• Jun 11, 2010
2010 Toyota 4Runner - Click above for high-res image gallery

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.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 67 Comments
      • 4 Years Ago
      WTF IS WITH THE FRONT MOUNTED ANTENNAS THAT STICK UP IN THE AIR ?


      GOD....I CANT STAND THEM. Even in my 1992...camry the antenna retracts and disappear from sight from you turn off the car....... 1992 !!
        • 4 Years Ago
        2000 was about the nadir of Mercedes quality -- they have improved dramatically since then. Still not where they need to be, but greatly improved.
        • 4 Years Ago
        The antenna still retracts on an 18 year old Camry? Wow that's a miracle, I thought they all broke after 1 month.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Well, this isn't 1992. No one in their right mind makes power antennas anymore. They were garbage.

        But mast antennas like this are horrid. Luckily, it's only trucks that are really offered with them anymore.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Oh yea... and works fine in my '94 4Runner.
      • 4 Years Ago
      This failed Toyota SUV is a great opportunity for the new Jeep Grand Cherokee and improved Wrangler to gain customers.
      • 4 Years Ago
      The toyota suv review posted here is interesting. I like the photos posted by you.

      Best Regards,
      -Jigna
      • 4 Years Ago
      You can keep your over grown plastic bucket. I want a real Toyota, like a Hilux or a FJ75 Land Cruiser (which they still make actually).
      • 4 Years Ago
      This and the Grand Cherokee are the only off-roaders remaining in this segment. Maybe it is time for a new Ford Bronco.
        • 4 Years Ago
        If Toyota would get their heads out of their asses, and put a solid axle under the front of the 4Runner and FJ Cruiser, we would probably be seeing much better offroad vehicles coming from Ford and Jeep. Maybe a new Bronco? Maybe a resurrected XJ style Cherokee with solid front and rear axles?

        IFS does NOT work well for offroading, especially when it's a setup designed for ONroad use.
        • 4 Years Ago
        All for the Bronco. FJ competitor that gets decent fuel mileage on regular gas and hopefully better access to the back seats. Non-bloated.
      • 4 Years Ago
      4runners were always attractive and looked off-road ready with wheel/tire packages proportionally larger than other suvs on the market. Not anymore, on either count. Those tires look too small under the giant fender bulges. The rest of the design looks rather ham-fisted as well. I can't put my finger on exactly what it is about the design, but I just don't like the way it's put together.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Man are these SUVs getting big or what? Might just be the new design but to my eyes it looks huge vs the outgoing 4Runner. Otherwise I think it's pretty tight. And the dark slate/grey makes it look very utilitarian, which suits the new boxy visual language.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Dan, I agree with you on the weight. The 4th generation 4Runner was not exactly a lightweight, and the last thing it needed was several hundred extra pounds.

        Unfortunately, there aren't many alternatives to the 4Runner that actually still have some offroad capability. The upcoming Jeep Grand Cherokee is one, but its reliability has always been suspect.
      • 4 Years Ago
      good review. i agree with your comments about these new cars having bulging head and taillights; there must be some logical reason behind it. okay guys party's over.
      • 4 Years Ago
      When comparing body-on-frame SUV's please do not include a uni-body wagon.

      "And with the Chevrolet Trailblazer gone and the Ford Explorer and Dodge Magnum about to reinvent themselves as crossovers..."

      I think you are talking about the Dodge Durango. This is correct that the Durango is going to be a CUV and probably taking the Magnum name but for sake of comparison Durango should have been used instead of Magnum.
      • 4 Years Ago
      The toyota suv review posted here is interesting. I like the photos posted by you.

      Best Regards,
      -Jigna
      • 4 Years Ago
      I've always loved the Toyota 4runner and this new one looks very nice and capable.


      But I must say the optional bigger wheels look much better then these.


      http://www.blogcdn.com/www.autoblog.com/media/2009/09/01-2010-4runner-limited-620op.jpg
        • 4 Years Ago
        To me the larger wheels look spindly. Something with a very rugged exterior (relatively speaking) deserves some "meat" on its tires - something that can soak up ruts, deflect and grip as opposed to something that works really well on a track.
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