2016 Toyota 4Runner 4X4Posted on March 1st, 2016
Off-road SUV is the ultimate active lifestyle vehicle
By Nina Russin
Although Toyota continues to use the Land Cruiser nameplate on its most upscale SUV, the feisty 4Runner with available seating for seven comes closer in spirit to the FJ40s of the 1960s and 70s. Launched in 1984 as the smaller, more affordable sibling to the Land Cruiser, the 4Runner has grown over the years in size and capability. These days, it’s marketed as the off-road Yin to the seven-passenger Highlander’s Yang, the Highlander offering a more car-like ride and limited primarily to use on-road.
Because the 4Runner is a purpose-built truck, engineers have the ability to incorporate the OEM’s most advanced off-road technology, one example of which is crawl control. Integrating the functions of hill start assist, antilock braking and hill descent control into a single function, crawl control allows the driver to select a speed with which to cover extreme grades and the truck does the rest.
The system is proprietary to Toyota and unlike competitive products, utilizes a hydraulic system from the throttle to the wheels without a traditional vacuum-operated brake booster to interrupt the power flow.
To be honest, this feature alone makes the 4Runner Trail Premium’s rather high base price of $39,095 worth every penny. Other off-road specific features on the test car include skid plates, two-speed transfer case with shift on the fly, locking differential, multi-terrain select system, off-road wheels and tires.
An optional kinetic dynamic suspension system disconnects sway bars when the vehicle is off-road to increase wheel travel. The sway bars remain in place on paved roads to keep the chassis flat while cornering.
Other options on the test truck include a sliding rear cargo deck and under-floor storage area. With the $900 destination charge, final MSRP is $41,345.
Test drive in Phoenix
Over the past week, I had the opportunity to drive the newest 4Runner through the Phoenix, Arizona metropolitan area as well as some rural two-lane roads northwest of town. Although its ride and handling on surface streets are more truck-like than the unibody Highlander, fuel economy for both four-by-four models is virtually the same. Despite its 109-inch wheelbase, I found the 4Runner to be quite maneuverable through dense rush-hour traffic.
The 2016 model is basically carryover from last year, except for an upgrade of the Entune entertainment system that includes a Siri eyes-free mode.
The Trail Premium model includes Entune navigation that enables the driver to download turn-by-turn directions. The advantage over hard drive systems is that the driver doesn’t have to pull over to the side of the road to program in a destination.
A standard rearview camera projects a wide angle view to the back of the vehicle when the driver shifts into reverse, eliminating blind spots around the rear pillars. The center stack screen is on the small side but I was able to see objects in back of the truck pretty easily.
After dark, LED headlamps project longer, brighter beams of light than halogen with less drain on the battery.
The 4Runner comes with one engine only: a four-liter six-cylinder block rated at 270 horsepower. All vehicles come with a five-speed automatic transmission. Although the transmission works quite well with the engine, we’d like to see Toyota upgrade to a six-speed unit: larger overdrive gears would improve the truck’s highway fuel economy.
Engineers stuck with a traditional hydraulic rack-and-pinion power steering system in lieu of electric power steering in the interest of durability off-road. As a result, the 4Runner’s turning circle- 37.4 feet- isn’t as small as Toyota’s crossovers equipped with EPS. On the plus side, on-center steering response on the highway is better.
The suspension consists of coil springs on all four corners with an independent double wishbone setup in front and solid rear axle. The rear axle makes it easier to tow: the 4Runner can haul up to 5,000 pounds, meeting out ALV minimum standards.
Of course the 4Runner is best known for its off-road performance, at which it excels. Although the test drive didn’t include any time on the trails, we were able to find some unimproved roads once outside of town. Ground clearance for the four-by-four model is an ample 9.6 inches, making it easy to clear errant rocks or roots in the road as well as moderate amounts of snow.
The optional KDD feature improves performance over rocky boulders by giving the wheels a better chance to make contact with the ground. All of the four-wheel drive technology is within easy reach of the driver and extremely easy to use. The terrain selection system is controlled by a rotary dial, as is the speed setting for the crawl control. While it’s true that skilled drivers can conquer the most extreme terrain with very simply vehicles, the 4Runner brings these types of challenges safely within reach of less experienced drivers.
The center differential normally maintains a rear bias for best performance on paved and graded dirt roads. If the rear wheels begin to slip, the bias shifts to the front axle. Active traction control automatically sends engine power to the wheel or wheels with the best traction so the driver can maintain directional control over slippery patches.
The upscale Premium truck includes features such as heated front seats, satellite radio and Bluetooth interface, making the 4Runner a willing partner for longer road trips.
I found the driver’s seat comfortable for trips up to two hours in length with ample lower lumbar support. The heated seats feature was an added perc heading off to the trailhead on cool mornings.
A tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel enables smaller drivers to maintain a safe distance from the front airbag and clear forward view. A locking glovebox keeps valuables out of sight and protected. There are plenty of open bins and cubbies near the driver. The moonroof allows occupants to enjoy some sunshine en route.
Second-row seats recline and fold flat to extend the cargo floor. The sliding cargo floor feature makes it much easier to load up heavy items without straining one’s back and the under-floor organizer adds some extra room for smaller valuables.
The Toyota 4Runner comes with seven airbags, daytime running lamps, antilock brakes, stability control and traction control. Crawl control, terrain selection and a rearview camera are standard on the four-by-four test car.
The fun-loving 4Runner is on display at Toyota dealerships nationwide.
Like: A sport-utility vehicle that combines good road manners with exceptional off-road capability and a spacious, versatile interior.
Dislike: Five-speed automatic transmission doesn’t offer the fuel economy benefits of a six-speed unit.
Model: 4Runner 4X4 Trail Premium
Base price: $39,095
As tested: 41,345
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/highway2016, Luxury Offroad 2016, Active Lifestyle Vehicles, auto review, performance, pricing, standard safety, Toyota