The Toyota 4Runner is an old-school, body-on-frame SUV, not a crossover like its kin the Highlander. It’s in the fifth year of its generation, unchanged since 2016, although for 2018 three new colors are available, along with new wheels for the TRD Offroad and TRD Pro models.
Its only engine is 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 offer problematic shifting anyhow.
The 4Runner drives better than a truck this size 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 that, unlike the 4Runner, are unit-body crossovers. Because the 4Runner’s bolted-on body is narrower and its floor higher, we would have expected less cargo space than in a same-sized crossover, but somehow the 4Runner provides 90 cubic feet with the second row folded.
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 ruggedness of the 4Runner chassis makes it much better equipped than any car-based crossover to hold up to regular driving along primitive two-tracks, boulder-stream river banks, and other rugged terrain.
Eight airbags are standard. The 4Runner scores well in crash testing, but does not always achieve 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. With four-wheel drive it gets 1 mpg less.
The 2018 Toyota 4Runner SR5 comes with rear-wheel drive ($34,410) or four-wheel drive ($36,285). 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 ($36,240). The Limited 2WD ($42,725) and Limited 4WD ($44,760) come with dual power front seats, navigation, and a 15-speaker JBL sound system.
The 4Runner 4WD TRD Off Road ($37,535) and 4Runner TRD Pro ($42,675) are tuned for rugged terrain.
The 4Runner looks like what it is, a brawny SUV, not what it’s not, a crossover. It also looks like a surly catfish, with its nose that belongs on a truck. Which means it’s where it belongs, because the Runner is a truck. It doesn’t pretend to be sleek, although the boxy body has some chrome flash.
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.
Overall, the interior is nice, but still less refined than the Explorer or Durango. The 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.
Second row passengers will find decent room at the outboard seats, a flop-down armrest, and backrests that adjust 16 degrees. Three abreast is a bit tight, but not unreasonable.
A third row is available for the SR5 and Limited, but it’s difficult to climb back there. It folds flat when not in use, leaving a fat 47.2 cubic feet of cargo space; or with the second row folded, there’s 90 cubic feet. A sliding floor that pulls out for easy loading is optional, and popular. It takes just one cubic foot of cargo space, and is a relief, given the height of the floor.
4Runners don’t have a power tailgate, but they do have a useful power rear window. It’s nice for tossing in small items, and pleasant to drive with the window down around town.
The 4.0-liter V6 engine with five-speed automatic delivers decent acceleration, and the 278 pound-feet of torque meets 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 are delightful, something that’s surprising if you don’t know 4Runners, which have a history of good handling. 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 system senses when one real wheel is light, and applies less power to that wheel and more to the wheel that’s more grounded.
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 much 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 great choice for someone who needs a rugged SUV. It can handle rugged terrain much better than a crossover. Its closest competitor is the Dodge Durango, which has a more refined cabin, but the 4Runner wins on powertrain and durability.
Sam Moses contributed to this review, with NCTD editor Mitch McCullough reporting from the Northeast, and staff reports.