The sturdy 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. In 2014 the 4Runner got a new nose and body parts, along with upgrades to cabin trim and infotainment. The 2015 changes are few, except for the addition with much fanfare of the TRD Pro model that Toyota says is aimed squarely at extreme offroading enthusiasts who push their trucks and SUVs to the limit. We didn’t push the TRD Pro to the limit, but we did get some seat time in a Pacific Northwest forest.
The 4×4 TRD Pro ($41,310) comes with fat Bilstein dampers with remote reservoirs, a big black grille, 17 black alloy wheels, 31.5-inch-tall tires called Terra Grappler, a vented aluminum front skid plate, black fabric seats with red stitching, TRD floor mats and shift knob, and TRD badging outside (black) and inside. It comes in black, white, or a new burnt orange color called Inferno.
If you don’t tow and don’t need serious four-wheel drive, just all-wheel drive for snow and ice, Toyota’s Venza or Highlander might fit better. The Highlander offers similar room and fuel mileage but is quicker and rides better.
The 4Runner is powered by a 4.0-liter V6 that makes 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. Rearview camera and electronic trailer sway control are standard.
The 4Runner comes in distinct models equipped for lifestyle needs–luxury, sport or economy, in rear-wheel drive or four driven wheels. The standard safety features are extensive, the seating and cargo spaces are flexible, including 3 rows for 7 passengers.
The base SR5 comes with fabric upholstery, automatic air conditioning, and 17-inch wheels. The Trail Edition has increased approach and departure angles at the front and rear bumpers, high ground clearance, and other features for the outdoor and offroad enthusiast.
The Limited is loaded with leather, cabin comforts, and 20-inch wheels.
The 4Runner has good dynamics, resulting in good behavior on the road. There’s rack-and-pinion steering and big-enough disc brakes. It rides smooth and civilized on a road trip, while being ready for an offroad trip.
There are few body-on-frame SUVs left. There is the Toyota FJ Cruiser, far less family-friendly; 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, as the 4Runner does.
The Toyota 4Runner is shaped like a truck, with a flat roof and flat window lines. It’s a big box with a wide stance and edgy wheelwells There are no pinched, tucked or wraparound pieces trying to make this SUV pretty. The fenders suggest muscle and the bumpers suggest heft, even with their angles for clearance and climbing. The grille is pronounced and the lights stick out, front and rear. The standard roof rails and trailer receiver add to the impression that this truck is meant to be used.
The TRD Pro raises the ruggedness to another level. Its massive black grille pays tribute to the early Toyota Baja offroad racers, and its P265/70R17 Nitto Terra Grappler tires set it apart. The eye-catching skid plate adds a chunk of wow, and, with the front end lifted by one inch to make room for the additional inch of wheel travel, the mechanical pieces of suspension and steering are visible. Beefy red Eibach springs wrap around fat polished Bilstein dampers, while axles and rack-and-pinion steering arms hide their joints inside three black accordion boots on each front wheel.
The steering wheel is a thick four-spoke. 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 is blue. Although all 4Runners have the 2/4-wheel drive control on the console ahead of the properly gated shifter. The Trail models have more controls 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.
The 4-liter V6 engine makes 270 horsepower with 278 lb-ft of torque, about what most V6 pickups come with. It’s coupled to a five-speed automatic that shifts quick and clean, rather than imperceptible like a gentrified SUV. It takes more than eight seconds to accelerate to 60 mph, not great but quick enough. Hills might cause a downshift out of the overdrive that’s fifth gear. It’s EPA rated 17 city and 23 highway miles per gallon, not very impressive because it can’t escape being a heavy vehicle with big tires.
If you want a V8 in the Toyota family, there is the like-sized Lexus GX460 or the bigger Toyota Sequoia or Land Cruiser, all costing significantly more.
The ride in the 4Runner’s isn’t as smooth as that of a crossover. That’s because of its body-on-frame construction, making it a real truck under the skin. For that slightly rugged ride you get rugged durable parts. The SR5 has tall tire sidewalls to cushion the ride some, and the Limited uses 20-inch lower-profile tires.
Limited models are no comparison on the trails, but they will still go off road better than a crossover thanks to is clearance, suspension travel, and beefy chassis. The tires are for the street and for comfort. Limited’s secret weapon is the X-REAS damper system, that essentially links opposite corner shock absorbers to limit pitch and roll, making the big vehicle feel lighter and transition better. Limited’s all-wheel drive system also helps grip and control, as it’s engaged at all times.
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. With standard trailer sway control, the 4Runner makes a great tow vehicle for a boat or track-day car, even with a crew in the cabin.
The Toyota 4Runner can deal with hardcore outdoor recreational play, or traffic-clogged commutes into a city with decaying streets, challenges that would destroy some crossovers. It’s strong, comfortable, safe and taut handling. It comes in four easy-to-choose (life)styles: economy, sport, extreme sport, and luxury.
Sam Moses reported from Oregon’s Tillamook Forest, with G.R. Whale reporting from Southern California.