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2014 4Runner. (Toyota)
2014 4Runner. (Toyota)

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Toyota 4Runner undergoes a radical restyling Add to ...

It’s not often that one sees a radical restyling midway through a product cycle, but that’s what Toyota has done with its 2014 4Runner, unveiled this past weekend at the western-themed Stagecoach Music Festival in Indio, Calif.

If a youth-oriented country music festival seems a strange place to introduce any vehicle, it was, as Toyota said it was the first global reveal of any new vehicle at a major music festival. But perhaps the venue, as well as the gaping air intakes on the new 4Runner’s front end, were both a symbol of the same intent: that the historically conservative firm’s most traditional days are behind it, at least when it comes to taking design risks.

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The most eye-catching and controversial aspect of the new design are those vertical air intakes, which start under the scowling headlights, then zigzag down to take out half of the bodywork surrounding the available fog lights.

The 4Runner’s unique tailgating Party mode remains, which sends most of the volume to the rear speakers, and may have been appreciated by revellers at Stagecoach, which included Two and A Half Men star Ashton Kutcher.

Not much has changed under the 4Runner’s exterior either, as it remains one of the few SUVs to soldier on with a full ladder-frame chassis, the same 4.0-litre V-6 putting out 270 hp, and a five-speed automatic, all of which are falling behind more modern, lighter and more fuel-efficient SUVs/crossovers. It remains a five- or seven-seater, with a five-seat Trail version aimed at off-road enthusiasts.

It’s a big truck month for Toyota, as it also showed off its reworked 2014 Tundra full-size pickup a few weeks earlier at the Edmonton auto show, which sports a less radical but also refreshed exterior to try and help keep its hauler competitive with all-new 2014 GM entries and the top-selling Ford F-150 and Ram 1500 models.

The revised Tundra is planned to arrive by summer, with the restyled 4Runner likely arriving soon after that.

VW head plans more plug-ins

The head of the Volkswagen Group AG has confirmed that it will expand its plug-in offerings to the Golf, Passat, Audi A6 and Porsche Cayenne, as well as develop more natural gas vehicles and a high-performance diesel, though whether any of these models will make it to Canada is uncertain.

Plug-in hybrid versions of the Audi A3 Sportback and the Porsche Panamera have already been confirmed for Canada, with A3 plug-in coming in 2014 and the Panamera plug-in this fall, while four Audi models will receive diesel options in 2013 as well.

There is obviously some growing interest in expanding fuel-saving technologies within the group here, even without the strict mandates for low or zero emissions vehicles anywhere in Canada similar to those in the United States, and stricter North American diesel emissions rules than in Europe.

Porsche Canada says the plug-in Cayenne would likely follow the Panamera S e-Hybrid, which is set to start at $113,300, in a strong sign that a less pricey Porsche plug-in is in the works for Porsche’s popular SUV here as well, though it’s still not officially confirmed.

The Panamera S Hybrid without plug-in capability goes away once the plug-in four-door arrives, that plug-in capability adding only $3,300 over the short-lived Panamera S Hybrid’s $110,000 starting price. That’s less of a price bump than between a gas and diesel Golf, and easily the lowest hybrid to plug-in hybrid premium on the market now, though on a pricey machine to start.

The Cayenne Hybrid starts at less than 80 grand, and it’ll be interesting to see if any potential plug-in Cayenne model that will likely share internals with the Panamera e-Hybrid keeps to that same $3,300 premium ballpark. Ford and Toyota’s plug-in hybrid models come in at much greater 10 grand or so increase over their base hybrid models, relying on provincial government incentives in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia to lower that price difference.

Neither Audi, Porsche nor Volkswagen Canada expressed optimism that natural gas vehicles would arrive any time soon, but VW did say it was actively interested in the high-efficiency diesel confirmed by VW Group board chair Dr. Martin Winterkorn at a technical symposium in Vienna recently. That high-power diesel engine produces 100 kW (134 hp) per litre of displacement, or right up there with high-revving Ferrari-level specific outputs.

“We see a number of potential applications for such a powertrain,” said VW Canada spokesperson Thomas Tetzlaff, who says the company is “actively investigating” (their emphasis) this engine, though no products or timelines have been confirmed.

Price wasn’t right

One lucky contestant last week on The Price Is Right game show competed for the most expensive prize the show has offered, according to the show’s host, Drew Carey: a black Ferrari 458 Spider convertible.

But the contestant didn’t win the car – or come even close – by picking digits out of a bag and then placing them in the correct order. She was certainly not a car buff, as she mistakenly tried to place both a six and an eight as the first number, meaning she thought the car was worth at least $600,000 or $800,000.

Actual retail price: $285,716 (U.S.).

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