Ride aside, 4Runner is a solid choice
Medium-sized sport-utility trucks seem to get bigger and heavier each year.
I tested a silver Toyota 4Runner SR5 4×4 V6 and it felt and looked big and brawny. Years ago this started as a Ford Explorer competitor, but it is a more serious truck these days. It rides on a 109.8-inch wheelbase, weighs 4,675 pounds and will tow 5,000 pounds of trailer and whatever you fancy on top of it.The 4Runner boasts flared fenders and bug-eye lights that stick out the sides of the vehicle enough that you notice them when you look in your rearview mirrors. I credit Toyota with at least making an attempt to set its SUV styling apart from the masses, but several of my friends dissed the bulging-eye look.
In reality, the 4Runner’s heft is its main gain – that and horsepower. The new 4Runner is 375 pounds heavier and about 35 horsepower more than the previous model. It only gained about a half-inch in length, but it looks beefier outside and inside.
The 270-horsepower 4.0-liter V6 with dual variable valve timing certainly gives the truck more grunt. It’s quick off the line and feels like it would pull most trailers with ease. No V8 is available, but that’s OK because the V6 is strong and economical. I managed 19.4 mpg, which is nearly what I got in a four-cylinder Kia Sorento earlier this year. The EPA rates this at 17 mpg city and 22 highway.
Slightly more economical is a meek 157-horsepower I4 that is standard in the base two-wheel-drive SR5. Most folks will go with the V6.
While the power is good, the five-speed automatic transmission seems to hunt for gears occasionally, and there frequently is an awkward pause in shifts as you turn corners and let off the gas before re-accelerating. At this price, I’d expect a smoother and newer six-speed automatic.
Yet the 4Runner handles better than most mid-size SUVs. It feels solid and offers little lean in hard cornering. There is minor play in the steering wheel, which delivers a fairly firm feel.
On the downside is ride. The 4Runner has one of the harshest rides I’ve experienced in several years. You feel every manhole cover and road seam. It rides on 17-inch R-rated tires, which may help the handling, but another tire could soften that ride quality.
Brakes, which are four-wheel vented discs, are excellent. A stability and traction control system are standard, along with a shift-on-demand four-wheel drive system. So you can take this off-road with whatever you’re towing. There’s also a hill-descent device to help the 4Runner easily crawl down a steep incline if you’re off-road.
Pricing is middle of the road for a four-wheel-drive V6, starting at $30,915, but this one loaded on a bunch of goodies, such as a sunroof package ($1,050), stereo upgrade with MP3, XM and iPod connectivity ($585), a back-up camera/monitor ($525), sliding rear cargo deck ($350), carpeted floor mats ($204) and a premium package that includes leather-trimmed heated power eight-way driver’s seat with power lumbar, four-way power passenger’s seat, leather-trimmed second row seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel/shift knob and courtesy lamps for $2,205. That pushed this, with $800 delivery, to $36,634.
You can argue what all a person may need in an SUV, but if a base four-cylinder SR5 will do you, the entry price is $27,500, while the base V6 version starts at $29,175. Going whole hog up to the Limited V6 puts the list price at $39,800.
Quiet, comfy interiorYou might think this one is worth a little more once you make the giant step up inside. The interior is quiet, comfortable and roomy. The power leather trimmed seats are attractive and comfortable with mild contouring. The driver’s seat also has a power lumbar support and the seats are firm, but supple enough for a long ride – better than last week’s $102,000 Jaguar.
The 4Runner’s black textured dash is simple, with big knobs and buttons and a gray face. There is a leather feel to the padding in the doors and a matte silver trim on the center stack and console. There’s a tilt/telescope wheel with radio and controls on the hub.
The cruise control is on a stalk to the right of the wheel, and there are big door pulls and a giant glove box. Seats are heated with a rheostat on the console that you can roll with your finger.
Oddly, there are no running boards on the 4Runner, and most folks will need them. This is a tall vehicle and has good A-pillar handles, but boards would be a major boost.
There also is no power rear hatch, which seems peculiar at this price. I would expect that to be part of the pricey premium package. Power is needed because the hatch is quite heavy. A plus on the test model was a slide-out rear cargo deck, which can help you retrieve heavy items pushed back in the cargo well.
I did not miss another item usually found on nearly every SUV or car costing more than $30,000: a navigation system. That would add another $1,500 to $2,000, although an aftermarket hand-held navigation system you could add yourself would run about $200. Without a navigation screen mid-dash, the 4Runner puts its rear backup camera in a tiny screen in the rearview mirror, which is hard to see.
One final plus, 4Runner has a five-star crash safety rating with air bags front and side.
If you don’t mind the ride, the 4Runner is a solid choice for a mid-size SUV that gets reasonable gas mileage and will still tow your boat, snowmobiles or camper.