2014 Toyota 4Runner first drive review: 4Gone conclusion

 

2014 Toyota 4Runner Trail

Toyota’s 4Runner Trail: An aggressive stance underscores credible capability.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – The 2014 Toyota 4Runner remains, after almost thirty seasons and five generations, an honest-to-god-body-on-frame SUV. And if you think that affirms the prevailing wisdom in the midsize SUV category, take a gander at the Toyota’s competition with roughly the same spec, i.e., 4WD, available low range, almost ten inches of ground clearance and body-on-frame construction. The short answer:  essentially one (the 4Runner) and none. Into this veritable void comes a mildly tweaked 2014 4Runner. And while the intro in-and-around this mountain resort was regrettably brief (and limited), there was enough seat time to whet the appetite, reminding us of the 4Runner’s essential goodness.

Like most things automotive, over three decades of development Toyota’s 4Runner has ‘matured’, both in creature comfort and girth. What began as little more than a compact pickup with a topper has morphed into a full-grown midsize, stretching 191 inches on 110 inches of wheelbase. And the 4Runner weighs – not incidentally – some 4,700 pounds. Obviously, heft works against both performance and efficiency, but enhances durability (never a weak point for the Toyota badge) and towing capability. Today’s 4Runner is ‘strong like bull’, and for a segment of the population wanting both ‘sport’ and ‘utility’, the 4Runner delivers in spades.

In terms of updates, the 2014 4Runner (‘14Runner?) receives a redesigned (and somewhat Mitsubishi-like) front fascia, intended to convey “a more rugged and aggressive appearance.” The front grille, especially on the Trail variant, is more muscular, while the smoked headlamps – we’re told – are “edgier”. The SR5 and Trail grades enjoy a color-keyed grille insert, and the upscale Limited’s is chrome. We preferred the more rugged take provided by the former, but will certainly understand those wanting to ‘pimp’ their ride; the Limited gives urban rollers a credible place to start.

Toyota 4Runner Trail Interior

Toyota’s 4Runner provides 47 cubic feet of useful storage behind the second row.

Inside, the SR5 and Trail receive ‘Soft Touch’ door trim, in combination with a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob. That wheel receives a shout-out for its diameter and ergonomic feel. As the significant touchpoint between you and the vehicle, the steering wheel and its feel are mightily important; the 4Runner product team seem to have nailed it. A/C is manually-controlled on SR5 and Trail, while fully auto/dual-zone is offered on the Limited.

In the second row, sculpted front seat-backs supply more legroom, and those second row seats offer reclining backrests (all-the-better to sleep off your medical marijuana). Also notable is the availability of third-row seating on SR5 and Limited, with access to same made easier by a one-touch walk-in function on the second row.

Under the hood, today’s 4Runner maintains its momentum with a tried-and-true 4.0 liter DOHC V6. To its credit, even at Jackson Hole’s higher altitude the 4Runner proved adequately responsive. You won’t, however, be thrown back in your seat under acceleration. And while knowing the number of buyers opting for the 4Runner V8 (when offered) was small, we’d still enjoy seeing it as an option. (Or – perhaps – a turbo diesel…just sayin’.) The lack of a V8 doesn’t radically impact towing capability, a credible 4,700 pounds. But neither would its addition (seemingly) hurt fuel economy, which – according to the EPA – is 17/22/19 with the V6.

On the road and behind the wheel of a 4X2 Limited, we were pleased by the 4Runner’s relative composure, especially given the old school/body-on-frame/live rear axle platform. The seats were supportive, the steering relatively direct and the visibility absolutely expansive. Very nice is the 4Runner’s near-vertical windshield; in an era of radically sloping windscreens and the increasingly thick A-pillars which accompany them, the forward visibility – especially in off-road environments – is a huge win for both driver and passengers.

Regrettably, our off-road excursion – at least this time – was limited to that of a passenger; there simply weren’t enough Trail 4Runners to go around. With that, the 4Runner’s established cred in the dirt is made even better with Toyota’s Multi-Terrain Select system and Crawl Control (Trail), A-TRAC traction control (standard on all 4X4s) and available Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (really). And while that menu of electronic acronyms would (historically) be off-putting, Toyota’s rep for reliability should put your mind – and wallet – at ease.

At the end of the day, those requiring/desiring credible towing capability and/or offroad capability can do no better – among midsize offerings – than Toyota’s venerable 4Runner. Go smaller and Nissan’s Xterra fills the bill, but the list pretty much ends there. For all of the love thrown Jeep’s Wrangler Unlimited, unless you’re prepared to live with the on-road compromises provided by the Rubicon we’d rather buy a 4Runner and install a mild lift. Of course, the Land Rover folks would be more than happy to deliver to your driveway the LR4 or Range Rover Sport, but both require more financial commitment upfront, and a lot more emotional commitment during the ownership period.

So, should you buy Toyota’s updated 4Runner? For us it’s a 4Gone conclusion…