited comes on lower-profile, narrower P245/60R20 tires mounted on alloy wheels. It gets more chrome and a less pronounced proboscis; it's still a blunt instrument, it's just shinier. All models come with a proper full-size spare, and the Limited has a matching alloy spare. Like the SR5 and Trail grade, the Limited has a rear spoiler that houses the rear wiper, keeping it tucked away from harm but not as easy to clean. Optional retractable running boards stay out of harm's way on the road or trail, but should have an out position on the switch so you don't have to crack a door open to clean them off.
The Toyota 4Runner interior was designed with an eye toward practicality and utility; the Limited aims for top comfort within those parameters. The cabin is trimmed in textured materials appropriate for a vehicle likely to carry dirty boots, dogs and kids.
The front seats are comfortable and supportive, with good adjustability working in concert with the tilt/telescoping steering wheel. The seats are easily wide enough for an average-size body, with low bolsters on the seat cushion and taller side bolstering on the seat back. We found they provide cornering support on winding roads, without making the driver's seat hard to get into.Three fabrics are offered, two cloth and one leather, and unlike many utes with a third row aimed at kids, if you get a Limited 7-seater the third row gets the same leather as the rest of it. Alas, opnly the Limited sports a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
Second-row seats split-fold flat 60/40 and have moderate recline. If you order the 50/50 folding third-row seats the second row slides forward to ease rear access. Neither rear access nor second and third-row room matches three-row crossovers, many of which are larger outside, nor the Durango. The two-row Jeep Grand Cherokee, much shorter Nissan Xterra and Jeep Wrangler Unlimited have more second-row head and legroom, but the 4Runner has more cargo space (about 90 cubic feet behind front seats and 46 behind the second row) than any of them; square shapes have more room and easier loading than jelly beans.
The steering wheel is a thick-rim four-spoke design. The Optitron instrument cluster is crisp and clear, switchgear easy to sort out, and the Entune line of audio and navigation systems quick to master. Top models link vehicle settings to paired smartphone, so your phone brings your radio stations, climate control settings and so on. Cabin lighting has been changed from amber to blue, a switch we're not yet sold on. Although all 4Runners have the 2/4-wheel drive control on the console ahead of the properly gated shifter, the Trail models additional controls are in the overhead above the rear-view mirror.
Three 12-volt outlets are located in the glove box, the center console stack, and the cargo area. An available 120-volt AC outlet, useful for charging batteries or running appliances at the campsite, is located in the cargo area. Some sound systems have a party mode that adds bass and shifts audio power rearward for listening with the hatch open.
For two-row 4Runners a sliding load deck cargo floor is available, rated for 440 pounds. This could be useful as a pull-out picnic or work table, for jumping dogs to get in or out without scratching bumpers, or even forklifting big boxes in. The loss in cargo volume is negligible and there's a good-size well underneath it.
The rear hatch has a vertically-sliding power window that can be controlled from up front, at the back, or by key remote. This can be used for loading lighter things in back or to promote increased flow-through ventilation with minimum wind noise, and likely appreciated by some smokers or anyone who carries stinky cargo. Since it's contained in the hatch it need not be lowered before the hatch is opened. It does use a rear wiper that parks above the window, so sometimes when washing the glass the muck streaks back down.
Toyota 4Runner's 4-liter V6 rates 270 horsepower with a useful 278 lb-ft of torque, about what most V6 pickups come with. It's coupled to a five-speed automatic that shifts quickly and cleanly rather than so softened that gear changes are imperceptible. Full tilt a 4Runner needs the better part of eight seconds for a 0-60 mph sprint but in daily use power is more than sufficient. Highway headwinds will often prod a shift to 4th and you may find turning off overdrive makes for less shifting and a smoother ride overall. It's rated 17 city, 19 combined and 22-23 mpg highway by the EPA but there is no getting around it's a big-tired nearly 2.5-ton truck: We got 20.3 on a highway route and expect teens elsewhere.
If you absolutely need a V8 you have step to a like-size Lexus GX460 or the bigger Sequoia or Land Cruiser, all of which cost significantly more. If you only need all-wheel drive for inclement weather Toyota's quicker Highlander offers similar room, and mileage with the V6, but rides better.
It's not that the 4Runner's ride is bad, just that car based crossovers ride better. They lack the strong parts, which are usually heavy, underneath that enable a 4Runner to tow its own weight, even if it isn't on a road. 4Runners in the past have proven quite durable and we have no reason to think they won't continue that way.
Each model has different ride and handling characteristics. The SR5 puts big tire sidewalls to use cushioning impacts and Toyota uses lots of techniques to isolate road noise and clatter. The brakes are big vented discs with good feel and progression: keep pressing harder and you'll stop commensurately faster, but remember these tires are designed for every kind of surface and condition, not just outright grip on dry pavement.
It steers accurately and deliberately, with a smaller U-turn than most car based wagons and appropriate efforts. 4Runner uses a variable flow, power-assisted rack-and-pinion arrangement that with a variable gear-ratio steering rack. This adjusts hydraulic assist based on conditions, and the rack has a different tooth arrangement at the ends so the wheels change direction faster the further they are turned.
Trail models benefit from the big tire sidewalls as well, on slightly wider wheels, but they're available with KDSS. The KDSS uses much thicker antiroll bars…up from 1.18-inch diameter in front to 1.68 and from 0.79 to 1.18 in back. That gives the Trail much better roll control and limits side-to-side movement and weight transfer on the road, and these bars disconnect on the trail allowing each wheel maximum articulation. A locking differential and electronic traction aids help but the best traction is always found with the tires on the ground.
Obviously the Trail is the best off the highway too, with 9.6 inches of ground clearance, plenty of underbody protection and clearance angles close to those of a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited. Crawl control and Multi-terrain control electronics can make a novice look good and an experienced four wheeler feel somewhat removed from the process. Our prediction is the all-terrain tires or simply physical fit will be the first things to slow your progress, assuming you don't run out of nerves first.
Limited models are exactly that as trail toys. The tires are narrower, more street-tread biased and much lower profile than the others: better steering response, not so stellar big-impact rejection, choppier ride. Limited's secret weapon is X-REAS damper system which essentially links opposite corner shock absorbers to limit pitch and roll, making it feel lighter and transition better.
Limited's all-wheel drive system also helps on-pavement confidence because it is on and working transparently all the time. It won't stop you any faster (same tire footprint) but eases finding traction for acceleration, and to a lesser extent, steering. You could just as easily call it all-weather drive. A Limited will go further off the pavement than a crossover with the same all-wheel drive because of clearance, suspension travel and less chance of breaking anything.
Maximum towing capacity is 4,700 pounds by SAE J2807 standard; unless it says J2807 you can't compare this to another vehicle's tow rating. 4Runner is a good candidate for any 3,000-pound boat or camping trailer with a full crew aboard, and trailer sway control is standard.
The Toyota 4Runner can hold up to outdoor recreational use that would prove destructive to car-based crossovers. We find the 2WD versions useful for towing in good climes but think 4WD is far more appropriate for a 4Runner.
John Stewart filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after his test drive of the Toyota 4Runner near Solvang, California. G.R. Whale reported from California.