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Toyota 4Runner retains its rugged appeal

4runner.jpg

Unlike many of the current class of midsize sport utility vehicles, the Toyota 4Runner has pretty much stuck to its original script.

And what's that? The 4Runner remains a truck-based SUV that is suitable for every-day use, but can also head into off-road country and perform quite admirably.

While the 4Runner is essentially unchanged, former contemporaries like the Nissan Pathfinder and Ford Explorer have both transformed into car-based crossover SUVs that focus on providing a more comfortable ride and better gas mileage.

Note also that the 4Runner ($32,820 to $43,400) is more expensive than either the Pathfinder and Explorer, and its gas mileage (17-23 mpg) is not as good.

2014 Toyota 4Runner

  • Performance: 4.0-liter, V6, 270 horsepower; 
  • Mileage estimate range: 17-23 mpg 
  • Estimated price: $32,820 to $43,400
  • Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles; drivetrain 5 years/60,000 miles; roadside assistance 2 years/25,000; corrosion 5 years/unlimited

The 2014 Toyota 4Runner is not much different than last year's model. Most of the changes are cosmetic in nature - taller, wider grille and headlight tweaking.

The 4Runner, which can tow up to 4,700 pounds, remains a vehicle that truly embraces the whole SUV concept with its rugged off-road capability for challenging terrain. It also features a third row and seats seven passengers - some rivals don't - and can also be a traditional SUV that car pools the kids to school and serves as commuter vehicle for work.

However, what clearly sets the 4Runner apart is the off-road capability. The 4Runner comes in three trims (SR5, Trail and Limited). It has three drivetrain choices: 2-wheel drive (2WD) in the base model SR5 and Limited, part-time 4WD (SR5, Trail), or full-time 4WD (Limited) with a limited-slip, locking center differential.

One drawback to the 4Runner is its lone powertrain -  4.0-liter, V6 that produces 270 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque, combined with a five-speed automatic transmission. The 4Runner goes 0-60 mph in 7.2 seconds (8.2 seconds when equipped with four-wheel-drive Trail model).

Personally, I found the Limited model lacking in power when climbing into the mountains on a trip to Lake Tahoe. And if you want more power, forget it, there is no V8 model. So if you don't care for the V6, too bad!

As we mentioned, the 4Runner is certainly capable when chugging along rugged trails or taking on anything the snow country can offer, whether it's a snowy freeway or escaping from the deep snow following a huge snowfall.

Yet the 4Runner is also refined enough for every-day use as well. It offers a smooth ride that gives the driver a good feel for the road. The bumps are effectively absorbed and the braking is efficient.

The 4Runner interior is not overly high-tech, but it's not stuck in an outdated time warp either. It has large, new gauges that are easy to read and the cockpit has an appealing overall look. There's been some complaints with the Entune suite of smartphone-connected apps, mostly because you have to register for an account on your cell phone.

This SUV offers comfort and room for both front and second-row occupants. However, beware of the third-row seating, it's one of the smallest of all the midsize SUVs. There's 47 cubic feet of cargo room behind the second-row seats and that increases to 90 cubic feet with all rear seats folded down.

While the Toyota 4Runner is a quality SUV in many categories, the lingering question car shoppers need to ask when considering a 4Runner: Will they actually be using it for off-roading? If not, perhaps it's best to look elsewhere.


Weidel on Wheels author Jeffrey Weidel is an award-winning writer from the Sacramento region who has reviewed automobiles for more than two decades. He can be reached at skiweidel@gmail.com
Follow him on Twitter at @jeffweidel.



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