The Toyota 4Runner, with a macho nose that looks part Lego and part Transformer, seems as if it could chew rocks for breakfast and spit gravel out the tailpipe.
The surprise is that far from being an uncivilized lout, this mid-size utility vehicle drives with the civility of a family sedan. The combination of rugged capability and sedan-like comfort is appealing to folks who live in the country, in the mountains or who just want the security of knowing that they can get around in most any condition, be it deep snow, mud or gravel. An optional third seat can be used for kids.
Prices start at $33,210 for a two-wheel-drive SR5 and top out at $41,310 for a four-wheel-drive TRD Pro. I drove a four-wheel-drive Trail Premium from Toyota’s press fleet. It had a sticker price of $40,890.
The 4Runner is one of the few utility vehicles that still has body-on-frame construction. While that may seem like an anachronism when most of today’s SUVs ride on a unibody chassis, the truck-like construction ensures that the 4Runner can handle serious off-road work if you need it.
It’s true that the ride is not quite as comfortable as a car but it is much more compliant than a pickup truck. Ditto for the noise level, which is similar to many sedans. Toyota has long been a leader in building vehicles that isolate road noise from the cabin, and while the 4Runner is not Lexus quiet, it is quiet enough to be pleasant as a daily driver.
The 4Runner is powered by Toyota’s 4.0-liter V-6 with 270 horsepower. The transmission is a five-speed automatic. This engine delivers excellent low-speed torque and that makes it an ideal partner for four-wheel drive. Toyota has two systems. One is a part-time system that has a two-speed transfer case with low range, and the test vehicle, a Trail model, was so equipped.
The Trail model has an electronic-locking rear differential and a feature called CRAWL that helps the driver maintain a constant speed when driving up and over off-road obstacles. In low range, a multiterrain system lets the driver choose from five settings that match conditions. Hill-start assist and downhill assist control are standard.
The Limited model has a full-time, four-wheel-drive system that uses a torque-sensing center differential to distribute power between front and rear wheels. This system would not be as useful in severe off-road driving.
The 4Runner comes with a tow-hitch receiver and wiring harness. It can tow up to 4,700 pounds.
The Trail model also has a Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System that allows for extended wheel travel in off-road driving and reduces body lean in turns during regular driving.
The interior design mimics the exterior but the chunkiness is more restrained. The navigation/audio LCD screen in the center stack is on the small side, but it is flanked by large knobs for tuning the audio system. Climate controls are large, knurled knobs that would be easy to use with gloves. Seat heating controls are on the center console, a location that is not as handy as they would have been on the instrument panel.
The available third-row seat is split 50/50 and also folds flat. The second-row seats fold down to create a flat floor. On vehicles with the third seat, the second-row seat is a 40/20/40 unit, and the outer sections slide forward to provide access to the third row.
The test vehicle was equipped with a sliding rear cargo floor instead of a third seat. The floor pulls out several inches to ease loading.
The base price of the test vehicle was $38,655. Options included the sliding rear cargo deck and the dynamic suspension system. The sticker price was $40,890.
Three years or 36,000 miles, with a 5-year, 60,000-mile powertrain warranty.
Tom Strongman’s e-mail is email@example.com
2015 Toyota 4Runner 4X4 Trail Premium
Engine: 4.0-liter, 270-horsepower V-6
Transmission: Five-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 109.8 inches
Curb weight: 4,750 pounds
Base price: $38,655
As driven: $40,890
MPG rating: 17 in the city, 21 on the highway