2010 Toyota 4Runner Expert Review:Autoblog
Toyota has made some serious money over the past couple of decades by making safe, reliable vehicles. There have been a few models, like the Supra and Celica, that have appealed to the enthusiast, but the rest of America hasn't really seemed to care. New Toyota chief Akio Toyoda has promised to change that paradigm, however, pledging to inject new vehicles with much-needed soul. But do we have to wait a few years for Toyota's designers and engineers to come up with something new and exciting? Maybe not.
While the enthusiast-inspired products like the FT-86 coupe are still a ways off, off-roading types have a new Toyota to test drive: the 2010 4Runner. We've long known that the 4Runner has been perfectly capable of wrestling with a bit of mud, as it helped define America's sport-utility genre along with the original Jeep Cherokee way back in 1984. But this new model is at once bigger, more capable and more luxurious – and its styling has been designed to stand out in an admittedly thinning crowd of proper SUVs. We spent a week with a Magnetic Grey Metallic 4WD SR5 to see if Toyota has been right to stand by its mid-size mainstay while the rest of the automaking world has been busy turning its body-on-frame gas-guzzlers into pump-friendly softroaders.
Photos by Chris Shunk / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.
Looking at our $37,649 tester from the outside, it's abundantly clear that Toyota has zigged when the rest of the world's utility vehicles have up and zagged. Our naked eye tells us the 4Runner is a cross between a GMC Terrain and Sloth from the movie Goonies. That's a nice way of saying that we find the 4Runner a bit hard to look at. Its flat nose, square-rigged proportions and bold side moldings won't win any beauty contests, but after a few days, its "more is more" look began to wear on us, if only a bit. One trait we just couldn't get used to are the bulging headlights and taillights that protrude from the sheetmetal by a good two inches. We're thinking there isn't a huge market for taillights that appear to have an inoperable growth jutting out to the sides.
The 4Runner's exterior definitely makes a bold statement, and that theme has been deftly carried over to the interior. Toyota has continued the big and bold theme inside the cabin, with oversized seats, a wonderful Delmonico-inspired steering wheel and a shift lever that could double as the barrel of a Louisville Slugger. Even the knobs are over an inch in diameter. The wide, squared-off center stack very efficiently packs in all the 4Runner's supersized buttons and switchgear, and ergonomics are surprisingly good. The 4Runner's overall length, at 189 inches, is three inches shorter than the Nissan Pathfinder, but the 4Runner is a far more useful 2.4 inches wider. That means more shoulder and hip room for passengers, more presence in traffic, and perhaps most importantly, more stability.
We liked the 4Runner's comfortable leather seats, commanding view of the road and roomy dimensions, but there were a few notable problems within this Toyota's cabin. First, one of the most amusing buttons we've ever seen in any vehicle appeared in our tester: the "Party Mode" button. Sadly, Ryan Seacrest's short and suited self doesn't pop out whenever we pressed it. Instead, the sound system's music goes from clean to heavy on the bass and over-modulated. The stereo doesn't actually sound that bad in "Party Mode," but we're not sure why Toyota has elected to place the button a foot away from the headunit and behind that massive steering wheel we told you about. We didn't see the button for the first four days behind the wheel and may never have stumbled across it if one of our other editors didn't alert us to its existence.
Interior quality is also a bit uneven, as the 4Runner's dash plastic is unyielding, and touchpoints at the door and center armrest are surprisingly harsh and rubbery. We understand (but don't like) the use of hard plastics on a meat-and-potatoes SUV dashboard, but touchpoints deserve a bit more love. An even bigger problem presented itself in the form of our tester's third row seat, which is a $3,570 option that included leather seating surfaces and third row curtain airbags.
Since the 4Runner has a body-on-frame architecture, when the third row seat is folded, the load floor actually sits a few inches higher than in the standard five-seat model. The fully collapsed seats don't exactly stow completely flat, either, and the slight downward pitch of the floor makes it next to impossible to throw groceries in the boot without something flying out when the tailgate is opened. There is no convenient way to access that third row when it's needed, either. We found that we had to unfold the third row split-bench from the second row, which certainly isn't the most user-friendly way to access additional seating.
