As consumers flock to the newest car-based crossover utility vehicles, the ranks of the traditional body-on-frame SUVs are dwindling.
But among the few that are left, the venerable Toyota 4Runner shines, especially when it’s in its real element – the mud, sand or steep hills of the off-road environment.
Off-road driving is one of my passions, and I’m always ready to take a properly-equipped 4Runner into the wild. Now in its fifth generation, it’s still one of the best vehicles ever made for ridge-, mud- and sand-running
After some styling tweaks and other improvements last year, the midsize 4Runner is back for 2015 with a new model geared especially for ridge-runners like me: the TRD Pro, a special off-road oriented version that lists for $41,310 (plus $885 freight).
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It’s near the top of the 2015 4Runner lineup, which begins with the base SR5 rear-wheel-drive model (not intended for off-road use) at $33,210, and tops out with the four-wheel-drive, well-equipped luxury Limited version at $43,620.
The least-expensive four-wheel drive 4Runner is the SR5 4X4, starting at $35,085; and there are two Trail 4X4s, the base at $36,115, and the Trail Premium at $38,855.
But I’m already a big fan of the new TRD Pro model, our test vehicle for the week.
Created by the Toyota Racing Division, this model includes extras such as 17-inch matte-black TRD alloy wheels with Nitto Terra Grappler P265/70R17 all-terrain tires; TRD-tuned front springs, which increase the front height by an inch; and a quarter-inch-thick front aluminum skid plate with "TRD" stamped on it.
Also included are Toyota’s Entune Premium Audio with Navigation and App Suite; black SofTex-trimmed seats with red stitching; heated and power-adjustable front seats; a universal garage/gate opener, a self-dimming rearview mirror; and automatic headlights.
Our vehicle came with the Inferno (red) exterior color (exclusive to this model); the other two choices for the TRD Pro are Super White and Attitude Black. Since I spend a lot of time under the hot Texas sun, I try to stay away from black vehicles.
The tester’s red was great looking, but also attention-getting, which might not be a good thing if you’re cruising the highways going over the speed limit.
Last year, the 4Runner got a partial redesign, including exterior styling tweaks and interior refinements.
You don’t have to spend as much as you would for the TRD Pro to get a truly off-road-capable 4Runner, though. The new SR5 Premium model was added last year. For 2015, it starts at $35,950 with two-wheel drive, and for those wanting to follow me off the road, you can get it for $37,825 with four-wheel drive.
Now in its fifth generation, the 4Runner is a traditional sport utility vehicle that began as essentially a Toyota compact pickup with a cap over the bed and a back seat. It has since evolved into a great family hauler with four doors, a refined interior and the same off-road capabilities as the Tacoma pickup trucks when equipped with four-wheel drive and other trail-ready features. The first four-door model arrived in 1990.
Under the hood of all models is a 4.0-liter V-6 engine rated at 270 horsepower and 278 foot-pounds of torque, connected to a five-speed automatic transmission.
This gave me plenty of power on or off the highway, but especially for some long Interstate highway runs to and from the places I like to go four-wheeling. It easily rolls with the traffic, even on grades, and even on those Texas roads where the speed limit is 85 mpg.
EPA ratings are 17 mpg city/23 highway for two-wheel-drive models, and 17/22 for the four-wheel-drive versions, including my TRD Pro. I’m a bit heavy on the accelerator, though, so my average was about 18.4 mpg in combined on- and off-road driving.
For serious trail use, the TRD’s four-wheel-drive system has a two-speed transfer case for low-range driving, and it also has an electronically controlled rear differential just like the Trail four-wheel drives.
All 4Runner models have Hill-start Assist Control (HAC), which holds the vehicle for a few seconds as the driver moves the foot from the brake to the accelerator. Also included is Downhill Assist Control, to help maintain a constant slow speed and preventing wheel lockup while descending steep hills.
Another standard feature of my TRD Pro was Toyota’s Crawl Control, designed to maintain a steady but slow speed while climbing over obstacles. In low range, Crawl Control regulates engine speed and braking at one of five driver-selectable low-speed settings.
Also helpful for me on the variety of terrains I experienced was the Multi-Terrain Select system, which allows the driver to select a pre-programmed mode for the particular terrain, using a dial.
With its sturdy body-on-frame construction, the 4Runner can tow trailers weighing up to 5,000 pounds.
Inside, there is room five people (SR5 and Limited models can add a third-row seat to handle up to seven passengers). With last year's redesign, there is a new, more muscular grille, redesigned "smoked" projector-beam headlights, and LED taillights.
The SR5 and Trail models come with a color-keyed grille insert and front bumper, which includes fog lights that extend from the headlights to the bumper.
