Toyota has let it be known that it is a company fully committed to hybrid technology. No argument here, but with seven separate SUV/CUV models in its line-up, you could also argue that this is a company fully committed to sport utility vehicles.
From the crossover Venza to the rough and tumble FJ Cruiser, they come in all shapes in sizes, with various drivetrains and body styles.
Falling somewhere in the middle – though leaning more to the off-road side of things – is the 4Runner, which can trace its lineage back to 1984, when it was known as the Hilux Surf in Japan. Essentially, the original 4Runner was the SR5 pickup with a fiberglass rear canopy and a funky roll-bar….a little rough around the edges, but tough and surprisingly long-lasting.
These days, the 4Runner is still truck-based, but has become civilized. Yes, you can take this one off-road to your heart’s content, but the comfort factor is right up there. My tester, a Limited model, comes with things like a climate control system, back-up camera, leather interior, heated seats, push-button start, XM satellite radio, a navi system and on and on.
All 4Runner models, regardless of trim level, are powered by a 4.0 litre V6 engine, that, in this configuration, develops 270 horsepower and is mated to a five-speed automatic transmission only. This is essentially the same engine used in the FJ Cruiser and elsewhere, and is a nice fit here. A V8 would also be acceptable, but it’s not a bone of contention with me. Depending upon the model, there is either a full-time four-wheel-drive set-up or part-time 4WD, with a rear-wheel-drive bias.
The 4WD system is accessed either through a console-mounted rotary knob or a manual shift lever, depending on the model. My Limited had the former, and there are three basic settings: 2WD, 4WD high Range, and 4WD Low Range. You can get into high range while in motion, but must stop the vehicle to access low range. You can also, with the some versions, lock the centre differential for serious boulder-crawling. But that’s not all; there is also a hill descent control, a hill-start assist control, and an ultra low-speed crawling mode. The very fact that the 4Runner has all these features indicates that this more than a grocery getter and you should be able to handle some pretty gnarly terrain with this little puppy.
And you’ll do it in comfort. Unlike the FJ Cruiser, which is equally capable off-road but kind of claustrophobic and spartan inside, the 4Runner has amenities and creature comforts on a par with, oh, the Highlander or Sequoia. Standard equipment includes power adjustable front seats, cruise control, power rear window, running board and so on. One note here; heated front seats are not standard issue on the base model, and they should be. Come on, Toyota! This is Canada, and the 4Runner is a $40,000 vehicle before extras. And while I’m at it, the running boards do not help with access; they’re kind of recessed into the body and apparently not designed to be stepped on. I foresee all kinds of slippage mishaps here when things get slippery and cold. Toyota should copy a page from Ford’s book here; and offer running boards that automatically fold outwards when you open the door.
I should also put a word in here about NVH (Noise, Vibration, harshness). In a word, there isn’t any. This is a tightly constructed, stoutly built SUV with little in the way of mechanical noise and excellent highway manners. I was surprised at how little noise it made….especially compared to its predecessors, which could be a little on the unsophisticated side.
Interior cargo room is roomy; you can seat up to seven people….although five is probably a better idea, and with the back seat folded, you’ll find 2540 litres of space back there. The Nissan Pathfinder, which is a pretty close competitor, has 2260 litres, and the Ford Explorer, 2285. Incidentally, both of these two rivals have lower – much lower – base prices. Because of its relatively high road stance (243 mm of ground clearance), access to the back of the 4Runner is not as straightforward as it could be….it ain’t no RAV4.
Fuel economy is 11.2 L/100 combined rating, which is a little on the high side, but very much typical of this market. Again, the Pathfinder and Explorer are both slightly thriftier, but would probably fall by the wayside in serious off-road terrain.
But with its aggressive body style and oversize wheels – 20-inchers are standard kit with the Limited – the 4Runner cuts quite a figure. It’s estimated that at the most, a mere five per cent of all SUV owners actually take their vehicles off-road, but the 4Runner looks like it could go anywhere, and that’s probably the point.
AT A GLANCE
Base Price: $39,500; as tested: $50,680.20
Engine: 3.5 litre V6
Horsepower: 270 hp @ 5600 rpm
Torque: 278 ft. lb @ 4400 rpm
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
Fuel economy: (litres/100 km): 12.7 city; 9.4 hwy. Regular gas.
Alternatives: Nissan Pathfinder, Ford Explorer Sport, Honda Pilot, Acura MDX, Mazda Cx-9, GMC Terrain, Chev Traverse, Dodge Durango, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Mercedes M-Class.