2015 Toyota 4Runner Trail EditionPosted on April 22nd, 2015
Fifth-generation SUV appeals to active families
By Nina Russin
In the close to thirty years I’ve been writing about cars, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what differentiates a good vehicle from a bad one. These days, there are very few bad cars thanks to improvements in on-board computers and better construction materials such as high strength steel. So why do some vehicles stand out as truly great while others migrate to the middle of the pack’
I think the answer has to do with a sense of purpose. Great cars have it; not-so-great ones don’t. The Toyota 4Runner remains true to its mission of off-road capability three decades and five generations after the original model debuted.
The body-on-frame sport-utility vehicle isn’t for everyone, nor is it intended to be. While the truck-based 4Runner can’t compete against unibody crossovers for ride comfort, it is more durable off-road, and can tow up to 4500 pounds. A new crawl feature on the Trail edition gives drivers more control over extremely uneven trails, while an optional slide-out cargo floor on five-passenger models holds up to 400 pounds, making it much easier to load heavy items in back.
An available third row of seating sets the 4Runner apart from products such as the Jeep Grand Cherokee that max out at five passengers. Active families will also like standard safety features such as roll-sensing side curtain airbags that protect all three rows of occupants.
Power comes from a 270-horsepower V-6 engine and five-speed automatic transmission. Because the transmission lacks a second overdrive gear, fuel economy isn’t particularly great: 18 miles-per-gallon on average according to the EPA.
Base price for the 4X4 Trail Premium model is $38,655 excluding the $885 destination charge. Options on the test car include the sliding cargo floor and the kinetic dynamic suspension system that disconnects the axles when the car is driven off-road to provide more suspension travel. Final MSRP is $40,890.
Test drive in Phoenix, Arizona
This week I put the 4Runner through its paces in the Phoenix, Arizona area as well as the Gila River Indian community south of town. At the end of the week, I continue to be impressed at the car’s construction and versatility. Its ability to fill many squares, from daily commuter to off-road warrior, is the reason the redesigned 4Runner won our Active Lifestyle Vehicle award in the off-road category in 2013.
In an off-road vehicle, especially one intended for towing, torque trumps horsepower. Torque provides the low-end power that vehicles need pulling trailers uphill or climbing steep off-road grades. The V-6 engine’s 278 foot-pounds of peak torque is plenty for both. An integrated tow hitch receiver is standard.
The two-speed transfer case that comes on the part-time four-wheel drive model provides the extreme low gears necessary to crawl over rocky trails. The new crawl mode maintains a pre-selected speed whether the driver is climbing or descending, so he can focus on steering rather than feathering the throttle or brakes. Standard skid plates protect chassis components from damage on rocky trails.
A multi-terrain select system is standard on the Trail model. The driver selects the terrain using a rotary dial on the overhead console and the vehicle automatically modifies the amount of wheel slip necessary.
All four-wheel drive models also come with hill start assist to prevent the car from sliding backwards when accelerating up a grade from a stop. Standard downhill descent control maintains a slow speed on steep descents without the driver having to use the brakes. Ventilated disc brakes on both front and rear axles are engineered to handle the demands of towing, and not overheat on steep descents.
The suspension consists of an independent double wishbone setup in front and a live coil spring rear end. The live rear axle can’t match an independent rear end for ride comfort but it works better for towing.
A hydraulic rack-and-pinion steering system works well at all speeds. A 37.4-foot turning circle is pretty good for a vehicle with a 109.8-inch wheelbase. True, the 4Runner can’t match the two-door Jeep Wrangler for off-road maneuverability, but the Wrangler wheelbase is almost fifteen inches shorter.
Competent in the daily commute
While the 4Runner is engineered for extreme off-road performance, it is a comfortable car to drive around town, with very little noise intrusion to the passenger compartment, good visibility around the perimeter, and the types of amenities today’s buyers are looking for.
Despite its large size, I had no problems maneuvering through dense traffic during rush hour. The car’s generous greenhouse makes it easy to monitor traffic in the adjacent lanes. The side-view mirrors do a good job of compensating for blind spots in the car’s back corners.
Satellite radio and streaming Bluetooth audio are standard on the test car, as is a rearview camera. The center stack screen is on the small side and I did notice a tendency for the image to wash out in bright sunlight. But on the whole, it’s functional enough to do the job.
Heated and cooled front seats keep occupants comfortable in temperature extremes. The ventilated seats make the leather upholstery much more comfortable in the extreme heat of a southwestern summer. Second-row seats recline for better comfort on extended road trips and also fold flat to extend the cargo floor.
I found the power driver’s seat easy to adjust for a clear forward view. The standard tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel enables smaller drivers to maintain a safe distance from the front airbag.
Designers did a good job of integrating storage areas around both rows of seating that hold everything from large water bottles to electronic devices.
The Toyota 4Runner comes with front, side and side curtain airbags, antilock brakes, traction control, stability control, downhill descent control, hill start assist and tire pressure monitoring. The trail-ready 4Runner is on display at Toyota dealerships nationwide.
Like: A durable, well-engineered four-wheel drive sport-utility vehicle with seating for up to seven passengers with the optional third row. The 4Runner has good enough road manners to function well as an owner’s only vehicle.
Dislike: Poor fuel economy
Model: 4Runner Trail Premium 4X4
Base price: $38,655
As tested: $40,890
Horsepower: 270 Hp @ 5600 rpm
Torque: 278 lbs.-ft. @ 4400 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 17/21 mpg city/highway2015, Luxury Offroad 2015, Active Lifestyle Vehicles, auto review, performance, pricing, standard safety, Toyota
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