Newest Toyota 4Runner opts for the major makeover
summit daily auto writer
“Is it safe? Is it safe?”
Fans of 1970s cinema will remember the creepy catchphrase uttered by Sir Lawrence Olivier to Dustin Hoffman in “Marathon Man.”
Many decades later, an embattled car-buying public probably finds itself asking the same question whenever the name Toyota comes up; what seems like weekly news of a new recall (Sequoia, most recently) doesn’t seem to help bolster the company’s case.
People smarter, taller and better-paid than me have made some very damning statements about the Japanese automaker, as a result. I still contend that, like any consumer product – from your Pepsi to your baby stroller – you’re probably going to be OK in a Toyota, but man, do they need to get their PR situation under control. Big time. Or people will start buying General Motors products again.
Here, then, is an admittedly lame attempt to rebuild the Toyota name, one stick at a time. I just had the new, fifth-generation 4Runner for a week and it’s a very big, solid, well-built SUV, if that’s the kind of thing that you’re looking for.
The 2010 version of the 4Runner is also about as far-removed from the 1984 version of the same vehicle as one can possibly imagine. The new machine takes on the dimensions of a Chevy Tahoe and it incorporates some cubist styling cues that make a Hummer H2 seem organic.
With larger bumpers, squarer shoulders plus chunky, extruded headlamps and brake lamps, sort of a new Honda Pilot-meets-the-Transformers kind of thing, definitely set the new 4Runner apart from its sleeker, last-model iteration. More charitably, the designers evidently took some of the weirder angles of the FJ Cruiser and blended them with a more traditional SUV arrangement, and voila. 4Runner now shares the FJ’s platform, and it shows.
Once you get past the looks and, again, decide that you need a really large SUV for your family’s needs, 4Runner is quite the automobile. Optionally available with third-row seating, my SR5 edition only had the second row but still seemed, with those seats dropped, big enough to swallow a Prius.
On the road, you’ll notice the girth as quick lane changes take a more-than-tangible tug on the wheel and result in some major shifting of mass; highway-speed stops also feel like you’re pulling an invisible trailer.
A video backing camera screen built into the rear-view mirror is quite the lifesaver when it comes to moving the 4Runner into a parking spot (there’s also audible parking aids).
4Runner has been designed with the always unlikely prospect that you’ll actually take it off pavement, and I’m sure it does wonders in the dirt. The optional Trail Grade edition goes even further with a dynamic suspension system that disconnects the stabilizer bars for more axle travel and wheel articulation, plus a Land Rover-inspired crawl mode and multi-terrain selection system.
Power is now provided by a 4.0-liter V6 putting out 270 horsepower, earning EPA figures of 17 city and 22 highway. A day of under-85-mph highway cruising here on the oxygenated plains of the Front Range only got me 20.1 mpg, so go figure. The new Hyundai Tucson, which seems to be about half the size, got the same mileage, so maybe 20.1 is not so bad.
In a concession to more eco-minded motoring, there is one of those ubiquitous Eco lights and a tiny gauge which, in essence, suggests that by neglecting to keep the 4Runner floored at all times, you’ll get better mileage. When necessary, you are able to merge into freeway traffic at full speed, but you do need to keep that pedal buried.
Climbing up into the saddle (and it is a very tall saddle indeed), you do get a commanding view of the road. The slightly overstyled makeover on the outside is repeated indoors, with plenty of circles and swoops to the dash design, including oversized knobs for the air control and radio tuning and gigantic buttons for air recirculation and defrost.
Those seats are super-leathery and comfortably bolstered, and heated as well.
There’s a long, red-lit audio readout on the radio head unit, which, along with the red-lit trip computer and the red-lit instruments, were absolutely impossible to see during the day with headlights on and sunglasses.
The center console sports (on the SR5 model) an old-fashioned, honest-to-goodness mechanical, 4WD transfer case knob, a la the FJ, though the Limited model substitutes electronic 4WD (plus auto AC, an info screen inside the instrument cluster and keyless ignition).
Five-speed, sequential transmission shifting is possible by whacking at the baseball bat-shaped shift lever, which no doubt aids immensely in downhill highway travel.
Elsewhere on the dash and on the moonroof control panel, you get all the symbols that 4Runner is indeed totally off-road ready, including hill descent control, traction control and such.
At the back end, a long, aerodynamic deck lid sticks out over the rear window (and contains a wiper blade which, like the Lexus RX350, completely disappears when not in use).
In an odd up-sell of a feature seen on current Jeeps and the Dodge Caliber, a set of speakers also appear in the liftgate; press the “Party Mode” switch and you can literally tailgate, with boosted bass.
A long, rolling platform in the cargo area also makes it a bit easier to load and unload your goods, which could almost literally include a Prius. No kidding.
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