Remember what SUVs used to be like? The Toyota 4Runner is one of the few remaining utility vehicles left on the market that keep to that old body-on-frame formula—with all the truck toughness, plus just enough refinement and modern ride-and-handling attributes thrown in.
If you keep almost only to the streets and highways, or never have things to tow, you’ll be better served by one of Toyota’s crossover models like the Highlander or RAV4. The 4Runner calls out to off-road enthusiasts—as well those who perhaps want to show that they’d rather spend less time crawling along on the commute.
With the rugged-chic FJ Cruiser already a footnote in Toyota history, the 2016 4Runner remains the pick of the Toyota lineup for true off-road enthusiasts. Last year Toyota upped the 4Runner’s off-road kit with an even more trail-focused TRD Pro Series model, which brings remote-reservoir Bilstein shocks, Nitto all-terrain tires, TRD-tuned front springs, unique wheels, skid plates, and pieces inside and out that distinguish it from regular 4Runners. TRD models make what’s already a rugged, trail-ready vehicle even more so—and up to the task of things like boulder-clambering and stream fording.
The 4Runner is authentic, and that’s part of what makes its rugged style work so well. It’s not just an image conjured up for marketing purposes; this truck family has had the same basic wagon shape for years. The beltline is high, the proportions are chunky, and the downward slope of the rear pillars are a direct callback to models going back three decades or more. The cabin yields just a bit to passenger-vehicle modernity, but it also keeps it simple and rugged, with big knobs and controls that are simple and uncluttered; you won’t find loads of glossy chrome trim here.
The only engine offered in the 2016 4Runner is a 4.0-liter V-6, making 270 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque and feeling plenty quick either off the line or at highway speeds. Overall, the Toyota 4Runner drives much better—and more athletically—than its trail-crawling appearance might suggest. Steering feel and maneuverability are unexpected delights in the 4Runner; at low speeds especially, the 4Runner handles with better precision and control than you might expect from such a big, heavy model, and visibility isn’t bad. But you’ll be reminded you’re in a tall vehicle with big sidewalls and a soft suspension if you attack corners too quickly. The 4Runner is relatively refined inside, with a tight, quiet highway cruising experience, a reasonably smooth ride, and very little road or wind noise.
Fuel economy is estimated at 17/22 mpg for rear-drive models, and 17/21 mpg for four-wheel-drive versions. V-6 SR5 models are offered either with rear-wheel drive or a part-time four-wheel-drive system, while Trail and TRD Pro models are only offered with the part-time system.
You might start to notice some of the shortcomings of the 4Runner’s traditional body-on-frame layout versus models like the Ford Explorer or Dodge Durango when you get inside. While the 4Runner has smartly designed seating and is comfortable enough for long highway trips, it’s not quite up to the competition’s levels of cargo space or flexibility, due to its narrower body and rather tall floor. The front seats look and feel great with the available perforated-leather upholstery, and they’re wide and supportive, to fit quite the range of sizes. The second row adjusts for rake (reclining 16 degrees in four stops), and adult-sized occupants will also feel at home, thanks to seat contouring that goes well beyond the stiff bench cushions in some rivals. As for the third row, it’s hard to get back there, so leave it to the (small) kids; it’s only offered on the more on-road-oriented models.
Safety is also not at all compromised compared to popular crossovers, with eight standard airbags, including front side bags, side-curtain bags for the second and third rows, and front knee bags for the driver and passenger. Safety scores from the IIHS and federal government have indicated that the 4Runner has relatively good occupant protection, but it’s not in the top tier. A rearview camera is standard on all models.
Base 4Runner SR5 models include a power driver seat, a roof rack, power features, and an audio system with a CD player, satellite radio, a USB port, iPod connectivity, and Bluetooth audio streaming. Mobile-app connectivity is standard via Toyota’s Entune services. The off-road purists who also sometimes need to haul the family will want the Trail model, which includes all the off-road goodies. Limited models include 15-speaker JBL premium sound plus dual power front seats and a vehicle-based navigation system.
For 2016, the 4Runner lineup gains upgraded Entune multimedia systems, which in SR5 and Trail models have a Connected Navigation system that uses a connected smartphone for navigation functionality. The 4Runner also gets Siri Eyes Free with all version of the Entune system.