But while the interior wasn't exactly up to snuff, there were some considerable surprises once we got behind the wheel. The first area of delight came courtesy of Toyota's 4.0-liter V6 engine. This writer just finished a week in a Tacoma with the same displacement V6, and we came away from that tester wanting far more power. The six-pot beneath the hood of the 4Runner is a different beast altogether, with dual independent variable valve timing helping to achieve 270 horsepower at 5600 rpm and 278 pound-feet of torque at 4400 rpm. The extra horsepower (up from 236 ponies in the Tacoma) makes the 4,700 pound 4Runner feel surprisingly fleet-footed, and Toyota claims an impressive 0-60 mph time of 7.1 seconds. Perhaps more surprising than the 4Runner's perkiness is the impressive 19.5 miles per gallon we managed during a week of mixed driving (EPA figures: 18 mpg city/23 mpg highway). Not bad for a two-ton SUV with a five-speed transmission and large-displacement V6.
Our tester also proved to be very comfortable on the highway and around town, with the V6 providing reliable power and the chassis remaining well-controlled. Steering is a bit numb and could use a bit more heft when tooling around town, but it's about what you'd expect in an off-road capable SUV. It's true that the 4Runner's ride quality tends to get a bit bouncy when encountering less-than-ideal roads, but that's largely to be expected in a steel-spring off-roader like this.
The SR5 also has a not-so secret weapon in its very capable part-time four-wheel-drive system. On the highway, it can cruise comfortably using only the rear wheels for propulsion, but when the traction conditions turn foreboding, the driver can simply shift into Four High to keep momentum strong. When dirt turns to rock, the 4Runner can articulate over some pretty formidable terrain. Simply work your way into Four Low and let the 9.6-inch ground clearance, 25-degree approach angle and 24-degree departure angle work to your advantage. Toyota also has an even more rugged option in the form of a Trail package that includes a terrain response system, a locking rear differential, and skid plates for still more off-roading ability.
We rarely find ourselves short on fun when we're off the beaten path, and here the 4Runner revealed itself to be a very capable partner. Substantial P265/70SR17 tires and above average wheel travel made most pits feel like small potholes, and the 4WD system proved to be very difficult to overwhelm. One problem we encountered was that it was fairly difficult to switch the 4Runner's floor-mounted 4WD system shifter into 4WD High and Low. We got better with a bit of practice, though we'd much prefer a simple button or switch that interfaces with the 4WD system.
The Toyota 4Runner may be every bit as safe and reliable as Toyota models of the past, but it also has a bit of attitude in its design and capability, and that's a good thing. And with the Chevrolet Trailblazer gone and the Ford Explorer and Dodge Durango about to reinvent themselves as crossovers, the 4Runner has very little competition in a segment that just a decade ago surpassed well over one million units per year. In the end, customers will have to decide if they really do want to go off-road every now and again. The genre's sales may be dwindling, but with the 4Runner's history spanning a quarter of a century and 1.5 million units sold over four generations, we're guessing that Toyota will find enough loyalists who still think a bit of grit under their fingernails – and tires – is an attractive thing.
Photos by Chris Shunk / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.
New Car Test Drive
Sturdy off-roader is all-new with more power, better fuel economy.
The Toyota 4Runner is all-new for 2010. This multipurpose midsize SUV combines rugged body-on-frame construction with true all-terrain capability. The 2010 4Runner is intended to be a tough and reliable platform for the more adventurous SUV owner, adding advanced four-wheeling equipment that was previously unavailable.
The 2010 Toyota 4Runner comes in three distinct models, each with specialized equipment packages, to suit a variety of luxury, recreational capability, and affordability priorities. All are sturdily built, with an extensive suite of safety features, flexible seating, and multiple cargo options. The interior design is based on the concept of multi-purpose use, with improved cargo volume, back-row legroom and enhanced storage for 2010.
The all-new 2010 4Runner has more horsepower than ever before, and gets better mileage. The 2010 4Runner engine lineup consists of a standard 4.0-liter V6 and an optional 2.7-liter four-cylinder. The prior 4.7-liter V8 is no longer offered, but the 2010 4Runner is still more energetic than any of the previous editions, thanks to improvements made to the V6. The 2.7-liter four-cylinder is available for 2WD SR5 models only.