Trail models have color-keyed bumpers and over-fenders, along with a hood scoop and silver-painted bumper accents. A roof rack is included on all 4Runner trim levels.
The fancier Limited has a chrome-plated grille insert and chrome front bumper, along with chrome side moldings, roof rack and rear bumper. SR5 and Trail models get 17-inch alloy wheels, but the designs are different for each model.
Limited versions have 20-inch alloy wheels, as before. They are black, and have been machined to add contrast, Toyota says.
A full-size spare is included on all 4Runners. Off-road drivers don’t want to be stuck driving on a temporary spare if a tire gets damaged by running over a rock or other obstacle.
SR5 and Trail/TRD models have soft-touch door trim, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a leather shift knob. SR5 versions get a new Optitron instrument panel, with speedometer, tachometer, voltage, fuel and coolant-temperature gauges, along with a driver-information display. An "Eco-Driving" feedback system helps the driver maximize gas mileage.
Trail/TRD models come with an overhead console that includes the off-road controls, along with a compass and outside temperature display. Manual climate control is standard on the SR5 and Trail models, while the Limited comes with an automatic dual-zone climate-control system.
The second row has a pull-down center armrest, and the seatbacks recline up to 16 degrees. The 40/20/40 split-folding seat configuration has a one-touch "walk-in" control to allow easy access to the third row.
Cloth seats are standard on SR5 and Trail models, in Sand Beige, Graphite or Black. The TRD only comes with the black faux-leather SofTex seats. The SR5 has a standard eight-way power driver’s seat. Limited models have leather interiors, with new ventilated front bucket seats in Sand Beige, Black, or the new Redwood shade.
The front seats are heated, with eight-way power-adjust with memory and lumbar support on the driver’s side, four-way power-adjust on the passenger side.
Also included is Entune Audio Plus, which features Toyota’s Entune multimedia system, an AM/FM/MP3 CD player with eight speakers, satellite radio, USB port for iPod/iPhone, and Bluetooth hands-free phone and music streaming.
Entune is a voice-activated multimedia system with mobile applications and data services. It connects the car to the Internet through a compatible smartphone, provided by the consumer. It hooks up by USB cable or a wireless Bluetooth link.
The system includes mobile apps for Bing, iHeartRadio, MovieTickets.com, OpenTable and Pandora. Also provided are such services as a fuel-price guide, sports scores, stocks, traffic and weather.
The 4Runner features an optional sliding rear cargo deck, designed for tailgate parties. It can hold up to 440 pounds. It comes with a "party mode" button that pumps up the bass of the audio system and sends the sound mostly to the rear speakers.
Among standard safety features are driver and front-passenger knee air bags, front seat-mounted side air bags, and roof-mounted side-curtain air bags for all three rows. There is also electronic stability control with rollover mitigation.
Extras on our test vehicle included roof rack cross bars ($185), an all-weather mat package ($200), and a cargo cover ($155). Total sticker price was $42,735, including freight.
The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1994. Contact him at email@example.com.
2015 Toyota 4Runner
The package: Midsize, four-door, V-6 powered, rear- or four-wheel-drive, five- or seven-passenger truck-based sport utility vehicle.
Highlights: The fifth generation of Toyota's truck-based midsize sport utility vehicle offers truck ruggedness and reliability in a package that combines great off-road capability with good on-road ride and handling. There also is a Lexus version, the GX 460, which comes only with a V-8 engine.
Negatives: Optional third seat is not roomy enough for full-size adults; five-speed transmission a bit dated.
Engine: 4.0-liter V-6.
Transmission: Five-speed automatic.
Power/torque: 270 HP./278 foot-pounds.
Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, antilock.
Electronic stability control: Standard.
Air bags: Front; front seat-mounted; side-curtain for all three rows; knee for both front seats.
Overall length: 190.2 inches (SR5); 191.3 (Trail and TRD Pro); 190.7 (Limited).
Curb weight: 4,400-4,805 pounds (TRD Pro: 4,789).
Cargo volume: 9.0 cubic feet (behind third seat); 47.2 cubic feet (third seat folded, no sliding cargo deck).
Towing capacity: 5,000 pounds.
Major competitors: Nissan Pathfinder, Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Land Rover LR4, Dodge Durango, Ford Explorer.
Fuel capacity/type: 23 gallons/unleaded regular.
EPA fuel economy: 17/22 (2WD); 17/21 (4WD).
Base price range: $33,210-$43,620, plus $885 freight.
Price as tested: $42,735, including freight and options (TRD Pro model).
On the Road rating: 9.3 (of a possible 10).
Prices shown are manufacturer's suggested retail; actual selling price may vary.