2005 Toyota 4Runner Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Revised V8 brings more power.
The Toyota 4Runner is a thoroughly modern but traditional sport utility. It excels at off-road capability. If your weekend involves driving over rugged terrain, this is an excellent choice. Yet it's smooth and quiet and highly sophisticated in terms of technology and features.
The 2005 Toyota 4Runner models offer more responsive performance than last year's models, whether you get the standard V6 or optional V8. The V8 benefits from a more sophisticated variable-valve setup with drive-by-wire, boosting its output to 270 horsepower, substantially more than last year's 235. Last year, the only good reason to opt for the V8 was to pull a trailer, but this year's V8 is a much more compelling upgrade, delivering strong, responsive acceleration performance out on the highway. With its 330 pound-feet of torque 4Runner 4x4 V8 is rated to tow up to 7,000 pounds.
The V6 gets enhanced response from a five-speed automatic transmission that replaces last year's four-speed automatic. (The V8 continues to come with the five-speed automatic as well.) More gears means better response for any given situation. Last year's model performed very well with the V6 and four-speed automatic, and it was our preference, but the new five-speed is a better match and offers smooth shifting and sophisticated features, including Artificial Intelligence.
The 4Runner is the real deal, ready to tackle truly rugged terrain. This is no car-based crossover station wagon deal. It's built on a rugged ladder frame with a solid rear axle. While some consider this design dated when compared to the latest SUVs with unibody construction and independent rear suspensions, Toyota believes the traditional package offers better recreational capability and long-term durability in working-truck conditions. Still, it doesn't ride like a buckboard wagon. Toyota engineers went to great pains to prove that this durable, adventurous configuration need not compromise everyday comfort and convenience. The 4Runner is quite comfortable around town and on the highway with a nice ride quality. But hit the dirt, and it's loaded with the latest off-road electronic technology, including Hill Start Assist and Downhill Assist Control. An optional linked shock-absorber system improves handling on the highway. Completely redesigned for 2003, the 4Runner represents Toyota's best effort at delivering outstanding off-road capability with high levels of comfort and convenience for everyday use.
Inside it's roomy and comfortable. An optional third-row seat expands the passenger capacity to seven, but the seat can be folded over or removed for cargo space. The 4Runner comes standard with running boards and more upscale body-colored bumpers and lower body cladding. The optional GPS navigation system includes a rear-mounted video camera, useful for checking behind the vehicle before backing up.
While the 4Runner may seem old school to people who want an all-weather sport touring vehicle, it's the hot ticket for outdoor enthusiasts for its ability to deal with primitive roads, beat-up two-tracks or serious mud or sand. Yet it won't punish its owner in everyday use.
The 2005 Toyota 4Runner comes in three trim levels: SR5, Sport Edition, and Limited. Toyota offers buyers maximum flexibility by offering all three with either the V6 or V8 ($1,250) and two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive.
The 4Runner SR5 V6 4x2 ($27,495) and SR5 V6 4x4 ($29,770) come standard with automatic climate control, remote keyless entry, skid plates to protect the underbody, 16-inch alloy wheels, black running boards, chrome grille, and body-colored bumpers, fender flares and lower cladding. The SR5 V8 4x4 ($31,220) replaces selectable 2WD/4WD with full-time all-wheel-drive. A Class III receiver hitch with seven-pin electric connection is standard on all models and mounted to the rear frame crossmember.
The Sport Edition comes with X-REAS shock damping, a clever yet simple hydraulic system that improves stability and handling in sweeping turns. The 4Runner Sport Edition V6 4x2 ($28,765) and 4X4 ($31,040) are distinguished by a hood scoop, fog lamps, a color-keyed grille, black running boards and silver-painted roof rails and crossbars, color-keyed outside mirrors, and 17-inch alloy wheels. Sport models get slightly larger brake rotors, and weigh slightly more than the SR5. They come with a special cloth interior.
The Limited V6 4X2 ($33,770) and 4x4 ($36,045) are upgraded with leather trim and heated power front seats. For 2005, the Limited grade is differentiated with color-keyed front and rear bumpers, black illuminated running boards and black roof rails and crossbars. It comes with a premium JBL stereo with 10 speakers, rear seat audio controls, remote control and headphones. The top of the line is the Limited V8 4x4 ($37,495).
Options include the third-row seat ($735), a power moonroof ($900). A slick GPS navigation system, packaged with the new rear-view video camera ($2,695), is available only on the 4Runner Limited.
Safety features include ABS and Vehicle Skid Control (VSC) to help the driver maintain control in adverse conditions. 2WD models come with traction control, which reduces tire slippage for enhanced stability under acceleration. 4WD models are equipped with active traction control (A-TRAC), which uses sensors and software to deliver smoother power application in all conditions.
