Mountain Wheels: Finding joy in the simplest of 4Runners, Sequoia keeps chugging
As sort of a Pepsi Challenge for what seems like Colorado’s second-most ubiquitous vehicle, I took a 2021 Toyota 4Runner Trail edition on a cruise to Steamboat in July to see what a more base-model version of the popular SUV might provide.
At $42,778 – with audio and navigation as its only option – the relatively plain-Jane 4Runner proved itself to be a fantastic vehicle. That is, if you want a slow-moving, high-riding, off-road-preferable, large-capacity driving experience that should never, ever be taken over the posted speed limit. A roof rack with a deflector shield absolutely guaranteed that on my drive.
The 4Runner’s 4.0-liter V-6 puts out 270 unbelievably labored and often breathless horsepower, just a few digits more in torque, and gets no more than 20 mpg. It boasts a J-gate 5-speed transmission with historic appeal, one single USB outlet, a power rear window like a 1980s Jeep Wagoneer and that strange, sliding cargo plate in the rear — and a manual liftgate.
But it is also perfect because of all of that. It feels full and real, unlike the tiny cabin and Mud Boi cult of the Tacoma. You can put, possibly, a literal ton of gear inside, run a waffle maker with the power outlet in the back and be comfortable doing 65 mph, max, all of the time.
I instantly took it off road, traveling from the Rabbit Ears summit all the way to Latigo Ranch and Kremmling on the Red Dirt Road, passing two vehicles in my entire trip. And there, even with relatively standard Dunlop all-terrain tires, it cruised happily and confidently, eating up ruts, rocks and bumpy roads. A 4Runner absolutely needs to be covered inside and out with dust, at all times. Who needs more control knobs when you have shift-on-the-fly four-wheel drive?
On the pavement is a different story. Its weight, its lack of power and its boxy demeanor mean passing is practically impossible on two-lane roads. Steering is heavy and braking just a tad inadequate at even legal speeds. Yet, I still see everyone joyfully doing 90 MPH in them, with Chicago-area dealer stickers on the tail. I don’t know how a 4Runner even gets to 90 mph.
That said, if you use it exactly for its stated purpose, 4Runner is awesome, and not terribly expensive at this level. There are, of course, a lot more expensive build options, including the new 2022 TRD Sport to go along with TRD Off-Road and TRD Pro, but none get any additional engine power, so I would say stick with the basics.
One other Toyota model I had not seen for a long, long time was the full-size Sequoia SUV, a three-row, eight-passenger, body-on-frame machine that was spruced up for this year with a new, ultra-dark Nightshade edition, in addition to five other trims — a more off-road-ready TRD Pro among them.
I had the slight misfortune of driving the sizeable, 381-horsepower V-8 old-schooler back to back with the absolutely brand new GMC Yukon and … well, Sequoia feels and looks a bit outdated by comparison, and even a little small, amazingly. Mine also rang in at $68,273, with a rear-seat Blu-Ray player, upgraded audio and navigation.
Families looking to combine Toyota reliability with mass (5,985 pounds, 122 inches of wheelbase, 205.1 inches of overall length) may still find value in Sequoia’s punchy package, which is certainly pretty cool-looking with Nightshade’s 20-inch wheels and custom exterior. Blacked out trim, grille, rails and mirror caps make it perhaps invisibly contemporary.
That size means extremely ample second-row legroom and kid-sized third row space, plus a vehicle that can tow up to 7,400 pounds — or 7,100 in the 4WD configuration I drove.
More obviously than 4Runner, Sequoia’s occasionally outdated technology and build seems pretty evident. An ancient six-speed automatic teamed with the 5.7-liter V-8 pretty easily produced 13 mpg trips. The single sunroof, the hanging folders in the elbow storage box and that ceiling-mounted DVD screen and cabin switchgear dating back to the debut of the Texas-built Tundra pickup might offer comfort food to some buyers, but most of the other guys have certainly updated their full-sized machines.
Performance is pleasantly archaic, though modern gas prices may wipe that smile off your face. It rumbles on startup, roars on takeoffs and consumes fuel with aplomb. With 10 inches of clearance, even the non-TRD model is also going to be able to handle snow quite capably.
Andy Stonehouse’s column “Mountain Wheels” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Stonehouse has worked as an editor and writer in Colorado since 1998, focusing on automotive coverage since 2004. He lives in Golden. Contact him at email@example.com.
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