The 4Runner has good on-road dynamics with rack-and-pinion steering and well-proportioned disc brakes. It may be as nimble as the lighter-duty Highlander crossover, but it's far more capable and much more durable for use on rough terrain. Compared to the FJ Cruiser, the 4Runner is more versatile and more passenger-friendly, and nearly as capable off-road. The 4Runner seats up to seven people or can haul a lot of cargo. The 4Runner is rated to tow up to 5,000 pounds, enough for light boats, ATVs and snowmobiles.
The 2010 Toyota 4Runner is available in 2WD or 4WD and in three distinct models, SR5, top-of-the-line Limited, and Trail Edition. A full-time multi-mode 4WD system is available with the Limited; a part-time system is standard on SR5 and Trail Edition.
Two-row or three-row seating configurations are available, for five or seven passengers.
The 4.0-liter V6 mated to a five-speed automatic is standard across the range. A lower-cost 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine is available on 4x2 SR5 models.
The 2010 4Runner is lightly larger overall than the prior generation, but with the same wheelbase. Because the A-pillar has been moved forward slightly, the new 4Runner has a slightly more upright appearance. Still, the exterior is sleek enough to allow for a reduction in the coefficient of drag to 0.365 Cd.
There are three distinct appearance packages for the 2010 4Runner, matched to the model. All share a boxy form with a wide stance, with wide fenders to suggest muscularity. The wheelwells are squared off and generously sized for larger tires, like the FJ Cruiser. New bumpers add a sense of heft. Roof rails are standard on all models, emphasizing the 4Runner's potential as a recreational gear transporter.
Improved-performance projection-beam head- and tail lamps lend a technical appearance, distinguished by unusually conspicuous lens bulges. The effect is contemporary, advanced, and yet in keeping with 4Runner's five-generation tradition of body-on-frame construction.
The Trail Edition is styled to project rugged good looks, a sense of mystery, and a sporting nature. It has a sporty hood scoop, blacked-out mirrors and bumpers, and a dark smoke treatment on the head and tail lamps.
Both the Trail Edition and SR5 have similarly styled overfenders and mud guards, and both have 17-inch alloy wheels as standard equipment, although each grade has its own distinctive wheel. On the SR5, there is greater use of chrome accents, and the roof rack is silver with black end caps. Heated exterior mirrors have turn signal indicators and puddle lamps.
The Limited comes on lower-profile P245/60 tires mounted on 20-inch alloy wheels. All models come with a full-size spare, and the Limited has a matching alloy spare. Like the SR5 and Trail Edition, the Limited has a rear spoiler that houses the rear wiper, keeping it tucked away when not in use.
The 4Runner interior has been upgraded with an eye toward practicality, comfort, and utility. There is more rear headroom, more shoulder room, more hip room and quite a bit more leg room for third row passengers.
The cabin uses large dials and bright instrumentation. The standard three-gauge cluster combines orange-numeral speedometer and tachometer with temperature and fuel meters; on Trail and Limited, white-numeral Optitron gauges are used. All grades share an accessory meter that displays time, average fuel consumption, range, compass direction, and outside temperature.
An automatic dual-zone climate controlled AC system is standard on the Limited; SR5 and Trail Edition have manual climate control.
Wood-grained trim has been deleted in favor of textured materials with silver trim accents, creating a more modern, high-tech environment. A larger armrest has been created in the doors by moving the power window and door controls higher, to the top of the door.
Three 12-volt outlets are located in the glove box, the center console sack, and the cargo area. Optional 120-volt AC outlets, useful for charging batteries or running appliances at the campsite, are located in the center console box and cargo area.
On the Trail Edition, there is an overhead panel with two dials that house the Crawl Control and Multi-Terrain Select System. The Trail Edition also gets water-resistant seat fabric in a charcoal gray color.
The front seats are comfortable and supportive, with a longer slide for greater adjustability. The standard SR5 cloth seat adjusts six ways manually; Trail and Limited models get eight-way power adjustments. Limited also offers flawless leather, heated seats. Active headrests are standard for all front seats.
Second-row seats fold completely flat to maximize interior cargo area. With everything folded flat, cargo volume is just short of 90 cubic feet, or 88.8 cubic feet on models with third-row seating.
Third-row seating has been improved to make the seats more functional on an everyday basis. First, the seats are larger and better padded. Second, access has been made easier by splitting the second row seats into a 40/20/40 configuration, so it's possible to enter the third row from either side using a one-touch walk-in feature. And last, legroom has been increased by 5.2 inches.
