Crossovers reign supreme in the marketplace these days, and for good reason - they feature the generous cabin space, foul-weather capability and rugged image that originally catapulted SUVs to popularity, with the added bonus of improved efficiency and on-road handling.
But for some buyers, a car-derived CUV just won't cut it; they need something that's capable of tackling tough trails and hauling the family boat without breaking a sweat. These folks will be well served by the 4Runner.
Outside, the latest 4Runner features a polarizing - yet unquestionably bold - design highlighted by a distinctive restyled front end. Unusual vertical air intakes with inset foglights jut out from beneath narrowed headlights, flanking an extra-wide grille with a tough-looking trim piece at its base. Freshened taillights spruce up the rear, and new wheel designs add some spice to the otherwise unchanged flanks.
The cabin features a businesslike dashboard with oversized climate control knobs and an available Entune touchsceen infotainment system that provides smartphone integration and access to apps like Pandora radio and Open Table. A two-gauge instrument cluster is new for the latest model year, as are additional soft-touch materials that impart a more upscale feel.
Five-passenger seating comes standard, with a child-sized third-row bench offered as an option. Cargo space measures an ample 47 cubic feet behind the second row, while a full 90 cubes can be unlocked by folding the second row down.
Though the previous generation 4Runner could be equipped with a V8, the current model comes only with a 4.0-liter V6. It produces 270 horsepower and 278 lb-ft of torque - plenty to get the SUV up to speed without a fuss - and shifts through a five-speed automatic.
Rear-wheel-drive is standard, and four-wheel-drive with one of two different two-speed transfer cases is optional. SR5 and Trail models use a simple part-time system, while the range-topping Limited gets a full-time setup with a locking center differential. The Limited also benefits from an X-REAS suspension with opposite end cross-linked shock absorbers that reduce side-to-side movements in corners and on uneven pavement.
For the ultimate in off-roading, the Trail model features an electronic locking differential and a Crawl Control system that helps drivers to descend or ascend steep surfaces at a slow, controlled pace. It also boasts a Multi-Terrain Select adjustable traction control system that dials in wheel-slip to match the terrain type.
The Trail can be equipped with a Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System that includes thicker sway bars for on-pavement use that automatically disconnect under high articulation off-road conditions.
Never an SUV strength, 4Runner fuel economy is rated at 17/23 city/highway mpg with RWD and 17/21 mpg with 4WD. Towing capacity maxes out at 5,000 lbs.
Trim Level Breakdown
The 4Runner is offered in SR5, SR5 Premium, Trail, Trail Premium and Limited trim levels.
The SR5 comes standard with A/C, power windows and locks, a power-adjustable driver's seat, a rearview camera, a universal garage door opener, Bluetooth connectivity with audio streaming, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter knob, an eight-speaker AM/FM/CD/SiriusXM stereo with AUX and USB inputs, and 17-inch alloy wheels. Entune Audio Plus with Connected Navigation adds smartphone navigation integration.
The SR5 Premium adds a sunroof, SofTex imitation leather upholstery, heated front seats, a power-adjustable passenger's seat, a navigation system with 6.1-inch touchscreen display and voice control functionality, and HD radio.
The Trail builds on the SR5's features with an electronic locking differential, Craw Control, Multi-Terrain Select, unique 17-inch wheels, color-keyed exterior trim, smoked headlamp and taillamp bezels, and silver-painted utility roofrack.
The Trail Premium brings all of the SR5 Premium's features, and both include Entune Premium Audio with Integrated Navigation and App Suite.
The Limited builds on the SR5 Premium's content with leather upholstery, a proximity key, heated and ventilated front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, a premium JBL audio system with 15 speakers, full-time 4WD, front and rear parking assist sonar, and 20-inch alloy wheels. For the most recent model year, Limited models also feature Entune Premium JBL Audio with Integrated Navigation and App Suite.
4Runner TRD Pro Series
Designed to make the 4Runner even more capable once the going gets tough, the TRD Pro Series package adds Bilstein remote reservoir shocks matched with TRD springs, resulting in a 1.5-inch lift.
Visually, 4Runner TRD Pro Series stands out from its stock sibling thanks a black grille that evokes classic Toyota truck styling cues. You can get the TRD Pro in any color as long as it's black, white, or the new Inferno red. Black 17-inch alloy wheels are unique to the series. As is the custom, TRD logos are are plastered liberally throughout the vehicles, from tailgate to floor mats to shift knobs.
All 4Runners models are fitted with dual front, front side, front knee and full-length side curtain airbags in addition traction and stability control systems and a tire-pressure monitoring system.
Those looking for a rough and tough yet affordable SUV really only have one alternative to the 4Runner: the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, which trades a measure of daily driving civility for unmatched off-road prowess.