Passive safety features include dual-stage front airbags, which have been upgraded for 2005, and three-point seat belts at all positions, with pretensioners and force limiters to reduce the chance of belt-related injuries. Front side-impact airbags and curtain-style head protection airbags for front and rear passengers are optional and are equipped with a rollover-sensing system and a cutoff switch. All models come with a tire pressure monitor.
The Toyota 4Runner is not a small vehicle. It's substantially larger than pre-2003 models. The 4Runner is easily recognized by its familiar low roof and high floor. The look is muscular, if not distinguished, and conveys ruggedness. A wide, rounded front end features an aggressive horizontal grille and wide headlamps. Chunky overfenders and cladding on the rocker panels suggest the 4Runner is ready to hit the dusty trail. Backing up that contention are skid plates for the engine, transfer case and fuel tank, all of which come standard. The rear is trimmed with big tail lamps and a clunky-looking rear spoiler.
The non-functional hood scoop on the Sport Edition does not, in our opinion, enhance the 4Runner's look. We think it has the opposite effect.
4Runner's windshield, side windows, and side mirrors are made of hydrophilic glass and repel water like a waxed car or a window that has been treated with Rain-X. The glass causes water to form large drops, which are quickly shed by gravity or wind. The side mirrors are angled out to increase the driver's field of view. The available moonroof includes a two-stage wind deflector designed to reduce wind noise when traveling above 55 mph.
The 4Runner cabin looks like traditional SUV, in spite of some high-zoot features. It's functional if not beautiful. More important, it's roomy and comfortable. And the quality of materials and they way they fit together is good.
The standard cloth interior is nice, and the cloth seats in the SR5 and Sport models are comfortable, with side bolsters to keep the driver in place when cornering or driving off road. All seats offer adjustable headrests and three-point seatbelts, and the driver's seat adjusts eight ways. The driver and front passenger sit up high, as one expects in an SUV, but with its low roof and high floor, it seems you're sitting flatter on the floor, as in some low cars like a Ford Mustang. The driver's legs stretch out, rather than down, toward the pedals.
A two-tone dashboard houses the instruments. Gauges illuminate orange, set in three deep binnacles that prevent the front-seat passenger from reading them. The fuel gauge uses an inclinometer for accurate readouts when the 4Runner is tilted on an incline. Automatic climate control is standard on all models, while the Limited comes with his-and-hers dual-zone temperature controls. The stereo buttons, and particularly the fan, airflow and temperature controls, are big and easy to locate. A display located just above the climate controls reveals time, ambient temperature, and trip data. An optional 115-volt AC power outlet ($100) means you can bring all the electrical conveniences of home with you. It's a truly useful feature, especially if you're inclined to spend a lot time in the great outdoors.
An unusual feature is a pair of small convex mirrors at the rear corners of the interior, designed to help the driver see approaching vehicles when backing out of a parking space. The mirrors work on the same principal as those big convex mirrors mounted at a corner in an underground parking garage. They may prove helpful when backing up in a busy parking lot because they help the driver pick up on movement. Using them effectively takes some practice, however, and it's hard to distinguish details. Better than the convex mirrors is the optional navigation system.
The navigation system includes a rearview video camera hidden in the rear bumper that projects images on the seven-inch navigation screen when the 4Runner is in reverse. The pictures are sharp, even in complete darkness, and cover the area directly behind and a couple of feet on either side of the car. The extreme fish-eye view of the lens makes distances difficult to judge, at least initially. Like the lower tech convex mirrors, the electronic system takes some getting used. We don't recommend using it for maneuvering, but it adds safety by giving the driver a good view of what's immediately behind the vehicle, whether it's a short metal pole or a child on a tricycle.
Getting into the back seats is a little more challenging than in a sedan. The doors offer a relatively narrow opening to get into the rear seats and you have to duck your head to get in and out. Once in, however, the second-row bench seat is roomy. It's best for two. The seat is raised slightly in the center position, so the middle passenger sits on this uncomfortable hump. The second row features a wide center armrest that folds down to provide two cup holders and a tray for French fries or whatever. An unusual feature, but perhaps a good idea, is a small trash bag holder for rear passengers. The rear ventilation ducts that bring comfort in the form of warm or cool air are more easily appreciated.
The 4Runner's optional third-row seat adds an element of flexibility. It's actually two separate seats that fold up to the sides of the cargo compartment, parallel to the rear side windows. These seats are easy to stow, and access from the curbside rear door, via a spring-loaded sliding mechanism on the second seat, isn't too difficult. But even large children, like a healt.
