The Toyota 4Runner, last redesigned for 2014, and unchanged from 2016 to 2017, is Toyota’s offroad SUV, with its truck-like body-on-frame chassis. It hasn’t crossed over from the rugged days, unlike the Highlander, although it isn’t rough.
It comes with a smooth 4.0-liter V6 making 270 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque that makes it quick, and a five-speed automatic transmission, which feels like enough gears if you haven’t driven the eight- and nine- and ten-speeds, many of which have been disappointing.
The 4Runner drives better than it should. It’s even easy to maneuver in parking lots. It’s comfortable for long hours, with a fairly smooth ride and very little road noise.
Inside, it’s less refined than the Ford Explorer or Dodge Durango, two main competitors. And since the 4Runner’s bolted-on body is narrower and its floor higher, there’s less cargo space than in a same-sized crossover.
The TRD Off Road and TRD Pro Series models only come with 4WD. The TRD Pro is serious, with Bilstein shocks having remote reservoirs, Nitto all-terrain tires, TRD front springs, skid plates, exclusive wheels, and TRD trim and badging.
The 2017 4Runner TRD Off Road model is new in name, having been called the Trail previously.
Eight airbags are standard. It scores well in crash testing, but not always the top rating in each test by NHTSA and IIHS.
The base SR5 model with rear-wheel-drive is EPA rated at 17 miles per gallon City, 22 Highway, and 19 Combined; four-wheel drive gets 1 mpg less.
The 2017 Toyota 4Runner SR5 comes with rear-wheel drive ($34,210) or four-wheel drive ($36,085). Standard equipment includes power driver seat, roof rack, audio system with satellite radio, Bluetooth audio streaming, and Toyota’s Entune services. (Prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.)
4Runner Premium comes with 2WD ($36,090) or 4WD ($37,915). The Limited 2WD ($42,525) and Limited 4WD ($44,560) comes with dual power front seats, navigation, and a 15-speaker JBL sound system.
The 4WD TRD Off Road ($37,335) and TRD Pro ($42,400) are tuned for rugged terrain.
The 4Runner looks like what it is, a brawny SUV, not what it’s not, a crossover. The nose looks like it belongs on a truck, appropriately. The 4Runner doesn’t care one bit that it’s not sleek, or that it looks like a grumpy catfish. The boxy body has flash, chrome sprinkled around. The windows are high and rear pillars slope downward toward 1986.
The TRD Pro Series takes the mad fish look one step farther with its mouthy grille and skidplates like silver scales under the chin. It’s available in a TRD color called Inferno.
The 4Runner cabin isn’t fancy but it’s detailed well, with simple and sensible controls that are chunky yet still precise. Unlike the exterior, the interior avoids chrome. There are fewer controls on the centerstack, because the offroad controls are overhead. The steering wheel has audio and Bluetooth buttons.
The front seats are wide and supportive, and with the optional perforated leather, they look great and are comfortable for long trips. The contoured and reclining rear seat actually handles three adults.
A third row is available for the SR5 and Limited, but it’s difficult to climb back there.
Overall, the interior is nice, but still less refined than the Explorer or Durango.
The 4.0-liter V6 engine with five-speed automatic delivers decent acceleration, and the 278 pound-feet of torque meets the offroad or towing demands. The transmission holds its own for a five-speed; it shifts quickly, though it lacks the number of gears offered by the competition.
Given its off-road capability, the 4Runner is impressively responsive on pavement. Steering and maneuvering unexpectedly delightful, unexpectedly if you’re not familiar with 4Runners, that is. At a crawl, it handles with precision and control, important when creeping through a boulder field.
The SR5 with the base suspension can be bouncy on patchy pavement, and it leans more in the turns. If you’re driving it outside its comfort zone, it will let you know that it’s still a truck with tall sidewalls and a soft suspension. Optional active dampers broaden that comfort zone.
The 4Runner is surprisingly free of wind noise for its boxy shape, and it’s there’s little road noise thanks to the soft suspension.
What the 4Runner lacks on the road, it makes up for off the road. There are differences in the 4WD systems among the different models. Limited models get full-time 4WD that’s geared for the road, along with active dampers that smooth the bumps and level out cornering, called X-REAS. The X-REAS suspension enhancement is a nice setup if you like to drive briskly on winding paved roads.
The TRD Off Road model offers as an option the Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System, using hydraulics to add stability on the road, and more traction with more wheel travel off the road.
The TRD Pro is another animal, maybe a wild one. It uses a tweaked suspension with reworked springs and Bilstein remote-reservoir dampers, Nitto all-terrain tires, skid plates and other TRD parts. We’ve had some off-road time behind the wheel, and it aced every test we put it to.
Another element 4Runner brings to the table is durability. It’s hard to measure but 4Runners appear to hold up better to repeated use through boulder fields and other rugged terrain that would leave any crossover on the side of the trail.
The Toyota 4Runner is a superb choice for someone who needs a rugged SUV. It can handle being frequently driven over rugged terrain much better than any crossover can. Its closest competitor is the Dodge Durango, which is more refined inside. But if you compare powertrains, we’ll go with the new V6 and eight-speed in the 4Runner.
Sam Moses contributed to this report.