In a way, you could call this A Tale of Two 4Runners. Toyota was kind enough to loan us two 2010 4Runners: a Limited and a Trail. We’ll get to the Trail tomorrow, but today we’re focusing on the Limited. The Limited is what we’ve come to know and expect from SUVs: an oversized truck based vehicle with luxury interiors and no real expectation of offroad capability. Of course, if you need to transport five adults and a ton of gear while towing, this is still a pretty dang good option.
The first thing people do upon seeing the 4Runner is comment on its size. It’s as big as could be without qualifying as a full-size SUV. It weighs 4800lbs. For reference, it’s exactly the same size as a ’90s FJ80. I can tell you this because I parked it next to one.
Both our Limited and Trail featured a 4.0L V6 making 270hp at 5600rpm and 278lb-ft at 4400rpm, combined with a five speed automatic. The combination felt diesel-like in its ability to jump off the line with low-end torque, but had nearly no use for the rev range beyond 3,500rpm. The transmission seemed dedicated to keeping revs as low as possible (coughCAFEcough), but thankfully featured a manumatic gate for the hefty shifter. Stop and go traffic goes more smoothly when you can get some engine braking in second gear, rather than fourth (the transmission’s preference).
The Limited features full time all wheel drive, the main byproduct of which is a hint of torque-steer through the steering wheel when accelerating and turning at the same time. In a vehicle already equipped with traction control and selectable 4wd, it feels like a lousy reason to give up 1-2 mpg over a part time system.
Overall, the interior is well laid out and functional. The increased size over
everything previous generations leaves room for five full grown adults and their gear. The front seats are comfy and supportive and the rear seats recline. The rear cargo floor slides out to eliminate the need to lean over the protruding rear bumper. Back up front, the driver’s well taken care of. The gauges are clear and all the controls fall easily to hand. I could easily see myself covering a lot of miles from that helm.
The touchscreen infotainment center gets a solid B minus. Positives include great sound, a highly legible screen and the best vehicular knobs I’ve ever laid my hands on. Unfortunately the minuses get annoying fast. When in satellite radio mode, the layout is a study in displaying as little information in as much space as possible. The screen only displays 6 station presets at once, and requires you to go to a separate screen to see a song’s details. Once there, the details are truncated to the first few characters of info. Super annoying. A second gripe involves the navigation map. Some things that look like on-screen buttons aren’t, so attempts to touch them result in the map re-centering and no longer following along as you move. Provided the awesome knobs come with the base stereo, the nav unit’s skippable.
We must spend a minute on one particular feature of the 4Runner’s stereo: the Party Mode button. The Party Mode button isn’t even on the stereo, it’s on the under-dash right by the driver’s knee. What could it possibly do?, I wondered. Does it re-tune the suspension to respond with the music volume? Flash the interior lights with the beat? No. After consulting the manual, I learned it fades the stereo volume all the way back to the tailgate speakers. This sounded like the stupidest thing ever, right up until the BBQ at my brother’s house when we used the 4Runner as a mobile satellite radio boombox.
In many ways, this is a perfect SUV. For 2003. Seven years ago, gas was cheaper, the “tough” SUV image was in and consumers were willing to put up with truck-like handling while never actually going off road. With that use model, the 4Runner Limited is truly a great contender. However, in the intervening years most buyers found that car-based crossovers provide the cargo room and tall seating position they prefer, while delivering superior mileage, ride and handling. Why these consumers prefer a tall-riding fat wagon over a proper sport wagon is beyond us, but beside the point.
The remaining buyers of “real” SUVs buy them for towing or offroading capabilities. If that’s the case, the Limited is certainly capable of towing, but with a 5,000lb capacity and so-so power numbers it would likely be skipped over for bigger, V8 powered hardware. With 20 inch wheels wrapped in street tires and assorted body-painted hangy-downy bits, offroad activities beyond a basic dirt road are largely out of the question. The 4Runner Limited may well be the perfect answer to a question no one’s asking anymore.
Luckily, this is only Part One…