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Executive wheels: The rugged yet refined Toyota 4Runner

Primed for off-roading, yet it handles city streets with aplomb

Jeff Rundles //October 1, 2015//

Executive wheels: The rugged yet refined Toyota 4Runner

Primed for off-roading, yet it handles city streets with aplomb

Jeff Rundles //October 1, 2015//

I get to drive and test a ton of SUVs and crossovers because, well, Colorado is SUV/Crossover country. These vehicles are offered by just about every manufacturer on earth since the SUV/Crossover is the most desired type of vehicle in America, and you’ll find them small, mid-sized, full-sized, base to luxury.

And while most of them tout their off-road capabilities, and you see them pictured often in advertisements slogging on bumpy dirt roads and climbing stump-laden hills, most couldn't do that rugged work with any degree of acuity.

Enter the Toyota 4Runner. From the moment you hop in the vehicle, especially this Trail version with the 4X4 shifter and all manner of All Wheel Drive variables, you feel the urge to off-road. The 4Runner just begs to be put to some strenuous test, very akin to the need for speed you feel when you get behind the wheel of, say, a Porsche. I almost felt like I was hurting the 4Runner’s feelings by driving it around town.

Alas, I wasn’t able to off-road, although I did hit a good, bumpy, rutted dirt road and let it out just to see its pedigree come to life. I could tell then that I wasn’t even feeding its desire for a greater challenge, and yet I got enough of its true self to know that I could take it way into the back country and meet just about any challenge nature could present.

However, perhaps about the best thing that came about in my week-long test drive was that this 4Runner, named Trail and primed for off-roading, is an amazing vehicle for just running around. Everyone who got into it commented on how comfortable, roomy and good-looking it was.

What they didn’t know, because I did the driving, was how nice it is to drive. For such a sizeable vehicle, it is quite nimble, corners well, and rides superbly on the city streets and highway.

This wasn’t always the case with the 4Runner. Launched by Toyota way back in 1984, the original 4Runner looked like a truck, and  most people thought it was a pickup. It even had just two doors – like a pickup.

But over the years – it is now in its 5th generation – the 4Runner has taken its place among the finest SUVs on the market in comfort and styling, without ever losing its off-road ruggedness. That can't be said of the Jeep Grand Cherokee – a very wonderful vehicle, yes, but one now aimed at taking soccer moms on their daily rounds rather that serving as a hub for hunting, fishing, or back-country exploring.   

I have to say, I have driven just about everything in the SUV/Crossover market, and I really, really like many of them – the Jeep, the Infiniti QX, the large Lexus, the Kia Sorento, the Mazda CX-5/7/9 – but I so enjoyed this 4Runner that I truly believe that this is the one I’d buy.  

One of the main reasons is that while it is a rugged truck, it does the refined, city driving very well. My wife and son both remarked what a nice vehicle it is, up in the mountains, of course, but around town too. It’s not Suburban huge, it’s not Juke small, and it isn’t fancy. In fact, the not fancy part was one of my favorite things. It had a key fob to unlock the doors (a modern safety feature since it unlocks only the driver’s door unless you hit it twice), but then you have to use a key to start it. How quaint these days. Also, it had big dials for the climate control instead of going through a touch screen, and it was all so easy to operate. The radio was also big and easy to use, there were wonderful and plentiful cup holders, and the Bluetooth hands-free phone operation was easy as pie. Plus, it is a very quiet ride, which helps with the phone and the radio, not to mention conversation.

For those who would off-road, this is a true 4X4, not one of those full-time AWD jobs, meaning that you have to use a separate gear shift to take it from rear-wheel-drive to all-wheel drive. Then there’s AWD High and low, so you can adjust the lock differential depending on conditions, and then in this Trail model Toyota put in what it calls the Multi-Terrain Select System, which offers even more options for climbing tough terrain. It also has Downhill Assist Control, Crawl Control (to regulate speed in severe off-road situations, and also Hill-Start Assist Control, which keeps the 4Runner stationary so you can start it on a steep incline. All of this is everything you’d want in the back country.

Some of my other favorite things:

  • Black leather seating with very cool red stitching.
  • Huge mirrors for great visibility.
  • A good-sized back deck with a sliding rear cargo deck that makes loading easy.

This vehicle came equipped with a 4.0-Liter V6 putting out 270 hp, and it is rated at 17 mpg city/21 mpg highway. You can get better gas mileage elsewhere, yes, but you want this powerful, torqued-up engine if you plan and rough riding. The five-speed automatic transmission is as smooth as they come.

The base price of this 4X4 Trail Premium model is $38,655. They added very little here – the sliding rear deck for $350, a Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System for $1,750, and then they discounted $750 for the 30th Anniversary. Nice present. Add in destination charges of $885, and the bottom line is $40,890.

Now that might be more expensive that many other SUVs on the market, and if all you’re going to do is drive around town, then perhaps this isn’t the vehicle for you. But if you want a rugged truck SUV, I can’t think of anything better.