The rear hatch has a power window that can be controlled from an interior switch, or at the rear door using the key. By lowering the window, efficient flow-through ventilation becomes possible. Not many vehicles have this feature these days.
There are three audio systems available, all of which are compatible with MP3 and WMA files via an AUX jack in the center console. The mid-grade system includes satellite radio and antenna, and Bluetooth connectivity. An iPod USB port in the glove box allows for controlling an iPod through the steering wheel and audio head unit switches. Both systems have eight speakers. The premium audio setup is a 15-speaker JBL system that can be integrated with the Toyota navigation system, now in its sixth generation. The newest Navi system has improved voice command with simpler voice menus and recognizes commands in English, French and Spanish.
We drove the 4Runner in the rain in Solvang, California, area, on hilly rural two-lane roadways past vineyards, horse pastures and cattle ranches. It rained not hard, but steadily, during our driving. We got to use the wipers, test the brakes in the wet, and steer through corners with sand and gravel in the roadway. During our testing, we had a chance to drive both the Limited and the Trail Edition.
It's in bad weather that the full-time 4WD system standard in the Limited really shines. It's designed to shift torque between wheels as the vehicle rolls over inconsistent surfaces, so it's ideal for use on roads with slippery patches or wet spots. We found the Limited 4Runner tracked cleanly and accurately through corners and over compromised surfaces.
The brake system feels strong and progressive at the top of the pedal, and even in the rain, lends itself to a secure, confident feeling. The front discs have four-piston fixed calipers and 13.3-inch brake rotors. They are augmented with four-sensor, four-channel ABS and skid control systems.
The 2010 4Runner has more power than any previous 4Runner, and that includes the previous generation with the optional V8. The new V6 puts out 10 more horsepower than the old V8, and has noticeably more snap, revving quicker and with more urgency. Full-throttle acceleration is quite brisk for a seven-passenger, family SUV. From a standing start, the V6 4Runner will hit 60 mph in about 8.6 seconds, and feels good doing it. The full-time 4WD system hunts a little from a standing start, so a small amount of torque initially tugs at the steering wheel, but steers true after a quick chirp off the line. High-speed passes are similarly exuberant. Pin the throttle pedal and the transmission with kick down two gears and rev to 5500 rpm, making it easy to swoop by lines of traffic and accelerate up steep grades. Decide to pass and the next thing you know, the speedometer says 90 mph. Shifts are smooth and progressive, without much lash or thump, even at full throttle. Driven normally, the V6 will deliver decent mileage for a 4800-pound SUV. The fuel consumption readout said we had gotten 20.3 mpg after a day of mostly highway driving.
The steering wheel is thick, with a technical four-spoke design. Steering effort seems about right, neither too firm or too light. The engineering involves a variable flow, power-assisted rack-and-pinion arrangement that uses a variable gear-ratio steering rack. So not only does the hydraulic assist adjust based on conditions, but the rack itself is has a different tooth arrangement at the ends of the rack. The result is reasonably precise steering that is strong and easy at all speeds, even at full lock. It's not what you'd want for a sports car, but for an off-road-going, seven-passenger SUV, it's right.
The seats are easily wide enough for our average-size body, with low bolsters on the seat cushion and taller side bolstering on the seat back. We found they provide cornering support on winding roads, without making the driver's seat hard to get into. The leather seating material on our Limited was conspicuously fragrant, and remarkably free of blemishes or imperfections.
With 20-inch wheels and lower-profile tires, the Limited looks more sophisticated and likes corners better than the other models. But on these lumpy roads, the stiffer wheel/tire combination was a factor in choppy ride quality, especially noticeable when we spent some time in the back seat. The Limited has a diagonally cross-linked shock absorber system that helps damp out pitch and roll, and it works to limit body roll. But sharper impacts do come through when the vehicle is on flat surfaces.
We found the Trail Edition rides about as well as the Limited because of its more compliant suspension and taller tire sidewall, and it transitions through corners only slightly less cleanly. That's because the Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS) anti-swaybar disconnect capability allows for thicker stabilizer bars on the Trail Edition. Therefore, on-road cornering power can be preserved without compromising off-road suspension compliance. The Trail Edition, with the thicker bars, did feel a little a little more jittery at speed on the highway, but soaked up larger impacts best of all. The Limited, more stylish and better handling, runs along smoothly until larger impacts come into play.
