TOXIC BARB: 2023 TOYOTA 4RUNNER
Not realizing it, June of this year, 2023, marks the 10-year anniversary of SIX SPEED BLOG, a name I always hated but come to accept. The significance of this anniversary is that 6 months after starting this website and a whole lot of rejection emails, I received my first set of media vehicles, one of which happened in January of 2014, I tested the MY14 Toyota 4Runner Limited, my first experience at a real four-by-four and honored it by taking it on a real off-road course. 2014 was a noteworthy year for the 4Runner as it had just received a major refresh on its 5th generation chassis that debuted in 2010. Little did any of us know that that refresh would soon live on for a mere decade. None-the-less, despite the rock in my yard being younger than the 4Runner, when I needed something with four-wheel drive, decent ground clearance and a back seat large enough to camp in, it is the vehicle we can always count on.
Anybody that knows me knows that I hate camping. I’d rather put my foot through a meat grinder than spend a minute camping outdoors, but for the sake of maintaining friendly relationships, I suppose I must face the torture ahead, including driving the 4Runner. After spending years of testing vehicles with utterly smooth suspension systems, streamline multi-gear transmission and electrically assisted steering that makes traveling feel like a bliss oasis, the 4Runner reminds us of what real driving excitement can be, and not the Porsche driving kind of way.
Faced with a 150-mile drive, 100-miles of which would include rolling mountains and twisting roads, the archaic 4.0-liter V-6 and its trusty 5-speed automatic was a subtle reminder of how spoiled we’ve gotten with the latest transmission technology. With 270-horsepower pushed to the floor, there is a sense of how heavy the 4Runner actually is as it moves as fast as the hair that grows on my head. Traveling up these hills was no match for the 5-speed automatic that seemed to enjoy the liking of 3rd-gear more than anything sending loud engine revs through the cabin for the next 100-miles. I kept thinking the poor thing was going to overheat from its heavy workout, but had to keep reminding myself, this is a 4Runner, it never breaks.
On the road, the 4Runner handled a bit like a goat, you never really knew which direct it was going to go and with a beefed-up off-road suspension on this TRD Pro, body roll would have made me sick but luckily, I was more focused on other things, like not rolling over on the sharp bends. And then there are things like the braking, a friendly reminder that some concepts should stay in the 2000’s, a light application of the brake petal sends the entire vehicle into a nosedive, like ohhhkayyy, no need for the theatrics.
Then there is the interior that has been the same since 2014, literally. With little changes here and there like the addition of a larger touch screen display and the software inclusion of Apple CarPlay & Android Auto connectivity, as well as a new 360-degree all around view camera, the 4Runner continues with its same old song and dance – but hey, why fix something that’s not broken, right? Or at least that’s what we’ll keep saying to mask the outdatedness and negativity.
However, like a toxic relationship, the 4Runner has this magical way of luring people in. And not just some muscled up macho wannabe mountain man either. After arriving at a small town to get some last-minute groceries for a weekend of discomfort, an elderly woman stopped me as I was pulling out the optional sliding tray to load up the ice chest to ask me if this 4Runner was for sale and if she could buy from me. I quickly had to stop her and explain my role and who the vehicle really belongs to and if she could keep a secret, I’ll report it stolen, kidding. After a lengthy 20-minute conversation, I steered her into the direction of a Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road, a better alternative for her simple cabin lifestyle; you’re welcome, Toyota. But before parting ways, she told me she already gave the 4Runner a name, calling it BARB. Saying the bright orange, Solar Octane paint color is a BARB personality. I’ll trust her judgment; I don’t name my vehicles.
But it wasn’t just the older woman that was star struck, even I started to get smitten with the 4Runners charm. Once I hit dirt, this is what the 4Runenr is all about. It’s just capable of anything and everything. The off-road suspension just sucked up the roughness for that piece of mind ride down a rutted trail. Crossing water, no problem, it has 9.6-inches of ground clearance. Oh, got a mountain to climb, just turn on crawl control. Oh no, is that a mud pit, engage the terrain management system and let the computers sort it out. Like I said, piece of mind.
By the time I got back home, a love, hate relationship had brewed for the 4Runner. I had a dislike for driving it in the city as it got 16-miles to the gallon and required over $100 to fuel up its tank. But knowing that the mountains were just a few hours away and I was in one of the most off-road capable vehicles on the road, it just keeps drawing you back in. Damn, Barb, why must you be so toxic?
Toyota will do a major overhaul when sales plummet or when a competitor can match reliability. Since sales keep going up YoY, what’s the motivation?