The Toyota 4Runner is known for being true to its roots. It’s one of the last remaining old-school SUVs, which is to say it’s still a truck. It has not crossed over to being a tall car. Its body is bolted to its rugged chassis, like they used to do, back when SUVs were tough and before they were gentrified. If you want one of those, buy a Toyota Highlander. If you intend to go off road, get the 4Runner. (The FJ Cruiser is gone.)
But don’t get the wrong idea, the 4Runner has been updated and refined over the years, and doesn’t feel rough on the surface. It comes with a smooth 4.0-liter V6 making 270 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque that’s plenty quick, and a 5-speed automatic transmission. It drives better than its roots might suggest. It’s delightfully maneuverable, especially at low speeds and in parking lots.
The 4Runner is comfortable for long trips, with a reasonably smooth ride and very little road noise, although the cabin doesn’t quite match the refinement of the Ford Explorer or Dodge Durango. And its narrower body and taller floor steal some cargo space, compared to those models that aren’t body-on-frame.
With eight airbags (and rearview camera) standard, the Toyota 4Runner scores well in crash tests, although it doesn’t get the very best ratings from NHTSA and IIHS.
The base Toyota 4Runner SR5 with rear-wheel-drive is EPA rated at 17/22/19 miles per gallon City/Highway/Combined; four-wheel drive gets 1 mpg less. The Trail and TRD Pro Series offroad 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 2016 Toyota 4Runner is updated with the Entune multimedia system with Siri Eyes Free function and connected smartphone navigation.
The 2016 Toyota 4Runner SR5 ($33,810) comes with rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive ($35,685). Standard equipment includes power driver seat, roof rack, audio system with satellite radio, Bluetooth audio streaming, and Toyota’s Entune services. 4Runner Limited ($42,125) adds dual power front seats, navigation, and a 15-speaker JBL sound system.
Toyota 4Runner 4WD Trail ($36,715) gets the offroad setup, then there’s the full-tilt TRD Pro ($41,850).
The Toyota 4Runner still looks like an SUV, with a truck-like front end and box-like body, with bits of chrome pasted on here and there. The windows are high, proportions brawny, and rear pillars sloped downward toward 1986. It’s unconcerned with looking unsleek, unlike those oversize crossovers pretending to be trucks. Still, the nose has changed in recent years, trying to keep up with the aggressive trend, maybe becoming a bit cartoonish, looking like a grumpy catfish.
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. Not much chrome, that’s not the 4Runner’s style. The controls for offroad functions are positioned overhead, so the centerstack controls are fewer. Duplicate controls on the steering wheel perform audio and Bluetooth.
The front seats are wide and supportive, and with the optional perforated leather, they look and feel great; long trips are no worry. The comfortable contoured seats in the second row, which fairly seats three, recline 16 degrees. A third row is available for the SR5 and Limited, but it’s difficult to climb back there.
Given its less-than-sleek shape, the 4Runner is remarkably free of wind noise, and very low on road noise thanks to the soft suspension. However we still give the nod to the Explorer and Durango for cabin comfort and refinement.
Every 4Runner uses that 4.0-liter V-6 engine with 5-speed automatic, bringing decent acceleration from a stop or on the highway. And the 278 pound-feet of torque is enough for challenging offroad situations. The automatic transmission is on its game and shifts quickly, although it’s still a cog or three behind the best.
There are differences in the 4WD systems. 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 Trail model options include the Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System, using hydraulics to add stability on the road, and more traction with more wheel travel off the road.
The SR5 without these tricks can be bouncy on patchy pavement, and it leans more in the turns. If you’re too spirited, it will bring you back to reality and let you know it’s a high vehicle with tall sidewalls and a soft suspension.
But overall, given its off-road capability, the 4Runner is well-behaved on pavement; in fact, we’d say its steering feel and maneuverability are unexpectedly delightful. Especially going slow, the 4Runner handles with precision and control. And what it lacks on the road, it makes up for off the road.
Durability is another asset the 4Runner offers. A unit-body crossover SUV will not hold up for drivers who frequent rough roads, boulder-covered river banks and other rugged terrain. The 4Runner can handle it and won’t get stuck.
The TRD Pro is another animal entirely. Tweaked suspension with reworked springs and Bilstein remote-reservoir dampers, Nitto all-terrain tires, and TRD parts like skid plates. We’ve had some offroad time behind the wheel, and it aced every test we put it to.
If you need a new full-sized SUV and don’t want no namby-pamby crossover, the 4Runner is the hot setup in this price range.
Sam Moses reported from the Pacific Northwest, with NCTD editor Mitch McCullough reporting from New Jersey, and staff reports from The Car Connection.