We tried the retractable rear tailgate window, which is a feature not seen much on SUVs these days. By opening the vents in the front, and cracking the rear window, a real breeze can be allowed to flow from front to rear. On a nice day, it might be the best ventilation system of any SUV, as airflow is maximized and wind noise is minimal, much less than from a sunroof. Smokers love it, and it can be handy when hauling smelly cargo.
We also drove a 4Runner Trail Edition off road. The Trail Edition is the 4Runner for those who plan to use the vehicle for recreation. Almost like an FJ Cruiser with four doors, the Trail Edition is set up to cruise to a trailhead, confidently drive on the trail itself, and return to the highway. That makes its capabilities and packaging advantages ideal for those who camp, hunt, fish or regularly travel backcountry roads. It can ford up to 27 inches of water and has 9.6 inches of ground clearance. Skid plates are included for the engine, transfer case and fuel tank. Two tow hooks are mounted on the front although in a low position that might make them hard to reach if stuck in a stream or snow bank. A rear receiver hitch is standard, for towing up to 5000 pounds, and its presence makes for easy vehicle recovery from the rear.
We found the manual part-time transfer case easy to operate. There is a stubby lever that actuates 4WD High Range and 4WD Low Range. Sometimes lever-actuated part-time systems can be balky, but on our Trail Edition we were able to slip in and our of 4-Low without any dithering.
The Trail Edition's part-time system is shared with the SR5, but the Limited gets a dial-actuated full-time system that is always on, in case of changing road conditions or inclement weather. The Limited is better for ice and wintry conditions when grip is inconsistent.
The Trail Edition trades surprisingly little for the advantages it offers. Ride quality is about as good as the other versions, and steering and cornering are only slightly less crisp. Tire noise is only slightly increased, at least inside the cabin. Meanwhile, traction is markedly improved by the addition of an electronic locking rear differential, the KDSS system, and traction control systems with adjustable rates of feedback. One system, Crawl Control, allows the driver to dial in speeds from 1 to 3 mph as the driver concentrates on steering across difficult terrain. We tried it, uphill and down, and sure enough, the system controls throttle and braking to maintain a steady speed. When that speed seemed to be too rapid for the suspension to handle comfortably, we adjusted the dial to give us a slower pace. At 1 mph, progress is very slow, safe and predictable. Another system, multi-terrain select, allows for dialing in the rate of wheelslip when driving off-road. As a result, the Active Traction Control (A-TRAC) system can be just as effective in mud or sand as it is on rock. When even more traction is called for, an electronic locker in the rear axle actuates with the push of a button. KDSS is optional, but an excellent off-road suspension enhancement. It was formerly only available on the Land Cruiser, but now can be had in the 4Runner.
We have not had a chance to test the 4Runner SR5 2WD with the four-cylinder 2.7-liter engine. We would expect to find that the primary advantage of the 2.7-liter engine would be low initial cost. Combined with a four-speed automatic transmission, the 2.7-liter is rated 1 mpg better than the 4.0 V6, and costs as much as $12,300 less. It would make a sturdy and utilitarian wagon, but since it does not offer the all-terrain capability of the 4WD models, it would be logical to cross-shop the Toyota Highlander. Still, at $12,300 less than the Limited 4x4, the price advantage for the 2.7-liter SR5 is clear.
The Toyota 4Runner can hold up to outdoor recreational use that would prove destructive to car-based crossover SUVs. Given that capability, the 4Runner stands out as a truly multipurpose vehicle with authentic, structurally based recreational capability. With three different formats to choose from, and a variety of specialized equipment, the 4Runner can be configured for a wide range of needs and budgets.
John Stewart filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after his test drive of the Toyota 4Runner near Solvang, California.
Toyota 4Runner SR5 ($27,500); SR5 V6 ($29,175); Limited ($37,765); SR5 4WD ($30,915); Trail Edition ($35,700); Limited 4WD ($39,800).
Options As Tested
voice-activated navigation system and back-up camera ($1420); leather trimmed 50/50 split third-row seat ($1365) with passenger single-touch walk-in and airbag coverage.
Toyota 4Runner Limited 4x4 ($39,800).
More on the 4Runner
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