Not everyone gets a chance to drive a true sports utility vehicle in their motoring lifetime, and that’s too bad. It’s a special feeling cruising down the street with your head a full additional car’s height above the commoners in their cars below.
There’s a sense of ascent as you climb up into the driver’s seat of a vehicle twice the size of a subcompact. You drive safe in the knowledge that, should a mishap with another vehicle take place, the authorities will pry the smaller machine out from under your wheel well, hose off the street, and allow you to go about your business.
While the Toyota 4Runner qualifies as a midsize SUV (with the Sequoia and Land Cruiser topping the Japanese auto maker’s line), there’s no question you’re safety ensconced in a king-sized set of wheels. I stand 6’3” and go 250 lbs. on a good day, and it was a pleasure during the week long road test to easily and quickly settle into the cab with plenty of additional head room.
While it’s hardly quick or aggressive in its acceleration, the power from the 4.0 liter, 24-valve V6 is steady and reliable. If you opt to add a trailer hitch to the 4Runner, you’ll be able to tow any reasonable load with its 270 HP and 278 lb. ft. of torque.
Unlike smaller SUV-wannabes that sacrifice stability for a little extra size, the 4Runner sits stabilized on 17” alloy wheels and adjustable four-wheel drive. Speaking as a test driver who’s turned more than one mini-SUV onto two wheels en route to near disasters, the 4Runner hunkers down to the road while it muscles its way into traffic.
There’s some give in the speed-sensitive power steering, but the wheel on something as big as the 4Runner needs some loose space in its suspension in case you go off-roading. Due to the SUV’s weight, a sports car-tight steering wheel could jerk your wrist out of join on a big bump. It’s a little discussed reality of driving big vehicle like this, but I speak from experience. Whether it’s a pick-up or a big SUV, look for a little smooth dead space in the steering column.
While the $35,000 MRSP 4Runner doesn’t come standard equipped with all of the luxury-obsessed feature kit of the Toyota Avalon or Venza, it’s by no means a stripped-down, stark outdoorsy ride. It comes equipped with the Convenience Package, including power tilt and sliding moonroof with sunshade, full front and side airbag systems and front and cargo area 120 volt A/C power outlets. You get a CD/AM/FM/XM-Sirius stereo system (with subscription), complete with a “Party Mode” button literally amps up the volume to terrify the blue hairs around you.
The cargo area is ample for most standard loads. And, the 4Runner comes with a rarity in modern SUV’s, a tailgate with a power rear window. It’s non-essential for loading and unloading, but it’s a nice touch.
Obviously, SUVs have a well-earned reputation as thirsty gas gulpers. The 4Runner aims above that prejudice, advertising a city MPG of 17 and 22 highway. Keeping track during the road test, the six-speed automatic/sequential shift transmission provided about 15 on the ugly, stop and go Los Angeles streets. But the 4Runner did land on that 22 average on the freeways off hours.
When you’re driving something as big as the 4Runner, stopping power is essential. It comes equipped with front and rear vented disc brakes and Toyota’s Star Safety and Vehicle Stability Control Systems.
Both systems were developed following the handful of throttle control problems that hit Toyota a couple years ago. I tested out both set ups and the Smart Stop Technology with traction control and brake assist on both Toyota and Lexus models in late 2010. While I’ve test-driven multiple vehicles with all of the above technology, I felt it all take effect much more aggressively in the 4Runner.
Different stages of aggressive breaking bring on different braking intensities via Smart Stop Vehicle Stability. Though the driver applies just basic, steady pressure, braking sensors sense speed and road conditions to pump and grip the car to a steady stop.
The overall 4Runner effect is a big, stable and reliable passenger-friendly vehicle that will protect and glide you and yours along on the street or on any bumpy rural road.