Toyota says it is a company committed to hybrid technology. No argument here, but with seven separate SUV/CUV models in its lineup, you could also argue that this is a company committed to sport-utility vehicles.
From the crossover Venza to the rough-and-tumble FJ Cruiser, they come in all shapes in sizes, with various drivetrains and body styles.
Falling somewhere in the middle – though leaning more to the off-road side – is the 4Runner, which can trace its lineage back to 1984, when it was known as the Hilux Surf in Japan. Essentially, the original 4Runner was the SR5 pickup with a fibreglass rear canopy and a funky roll-bar – a little rough around the edges, but tough and surprisingly long-lasting.
The 4Runner is still truck-based, but has become civilized. You can take this one off-road to your heart’s content, but the comfort factor is right up there. My tester, a Limited model, comes with a climate-control system, back-up camera, leather interior, heated seats, push-button start, XM satellite radio, a navi system and on and on.
All 4Runner models, regardless of trim level, are powered by a 4.0-litre V-6 engine, that develops 270 horsepower and is mated to a five-speed automatic transmission only. This is essentially the same engine used in the FJ Cruiser and elsewhere in Toyota’s lineup, and is a nice fit here. A V-8 would also be acceptable, but it’s not a bone of contention with me. Depending upon the model, there is either a full-time four-wheel-drive setup or part-time 4WD, with a rear-wheel-drive bias.
The 4WD system is accessed either through a console-mounted rotary knob or a manual shift lever, depending on the model. My Limited had the former, and there are three basic settings: 2WD, 4WD high Range and 4WD Low Range. You can get into high range while in motion, but must stop the vehicle to access low range. You can also, with some versions, lock the centre differential for serious boulder-crawling. But that’s not all; there is a hill descent control, a hill-start assist control and an ultra low-speed crawling mode. The fact that the 4Runner has all these features indicates that this is more than a grocery-getter and you should be able to handle some pretty gnarly terrain with this puppy.
And you’ll do it in comfort. Unlike the FJ Cruiser, which is equally capable off-road but claustrophobic and spartan inside, the 4Runner has amenities and creature comforts on a par with the Highlander or Sequoia.
Standard equipment includes power-adjustable front seats, cruise control, power rear window and running board. Heated front seats are not standard issue on the base model, and they should be. Come on, Toyota! This is Canada, and the 4Runner is a $40,000 vehicle before extras. And while I’m at it, the running boards do not help with access; they’re recessed into the body and apparently not designed to be stepped on. I foresee slippage mishaps here when things get slippery and cold. Toyota should copy a page from Ford’s book and offer running boards that automatically fold outwards when you open the door.
I should also mention NVH (noise, vibration, harshness). There isn’t any. This is a tightly constructed, stoutly built SUV with little in the way of mechanical noise and excellent highway manners. I was surprised at how little racket it made – especially compared to its predecessors, which could be on the unsophisticated side.
Interior cargo room is roomy; you can seat up to seven people – although five is probably a better idea – and, with the back seat folded, you’ll find 2,540 litres of space back there. The Nissan Pathfinder, which is a close competitor, has 2,260 litres and the Ford Explorer, 2,285. Incidentally, both of these rivals have much lower base prices. Because of its relatively high road stance (243 mm of ground clearance), access to the back of the 4Runner is not as straightforward as it could be – it ain’t no RAV4.
Fuel economy is rated at 11.2 litres/100 km combined, which is on the high side, but typical of this market. Again, the Pathfinder and Explorer are both slightly thriftier, but would probably fall by the wayside in serious off-road terrain.
But with its aggressive body style and oversize wheels – 20-inchers are standard kit with the Limited – the 4Runner cuts quite a figure. It’s estimated that, at the most, a mere 5 per cent of all SUV owners actually take their vehicles off-road, but the 4Runner looks like it could go anywhere, and that’s the point.
2013 Toyota 4Runner Limited
Type: Mid-size SUV
Base Price: $49,340; as tested: $51,110
Engine: 3.5-litre V-6
Horsepower/torque: 270 hp/278 lb-ft
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 12.7 city/9.4 highway; regular gas
Alternatives:Nissan Pathfinder, Ford Explorer Sport, Honda Pilot, Acura MDX, Mazda CX-9, GMC Terrain, Chevrolet Traverse, Dodge Durango, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Mercedes M-Class