Mountain Wheels: Toyota’s rugged TRD Pro 4Runner is the ultimate off-roader
Like everybody else, I recently had a lot of time on my hands. And so as I put together an absolute worst-case scenario plan, which would require fleeing to, say, Baffin Island in Northern Canada, I tried to figure out what vehicle might be most suited for that kind of off-the-grid journey.
I’m going to put my money on the TRD Pro version of the popular Toyota 4Runner, maybe decked out in Army green and a load of blacked-out features — a vehicle I happened to get a while back.
I think I finally cracked the intense Colorado popularity of the 4Runner, just maybe not the reason I used to see a lot of them driving 95 mph down Georgetown hill in the old days. If you want a reasonably massive, versatile and very macho-looking but pleasantly rudimentary non-pickup, 4Runner is an excellent choice. Especially with its slightly lifted suspension and those oversized Nitto Terra Grappler off-road tires, rolling on blacked-out, 17-inch wheels, complementing the blacked-out grille, window frames and bumper insert. It’s also got an industrial grade skid plate box, which looks like it’s the size of a built-in, above-the-stove microwave oven.
Yes, it only gets about 20 mpg, it is exceptionally bulky, and the vast majority of the interior is plastic and not exceptionally luxurious, even though it starts at just under $50,000.
But for the most capable and (cough, Jeep, cough) reliable off-roader you’ll find out there without building it yourself, with a fully actualized level of romper-stomper appeal, look no further.
The whole TRD Pro thing just takes it to another level, as there are now three grades of TRD available. In this high-end build, the massive, garage door-wrecking roof cargo rack pushes the vehicle’s height to 72 inches, and the lovely grumbling of the cat-back exhaust gives the vehicle a less urbane feel. You’ll still see most of them in civilization, but those giant off-road tires meant a genuinely comfortable and quiet ride on the highway. Just maybe not the 95 mph favored by some weekend warrior owners. Trust me on that. The 270-horsepower 4.0-liter V6 will literally run the car off its wheels, if that is your desired effect.
The off-road capabilities are also quite nuanced. I’d never actually used Toyota’s multiterrain select and crawl controls — a couple of knobs hidden way up by the rear-view mirror. But after locking it into 4-low with a delightful old-school manual shifter, the 4Runner rather effortlessly crawled up over actual boulders and through loose dirt, and then could be mostly automatically piloted on the way back down, the crawl control taking care of speed and producing possibly the most hideous and frightening braking noises possible in the process. Yes, it’s supposed to sound like that. The 4WD is fully switchable, and a rear differential lock is definitely helpful when those big tires get into loose soil.
Even better, on a twisty access road, the 4Runner off-roader handled like an automobile, with smooth, solid and even vaguely sporty performance. I did not expect that. On gravel, it remains poised, not herky-jerky, and it ate up washboard conditions.
Can you camp in it or actually haul all of your belongings as you flee north of the Arctic Circle? The massive sliding cargo deck plate helps if you’re loading goods and also offers a solid platform for takeout-only meals, and if you tip forward the second row seats (it’s old school, so you gotta tip up the seat bottoms first), I guess you could totally live inside, though the carpeted floors are a little hard. A 400 watt/120 volt outlet provides some more versatility; the oversized wheel wells just eat into the space a bit, and the optional third row available in other 4Runner models ain’t a big space.
Aztec warrior-patterned running boards do make for an easier mount into the 4Runner, where you’ll find tread-pattern floormats and lots of TRD badging and red stitching. Center stack controls and widescreen navigation are all much improved along with mapping features. Hard buttons along the edges and super-chunky audio knobs are helpful. I think you could operate the oversized temperature controls with a baseball mitt, and the fan controls are also the largest on any vehicle in the world, I swear. An oversized instrument display with an actual digital speedometer readout also adds to easy visibility.
Otherwise, it really is very austere — think old, old Land Rover or Land Cruiser. TRD Pro gets power rear glass, for that 1970s off-roading feel, plus a massive, entirely manual rear liftgate with a cord to yank it back into place.
Toyota also provides even this off-tarmac beast with its full Safety Sense package, including dynamic radar cruise control, a precollision system and lane departure alert.
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 Greeley. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Spoiler alert: There was almost no drama whatsoever during my recent test of the accomplished, practical and even vaguely sexy-looking Hyundai Sonata hybrid.