I am not one that will soon forget the SUV craze that rocked North America-heck, I’ve owned two Land Rovers, so I got caught up in too. The madness has subsided, and the families with two kids shuffling back and forth from school to soccer practice realized a Chevy Suburban was, perhaps, a little overkill. In the place of scores of body on frame, lumbering SUVs, we have seen the rise of their replacement-the crossover.
But wait a second-what about the people car companies had originally intended SUVs for in the first place, before soccer moms (USA) and hockey moms (Canada) went mad for them? Someone who requires a vehicle to drive offroad, and in extreme conditions. Who has a need to tow something a little heavier than a jet-ski. For the serious outdoorsman who demands all of the above, the options are drying up. But at least what is out there is still good, if not great. Enter the all-new Toyota 4Runner. But can the 4Runner offer killer off-road performance, yet still be tolerable as a daily driver? Read on to find out!
The first 4Runner debuted as a 1984 model, and was nothing more than a two-door pick-up truck with a fiberglass shell over its bed. Over the years, the 4Runner has offered two and four doors, 4, 6, and 8 cylinder engines, and even its share of available equipment to rival luxury SUV’s. 2010 marks the intro of the fifth generation 4Runner. The V-8 engine is gone, and a 4-cylinder engine returns. Down on power, and nearly equal in fuel economy to the V-6, I doubt the base four will find many buyers.
On first receiving the 4Runner, I was taken aback at its size, expecting something closer to a Nissan XTerra. The 4Runner offers classic SUV stance, ride height, and proportion, yet manages to look contemporary. Our tester was the hard-core Trail model, for the serious off-roader. Completely devoid of any brightwork, and finished in Magnetic Grey Metallic, the 4Runner was somber, almost industrial looking, and, as intended, utilitarian. If you need bling, buy the 4Runner Limited. The Trail model is for guys who don’t have time to worry about the chrome getting scratched, or the need to impress shallow neighbors.
The serious theme carries over into the interior. Sorry folks-no leather, not even on the steering wheel or shift lever, which is likely the largest shifter I’ve ever used on any vehicle I’ve driven. Instead, the seats are made of a water proof fabric, which breathes well and feels durable. This is not to suggest you will suffer in the Trail. To the contrary. Standard equipment includes heated, power seats, a power moonroof, Bluetooth, iPod connect and a back up camera. Our tester had the optional navigation package, which also included a 15-speaker JBL stereo, with XM Radio, a ‘Party Mode’ for tailgating and a 4-disc CD changer. Though the interior was dark, and utilitarian, the quality of materials was high, fit and finish excellent. Controls were easy to locate and use. Again, the Trail was built for tough use, and Toyota delivers, without sacrificing quality.
A special mention has to go to the sliding rear cargo deck that is standard on Trail and Limited. With a 440lb capacity, this feature was a dream to use when we hit the garden store for flowers, plants, and soil.
Motivation for the 4Runner Trail comes from a 4.0L V-6 rated at 270hp, and 278 lb-ft torque, coupled to a 5-speed automatic. The driver chooses part or full time all wheel drive via a good, old-fashioned transfer case lever on the center console. Power is adequate, but the truth is, you almost never take notice of the engine. The transmission offers ultra-smooth shifts. The 4Runner Trail is a “man’s man” sort of SUV. A true body on frame truck, you have to drive it as such. You aren’t driving a Honda Pilot, my friend. That said, the 4Runner rides and drives in ways I only could have dreamed my old Range Rover would have. The 4Runner, in town, or on highway stints was always refined and comfortable, never awkward.
Toyota gets a lot of heat from the car enthusiast press for building cars with no soul or personality. The 4Runner is the exception. My reason may sound ludicrous, but hear me out. When I get a press car with XM/Sirius radio, I default to 1st Wave-the 80’s alternative music I grew up on. 4Runner arrived, it had XM, I tuned right in. Less than a mile later, I had to change the station. For my whole time with the 4Runner, it was nothing but Classic Vinyl. The raw, visceral quality of classic rock is a perfect match the persona of the 4Runner. Kudos to Toyota for keeping it real. Oh, and yes, and the rear window still rolls down, purists.
The 4Runner is available in SR5, Trail, or Limited models. The Trail, intended for heavy off-road use, comes standard with a locking rear differential, Multi-Terrain Select, Crawl Control, and off-road tires (which were dead silent, even at 80mph). Our tester included the optional Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS), which gives the driver the ability to disconnect the front and rear stabilizer bars for greater suspension articulation for when the going gets rough. The 4Runner Trail starts at $35,700USD, but with destination, navigation and KDSS, the tally came to $40,874. Hardly inexpensive, but if you demand the off-road prowess of the Land Rover LR4 and can do without the glitz and extra cost, but require a vehicle that offers more practicality than a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, the 4Runner Trail is worth a serious look in a shrinking pool of serious SUVs.