There are two types of travelers in this world, those that follow the path and those that make their own. An adventure is never found by staying on the road most travel, it’s found beyond the trail where a whole new world is left to explore. Anymore, utilitarian isn’t a word used to describe an SUV. After all, the fuel conscious soccer moms of the millennium kind of ruined it for all of us. But there are just a couple left to claim that title, which can conquer such conquests – the Toyota 4Runner being one of them.
You see, while the 4Runner is past its prime in technology, features, chassis development and overall engineering – its capabilities best express its 40-grand price tag. Call me foolish, but I like the 4Runner. Its rugged and manly – I like its gaping mouth and fang-like bumper flair – I like its chunky interior masculine design, large knobs and proper four-wheel drive transfer case, not a stupid knob like other cute-utes. Our sampled 4Runner is the mid-level Trail Premium, nestled between the SR-5 and the over-priced Limited. The Trail though is the better looking of the bunch with more off-roady gear like front and rear skid plates, a sporty hood scoop, and these 17-inch wheels encased in all-season tires.
It goes old school here with a naturally aspirated 4.0-liter V-6. 270 horsepower hauls this 5,000lb dinosaur surprisingly effortlessly as it coordinates with traffic flow in about 8 seconds to 60 mph. No techno savvy tranny here either, 5-speed automatic – don’t see them anymore. But thanks to its low gearing ratio, at high speeds it maintains a low rpm for improved efficiency. HA! Right, at an average of 17 mpg, it chugged through its 360 mile range faster than a teenager rampaging a fridge.
The thing though about the 4Runner is that it drives likes a proper SUV with its body-on frame chassis. It’s big, heavy and lumber sum – carrying its weight like a polar bear. Steering is numb but it does the job and with our featured Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System, the ride is Baja style smooth – takes brute force of unsuspecting dips and rocks a lot more comfortable then the stock suspension. That though will set you back $1750. Due to the ultra-soft suspension – braking is entertaining, lunging forward and nose diving down to the pavement – showing you what it is you’re about to hit. The brakes though work well and provide decent linear feel and good brake pedal feedback.
Opting for the Premium over the standard Trail does bring in all the comfort amenities of a standard 40k car. Things like heated seats, navigation with back-up camera, sunroof, and more. The interior comfort of the 4Runner is everything we expected out of the new Tacoma we drove the previous week, but didn’t achieve. The 4Runner here had power adjustable front seats and provided a ride height that felt like we were on top of the world. These leatherette seats were extremely comfortable and well balanced for long distance driving and even the rear seat was exceptionally placed providing excellent leg and head room while providing tremendous thigh support making a long journey much more enjoyable. A nefty feature our sampled 4Runner had was a sliding rear cargo deck for $350 – sounds like a pointless feature at first, but then you don’t realize how often you would actually use it.
The truth is, at an as tested price of $41,345 you would think there would be better use of materials than the cheap hard plastics. But really we didn’t care. We liked the ruggedness and durability of this 4Runner – something we could beat up and not worry about silly little scratches. Plus it was well put together, so even though it felt cheap, it was still a quality product. We didn’t like however, was the cheesy 6.1-inch touch screen infotainment system with small buttons – not very glove friendly. But it does feature Toyota’s Entune system and text message alerts – which we’ve always liked.
With it being winter time, I have to admit I’ve been anxious for snow. This week, with having something capable of forging rivers and climbing mountains, I was destined to go where the snow was. I had gone back and forth on where to go – Durango, CO is a big hot spot for skiers but a 10 hour drive, same for anywhere in Utah which left me to instate travels. Supposedly Flagstaff was to get snow, but also meant all of us Phoenians would be heading north to play, which sky rocketed the hotels and meant it was going to be crowded. Ultimately I had my eye on this little town called Greer. It’s a small lodging village located in north eastern Arizona and was estimated to have 2 to 3 inches of snow. Perfect!
After ringing up my travel buddy to see if he wanted to go on another adventure, I booked a hotel in a town called Eager, just 30 minutes east of Greer (since all the cabins were full) and headed out Friday night. What attracts me most to the 4Runner is its drivability on any road surface – the 250 mile drive to Eagar was as comfortable as being in a Lexus and even with the large off-road tires, road noise is quiet from inside the cabin. The route to Eagar is full of twists and curves – perfect for a fun little sports car – it was however unentertaining in the 4Runner but the closer we got to Eagar, snow and sleet covered the road making it a slippery, white knuckle drive.
The following morning nearly 4-inches of snow covered the ground and left a perfect scene for what I was looking for. We headed out of town towards Greer with a freshly plowed road ahead. Greer, as pretty as it was, was just a stopping point really to do my photo shoot and test out some of the 4Runners off-road capabilities. Most of the main roads in Greer were plowed, except a trail head at the very end of town. Using the Multi-Terrain Select, I had the options between Mud & Sand, Lose Rock, Mogul and Rock. Since there isn’t a snow mode, I used Mud to help insure traction and the let the 4WD sort everything out. The snow wasn’t that deep, but we had a couple moments of teeth grinding moments, but allowed the 4WD to do its thing. We also had a locking rear diff, CRAWL Control and the ATRAC system, but never had the need to use it.
Having traveled all this way, we did decide to extend our journey by visiting the Petrified Forest in Northern Arizona which turned into a beautiful site being covered in snow. We finished our journey in Flagstaff, grabbing a quick Starbucks before heading back into Phoenix.
The reality of the 4Runner is that it’s no longer the soccer mom snob crossover but for those who truly are the adventurer seeker and need something capable of taking them far and beyond the trail road. The 4Runner may be old and set in its way’s, and maybe even a bit over priced – but besides a Jeep Grand Cherokee, where else are you going to find an SUV that’s under 50-grand that provides all the comforts of a premium crossover while stomping through a below freezing snowy forest.
|Price (As Tested):|
|2016 Toyota 4Runner Trail Premium 4X4:||$39,095|
|Keep it Wild Savings:||($750)|
|Sliding Rear Cargo Deck:||$350|
|Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System:||$1,750|