Toyota 4Runner — An off-road champ

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Step back in time when the family sport utility vehicle — now known as a crossover utility — was built on a body-on-frame truck platform, was loaded with interior plastic, usually came with a spacious cargo area but tight rear-seat accommodations, and tended to wander on the road without constant inputs from the driver. You can have much of that same experience today at your neighborhood Toyota store. Ask for a test drive in a 2019 4Runner.

The 4Runner began life in 1984 as a rugged go-anywhere SUV. Its popularity grew. In 2003 it was transformed into a less rugged and more mainstream vehicle. Sales dropped and Toyota decided to return the 4Runner to its rugged truck-based off-road roots with the fifth generation in 2010, the last year of a full redesigned.

Toyota has kept the body-on-frame 4Runner intact with all its ruggedness as an off-roader, even though there are thousands of families looking for spacious transportation who have little interest in going off road yet seem to adore the old-style Toyota.

Our test truck clearly pointed out the 4Runner's off-road attributes in 4X4 TRD Pro guise. Toyota says the 4Runner TRD Pro has been endowed with some significant changes for 2019, the most crucial of which is an all-new suspension package that includes 2.5-inch Fox Internal Bypass Shocks for better off-road performance that doesn’t sacrifice on-road handling. 4Runner TRD Pro also gains a TRD Roof Rack, standard JBL Premium Audio, a moonroof, and an updated front skid plate with red TRD lettering.

Take a look at the all-terrain tires mounted on wider 17-inch wheels as found on our TRD Pro test truck and you get the idea that this SUV means off-road business. Crawl up inside — there's a generous 9.6-inches of ground clearance — and you will see an old-fashioned floor-mounted shifter for four-wheel drive high and low, and a crawl-control function. The special TRD badging adds some gravitas.

What hasn't changed is the 4Runner's 5-speed automatic transmission — one of the last 5-speeds still being used in the U.S. — and the rugged 270-horsepower 4.0-liter V-6 with 278 pound-feet of torque. It's an old workhorse and can tow up to 5,000 pounds. Its meager gas mileage figures still measure 17 mpg city, 20 highway and 18 combined on regular gas.

As for the V-6 engine, we found it energetic enough to move the 4Runner into fast-moving traffic or pass slower traffic on a two-lane. The 5-speed shifted smoothly. Performance has been measured at 7.5 seconds from 0-to-60 and 15.9 seconds at 89 mph in the quarter mile.

Unfortunately Toyota hasn't kept the 4Runner up-to-date in modern creature comforts and the latest comprehensive driver-assistance technology found in other Toyota vehicles. The infotainment screen remains an outdated 6.1-inches and such things as adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist and departure warning, blindspot warning, and forward collision warning are not available. On the plus side, the old-style gauges and switchgear bring very useable large knobs for radio tuning and volume control as well as temperature control. Air direction and fan speed are clearly marked with push buttons. No need to delve into a touchscreen.

Bluetooth connectivity and satellite radio are available. The Premium JBL Auto system with 15 GreenEdge speakers including a subwoofer amplifier in our test car proved very pleasing to the ear. Our tester also came with navigation, but just one USB port.

What probably makes the 4Runner so attractive to families is its large cargo-carrying capabilities.
It comes with 47.2 cubic feet of storage behind the second-row seats and 89.7 cubic feet of storage with the seats folded into a flat load floor. Also available is a pull-out cargo deck that can carry up to 440 pounds to make loading and unloading heavy items easier — and it also provides seating for tailgating and campsite relaxation.

The 4Runner comes in seven trim levels — SR5, SR5 Premium, TRD Off-Road, TRD Off-Road Premium, TRD Pro, Limited and Limited Nightshade. The base rear-drive SR5 starting at $36,405 including destination charge actually has a nice assortment of standard equipment including 17-inch wheels, foglights, a rearview camera, heated mirrors, roof rails, power rear window, power front seats, reclining rear seats and an eight-speaker sound system with a CD player and satellite radio.

Move up to the 4WD Limited with 20-inch wheels and be prepared to plunk down $46,755. Two options you may want to consider are the third row seat ($1,365) and automatic running boards ($1,500). Our well-outfitted ready-for-the-wilderness TRD Pro test vehicle carried a bottom line of $48,260.

Base price: $36,405; as driven, $48,260
Engine: 4.0-liter V-6
Horsepower: 270 @ 5,600 rpm
Torque: 278 foot-pounds @ 4,400 rpm
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
Drive: 4-wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 109.8 inches
Length: 191.3 inches
Curb weight: 4,805 pounds
Turning circle: 37.4 feet
Towing capacity: 5,000 pounds
Luggage capacity: 47.2 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 89.7 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 23 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 17 city, 20 highway, 18 combined
0-60: 7.5 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Jeep Grand Cherokee, Jeep Wrangler

The Good
• Outstanding off-road capability
• Large cargo area
• Excellent reliability, resale value

The Bad
• Lacks modern safety equipment

The Ugly
• Below average fuel economy