By Jim Bray
Arguably one of the first SUV's to be offered for sale, Toyota's 4Runner has gone through many generations of development since then - but one thing that hasn't changed is its "body on frame" construction.
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That makes the truck-based 4Runner an exception to the basic rule these days that SUV's, or crossovers if you prefer that term, are car-based, unibody creatures - such as Toyota's own Highlander and RAV4, as well as most of the SUV/crossovers available from the other manufacturers, too.
Why does this matter? Well, the frame onto which the body is attached gives the vehicle extra strength and rigidity, which is what you want if you plan to drive up mountainsides or across rivers. Most of today's all wheel drive vehicles - including the unibody SUV's - aren't designed for "extreme vehicular sports" but are perfectly adequate if you're only looking for something to help keep you stable and on the road when the conditions get crummy - snow, ice, mud, etc., and that gives you a nice, high view in traffic.
That's what most people these days are looking for, because most consumers have no intention of heading into the wilderness, their idea of off-roading being the odd unpaved section of road or parking lot. And that's fine.
But if you need something that will get you over rocks instead of speed bumps, or streams instead of puddles - or if you're keen on towing some serious stuff, body on frame construction is still best. And the 4Runner is still one of the most compelling choices for such a vehicle. It has always been a capable vehicle, but over the years it has also become decidedly more "civilized" in the comforts and features it offers beyond extreme four wheel drive performance.
You won't mistake it for a lightweight city puddle jumper yet, though. This is still a serious vehicle, and it drives like a serious, truck-based vehicle. This, considering the 4Runner started life as an enclosed version of what's now basically the Tacoma pickup truck, should surprise no one.
No V8 is available for the 4Runner now, but what you do get is a four liter V6 generating 270 peak horsepower and "up to" 278 lb.-ft. of torque. This, combined with the vehicle's 4600+ pound weight, means the Toyota will win few drag races, but it'll move you along as well as a vehicle like this needs to, and it'll tow 5000 pounds and, since it's a Toyota, will probably never leave you stranded in a big mud puddle in the wilderness.
I must admit I wanted more power. The six is a good engine, but the vehicle feels a tad sluggish off the line. It's rather sloppy to drive, too. Heck, you'd think it was a truck! Go figure.
Power gets to either the rear or all four wheels via a five-speed "super ECT" (it really does use ectoplasm!) automatic transmission with overdrive, a lock-up torque converter and transmission cooler. Toyota claims the 4Runner's fuel efficiency is 12.8 liters per 100 kilometers (city/highway combined); I got nowhere near that, but I made my peace with that when I was diagnosed officially with lead feet. And maybe clay…
A towing package is standard equipment on all 4Runners (Toyota says it includes a heavy duty tow-hitch receiver, 4+7 pin wiring harness, trailer brake controller pre-wire, supplemental transmission cooler and transmission fluid temperature gauge), which should come in handy if you have a boat, tent trailer or whatever.
Available in three trim levels - SR5 (which used to mean a five speed manual was part of the deal), Trail Edition, and Limited. Toyota Canada's sample was of the Limited persuasion, which I assume means it's limited to how many they can sell. The exterior is aggressive and muscular, undoubtedly a nod to its seriousness about taking you to the top of Mount Everest. I actually prefer the look of 4Runners from a decade and more ago, but that's just me - and in the grand scheme of things the cosmetics make little difference to the vehicle's performance. The Limited isn't quite as aggressive as the other two trim levels, but there's no mistaking its butchness. You can identify the Limited by its chrome body side moldings, less in your face grille, fog lamp surrounds and rear trunk trim. There are chrome-finished door handles as well.
The Limited suit of clothes features full time 4WD with an X-REAS Sport Suspension that's anything but sporty (my son has an older 4Runner Sport that's more interesting to drive than this baby!) and 20 inch aluminum alloy wheels (including a full-size spare tire) that - me being rather altitudinally-challenged - made me glad to there were also running boards to use as a step. Alas, the running boards also made it more likely I'd bash my head on the top of the door opening so I ended up taking running starts and leaps to get into it. Okay, I made that up. But I did have trouble getting into and out of the 4Runner, with or without the running boards.
Inside, the Limited checkbox gets you "wood," automatic headlight control, a dual zone automatic climate control system, a reasonable 15 speaker JBL audio system with subwoofer, Smart Key with Push Button Start, driver's seat memory, leather, heated and ventilated front seats, and clearance and backup sensors. In short, it's modern and equipped with most of the tools/toys you'd want these days.
I really liked the leather front seats, which are power operated. They're very comfortable and you can drive for hours without getting antsy. Toyota's sample was a five seat version but you can also opt for a third row if you haul more people than stuff. The second row seats slide and recline, and Toyota says the seven-passenger model features a one-touch walk-in function meant to make getting into and out of the back seats less like playing a game of Twister.
Safety features abound, of course, including eight standard airbags, active front headrests (they were so active I had to pump them up with valium!) with driver and front passenger whiplash protection, the usual bevy of belts and child seat thingies. There's also tire pressure monitoring.
Toyota also includes its usual six active safety technologies (they call it the Star Safety System), which includes ABS, Brake Assist, Electronic Brake-force Distribution, Vehicle Stability Control, Traction Control and Smart Stop Technology.
Other standard equipment across the 4Runner line includes a 6.1 inch LCD screen, USB audio input, Bluetooth for phone and tunes and steering wheel-mounted audio controls. You also get power windows with auto up/down function on all four; power vertical sliding rear window with auto up function and jam protection and a tilting/telescoping steering column. There's a multi-information display on the instrument panel, and you also get a backup camera.
4Runners start $38,310 for the base SR5 model. The Trail Edition ups the ante to $44,725 and the Limited (it limits the amount left in your wallet!) starts at $47,680 for the five seat version and $48,875 for the seven seater. That's getting to be serious money, but you can rest assured that you're getting a serious vehicle for that serious money.
Copyright 2015 Jim Bray
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