Way back when the new breed of more handily sized, stylish and sophisticated sport-utility vehicles began to arrive and rapidly acquire trendy stature in the 1980s, we referred to the big rough-and-tumble old-school four-by-fours as dinosaurs.
Well, in today's world - in which the don't-you-dare-get-me-muddy, softer and more cosseting crossover rules - one of the first of that new species that pulled itself out of the primordial SUV stew in 1984, Toyota's 4Runner, now almost merits that description. Even though, a quarter of a century later, it's more than proven Darwin's theories by evolving into something that can still survive in the current environment.
Actually, the only things that still link this latest fifth-generation 4Runner to its proto-pickup-truck first-generation roots are its retention of more traditional-look styling, body-on-frame construction and live rear axle suspension and full (and now highly electronically enhanced) four-wheel-drive off-road capability.
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Otherwise, from the driver's seat, or any of the others for that matter, you'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference between this now almost-luxury-level SUV and its modern crossover equivalent.
The 4Runner has always been a steady, if not spectacular, seller, finding favour with more than 100,000 Canadians over the past 25 years. And it will likely continue to do so as there are still plenty of us living in, or wishing to travel to, places those conscious of their vehicle's mortality wouldn't venture in a namby-pamby sedan-based crossover.
Or who need to carry the family in comfort while towing a "toy" of some sort, or perhaps a trailer-full of winter firewood for the cottage weighing in at up to 2,268 kg.
The 4Runner now comes in one V-6-powered SR5 model (a V-8 is no longer offered), priced at $36,800. But you can add one of four option packages starting with the Upgrade group ($41,550), then the Trail Edition ($44,040), the Limited ($47,775) and the Limited with navigation ($49,420). The test vehicle had the Upgrade package, which with freight and delivery, brought the price to $43,040.
The five-passenger (seats for seven are available) base vehicle's equipment list includes part-time four-wheel-drive system, 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic transmission, tilt/telescope wheel, air conditioning, a basic but decent audio system, power driver's seat, reclining 60/40-split rear seatback, power windows, mirrors etc., a full complement of passive safety features and active items such as ABS, stability control, active traction control, downhill assist, hill-start assist.
The $4,750 Upgrade package adds steering-wheel audio controls, Bluetooth, leather upholstery, heated front seats, power sunroof, running boards, auto-dimming mirror with integrated reversing camera screen and other minor items.
The 2010 4Runner is a little longer, taller and wider than the old one and is clad in bodywork that, while smoothed a bit here and buffed a bit there, leaves little doubt that it's still the "real thing" and not a crossover.
The interior redesign has addressed everything from the dash to rear cargo compartment, which thanks to the bit of added length now provides a maximum of 2,500 litres of cargo volume, up by 350 litres (1,300 litres behind the rear seat).
It's a significant step up into the cabin - made easier by the running boards - but once planted in the supportively bolstered but too-short seat, you can grab the thick-rimmed wheel through which can be seen the rather dramatic - with large centre speedometer - and bright instrument cluster. Its "Eco" gauge and light are a nod to political correctness.
A massive titanium-trimmed centre stack dominates the centerline - buttons are big and easy to operate - with a wide console behind with gear and transfer-case selector levers. A flat floor makes the rear seat usable by three.
There's more motor noise than I'd have expected, although not much wind or other noise. The placement of the power window switches on the forward portion of the door cap, which makes them awkward to operate, is annoying. Mirrors are good, headlamps okay, the windshield washer system works at highway speeds and the audio system fine.
This interior isn't overtly luxurious, but nicely done in quality materials, with plenty of detail touches. Call it comfortable and livable.
The new V-6 engine is a 4.0-litre, double-overhead-cam design making 270 hp at 5,600 rpm and 278 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm. That's 34 hp more than the previous V-6 and more than the optional V-8. A five-speed automatic links this to the part-time four-wheel-drive system.
Prod the pedal and this willing motor, despite having to deal with 2,111 kg of heft, launches the 4Runner with reasonable vigour and will get you up to highway speed promptly or make passing safe enough.
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It also gets better mileage than last year's motor, with ratings of 12.6 L/100 km city and 9.2 highway. I averaged 12.1 over a 160-km stretch of keeping up with average traffic speeds on Highway 401.
The 4Runner is, as you'd expect, far from agile, although it doesn't feel as ponderous as it might thanks to a variable-assist steering system with okay feel and a muscular but well-damped suspension. Take things deliberately and it feels confident on any road. Chuck it about and you quickly become aware of its size and mass. Ride motions bounce you around over secondary road frost heaves. It feels like a traditional SUV in other words, with most of the rough edges rounded off.
For those who need a full-figured four-by-four, the 4Runner still makes a great choice. And with Toyota in the midst of an imperfect storm of controversy right now, this is likely a good time to beat up a dealer for one.
2010 TOYOTA 4RUNNER SR5
Type: Mid-size SUV
Base Price: $36,800; as tested, $43,040
Engine: 4.0-litre, DOHC, V-6
Horsepower/torque: 270 hp/278 lb-ft
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
Drive: Part-time four-wheel-drive
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 12.6 city/9.2 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Nissan Pathfinder, Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Mitsubishi Endeavor, Land Rover LR2, Mercedes-Benz GLK-class, BMW X3