Oskaloosa.com

April 1, 2013

Toyota 4Runner has old-school toughness

By Derek Price
CNHI News Service

If you're someone who wants a vehicle that can truly go off-roading, one of the best 4x4s in the world is the Toyota Land Cruiser.

The problem? Not many people can afford the Land Cruiser's starting price that's uncomfortably close to $80,000.

Fortunately for those of us with smaller budgets, Toyota makes an off-roader that almost matches the Land Cruiser's capability and style — albeit not its luxury-drenched cabin — for a fraction of the price.

Called the 4Runner, and priced starting at $31,490, this Toyota doesn't get as much attention as it did in its heyday back in the 1990s. More buyers today are drooling over softer, more fuel efficient crossovers like its small stablemate, the RAV4. 

But the 4Runner still exists for people who want Toyota reliability in a traditional SUV package.

Make no mistake, the 4Runner is designed for off-road use, not just a tough-looking station wagon for grocery runs. That's unusual as virtually all its one-time competitors have switched to car-based platforms — including the iconic Ford Explorer — as crossovers have become the default American family car.

The 4Runner's body-on-frame, trail-ready design is anachronistic, and it's a downside if you're looking for a quiet, smooth ride. Its suspension is bouncy and a bit rough over bumps, clearly designed for adventure seekers more than silent road trips.

Its styling is handsome and understated. It's the kind of masculine, boxy design that would have been aggressive 10 years ago, but today it's pleasantly attractive and fits its role as an off-road mainstay. 

Its corporate cousin, the FJ Cruiser, is similarly built for off-roading but comes with wild, "look-at-me" styling. Which one you pick would depend on your personality, to some extent.

The 4Runner comes well equipped. Even the base model, called the SR5, comes with a Bluetooth connection for your cell phone, a power rear liftgate window and keyless entry. 

A total of 10 cup holders is generous, and my test vehicle came with 120-volt AC power outlets in the front and rear — a nice feature for tailgating, powder-puff camping or just charging your electronics.

Fuel economy is the biggest reason many people consider crossovers over true SUVs like the 4Runner. With two-wheel drive, it's rated for 22 mpg on the highway and 17 in city driving.

The upside is that this really is a go-anywhere, do-anything type of vehicle. Its huge, truck-like cargo area and ability to drive for miles off the pavement are reminders of why so many drivers fell in love with SUVs 20 years ago.

Derek Price is an automotive columnist for CNHI News Service. Contact him at carcolumn@gmail.com.