The Toyota 4Runner handles very well for a truck with a live rear axle. We drove all the models over twisting back roads along the Oregon coast and found it easy to drive at a quick clip, and we drove a 2005 4Runner Limited 4x4 with the new V8 around Los Angeles. The suspension damping is excellent. When the road got bumpy we could tell it had a solid rear axle rather than an independent rear suspension, but the 4Runner handles more confidently than, say, a Chevy TrailBlazer, which also uses a live rear axle. Rack-and-pinion steering gives the 4Runner quick steering response and good steering feel.
The 4Runner has a nice, smooth ride on unpaved roads, too. That's important when venturing afield because you often end up driving over washboard surfaces and rough roads. The 4Runner's well-tuned damping and progressive-rate spring bumpers are to thank here. Where the 4Runner really comes into its own, however, is when the terrain gets truly gnarly. There's lots of suspension articulation for climbing over boulders and gullies, and a host of technology for handling steep, slippery grades.
The standard V6 engine is so good that, until the 2005 models were introduced, we couldn't see a reason to get the V8 unless its strong low-rpm torque was needed for frequent towing. Toyota's 4.0-liter V6 is responsive and we never felt short-changed. It was brand-new in 2003, and it's packed with the latest technology, including fully variable valve timing, a new linkless electronic throttle control system and lightweight all-aluminum construction. The V6 is rated at 245 horsepower and 282 pound-feet of torque. Fuel economy has been improved and the V6 4x4 model gets a credible 17/21 mpg city/highway, according to the EPA (18/21 for 2WD models). The V6 is paired with the new five-speed automatic transmission.
For 2005, the optional 4.7-liter V8 features variable valve timing with intelligence (VVT-i) and an electronic throttle control system with intelligence (ETCS-i), which increases the output to 270 horsepower at 5400 rpm and 330 pound-feet of torque at 3400 rpm. The V8 models weigh about 125 pounds more than V6 4Runners, and the V8 delivers 16/20 mpg in 4x2s, and 15/19 in 4x4s.
Both engines feature a cranking system that keeps the starter engaged until complete combustion is achieved, freeing the driver from holding the key until the engine turns over. This is a feature usually associated with expensive luxury sedans.
We found the two-wheel-drive 4Runner impressively capable off road; indeed, it's more capable than some so-called SUVs equipped with all-wheel-drive. Yet ultimate traction comes from the four-wheel-drive models. It seems to us, that if you don't need four-wheel drive, then perhaps you should be looking at a different vehicle. The 4WD 4Runners are equipped with a two-speed transfer case, giving the driver a set of low-range gears for creeping over rugged terrain.
V6 4WD 4Runners are equipped with Toyota's Multi-Mode shift-on-the-fly system with a Torsen-type limited-slip center differential. The driver can shift between 2WD, 4WD High, and 4WD Low. The Torsen center differential is open in 2WD mode. It applies a rear bias in 4WD High, splitting torque 40/60 front-to-rear in normal driving conditions, providing the driver with a traditional feel and better stability when accelerating. The 4WD mode may be used in all types of driving conditions on all types of roads, from dry pavement to wet or snow-covered roads. The system gives the 4Runner a sure-footed feel because power is applied to all four wheels, improving traction. When the front wheels slip, up to 70 percent of the power goes to the rear wheels. When the rear wheels slip, up to 53 percent of the power goes to the front wheels.
The five-speed automatic transmission enhances the responsiveness and efficiency of the engine. The transmission is equipped with Artificial Intelligence Shift control, which changes gear-sh.
The 2005 Toyota 4Runner is a highly capable trail vehicle. It will get you over the rocks and through the muck, but it won't make you regret its durable construction when you're cruising the Interstate. It's smooth and quiet on the road and there's plenty of room for family and friends. The V6 is a great choice, but the V8 delivers excellent response. If you want serious recreational capability with Toyota quality, and the company's reputation for durability and reliability, the 4Runner is an excellent choice. Nonetheless, if you rarely venture onto unimproved trails, then you'll find the Toyota Highlander and other unibody, independently suspended SUVs smoother and more comfortable.
New Car Test Drive editor Mitch McCullough reports from Southern California.
Toyota 4Runner SR5 ($27,495); Sport Edition ($28,765); Limited ($35,220).
Options As Tested
Side and Curtain Airbags ($650) includes seat-mounted side-impact airbags for torso protection of driver and front passenger, side curtain airbags for head protection for first- and second-row outboard passengers w roll sensor and cutoff switch; daytime running lights ($40); power tilt/slide moonroof w sunshade ($900); rear spoiler w CHMSL ($200); JBL AM/FM/CD w 8 speakers and navigation system w back-up camera ($2,300); X-REAS Sport suspension ($450); rear air suspension ($950); accessory package ($331) includes carpeted floor mats, cargo mat, first aid kit, emergency assistance kit, cargo net.
Toyota 4Runner Limited 4x4 V8 ($37,495).
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