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Review: 2014 Toyota 4Runner Trail

Kamil Kaluski April 3, 2014 Featured, Reviews, Toyota Reviews 47 Comments

2014 toyota 4runner trail rear side stuck TEXT

Full ladder frame. 4-wheel drive system with a two-speed transfercase. Locking rear differential. Fancy traction control system with crawl control. Selectable terrain response system. Skid plates. Full-size spare tire. All of those are trademark items found on world’s best off-road 4×4 vehicles, such as this Land Cruiser Prado-based, 2014 Toyota 4Runner.

And yet there I was, technically not even off road, completely stuck in five inches of snow. Nothing designed to keep the Trail edition 4Runner moving forward worked.


All four wheels were just spinning, desperate to grab onto something that would allow them to overcome the low coefficient of friction between the tire, the wet snow, and the dirt under it. What finally did work was a tow truck which winched me out from about thirty feet away after two hours of waiting. It was a Sunday afternoon in Vermont, I guess I should be happy that it only took that long.

So what went wrong?

2014 toyota 4runner trail rear right side stuck

Attempts at freeing itself only dug the 4Runner in deeper

Getting stuck

I went onto a secondary road to take a picture of this truck with a background of a covered bridge. There was a street name and a posted 35mph speed limit. The road itself was not plowed but it did have plenty of tire marks and the snow was packed, or at least in seemed that way. I went a little further because my picture demanded it – it was really pretty.

I was driving very slowly to get the car into the spot I wanted when I noticed some wheel spin and the vehicle abruptly slowing down. The two right wheels were off the hard packed snow and into wet slushy snow, which didn’t look any different from my perspective, and the 4Runner came to a halt.

2014 toyota 4runner trail side

“No problem, I’ll just put it into 4WD and we’ll move right along”


“No problem, I’ll just put it into 4WD Low and lock the rear diff, and whamo, I’ll go through this like a tank”


“No problem, I’ll just move the Multi-terrain Select® knob into the picture of snow/mud, crawl control into low, and whamo, we’ll magically go forward”


No matter what I did, the four wheels would just spin, digging the vehicle in even deeper. Rocking did not help. Digging the snow around did not help. This would be a good time to point out that I grew up in the northeast and that I have driven many other, less capable, vehicles into much deeper snow, many times, without ever getting stuck. The whole thing was rather embarrassing but funny – an idiot with a fancy new truck stuck in a few inches of snow. What went wrong?

Two things:

  1. The driver. Perhaps I could have got a better look at this road. In the end, no vehicle will ever go a place that it has not been directed to. Then again, this was not some deep woods expedition into the unknown, a Subaru Outback easily went by me as I was waiting for my tow.
  2. The tires. This Trail edition 4Runner came equipped with Dunlop Grandtrek AT20 all-season highway tires. These tires get very poor marks on tirerack.com in all categories but ride and noise comfort. This is why they’re installed on this rig from the factory, to keep buyers from complaining about noise.

These Dunlops are very similar to the awful Bridgestone tires that were on the Infiniti QX80, which the 4Runner can also be equipped with from factory. I had similar poor winter experiences with these tires when I rented an FJ Cruiser, and Tim, too, cursed at them years ago. For reference, Jeep equips its Wrangler Rubicon, a vehicle that is a direct competitor to the 4Runner and the FJ Cruiser, with the  BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain T/As. Ford wraps BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KOs around Raptor’s wheels.

2014 toyota 4runner front side

The 4Runner Trail

With a high step-in height alone, the 4Runner will never be mistaken for a cute cross-over. Driving characteristics are also less car-like, which is to say good and without any noticeable ill side-effects over its CUV cousins, if perhaps a little more top heavy and more softly sprung. That is the only trade-off for a full-frame vehicle with enormous off-road ability when equipped with proper tires. It actually is fun to drive, giving its driver the comfort of not caring about winter ridden roads. Toyota will happily sell a RAV4 or a Highlander to those wanting a vehicle that looks like a 4Runner but drives like a Camry.

4Runner’s 4.0 liter DOHC aluminum V6 engine makes 270hp and 278lb-ft of torque in its upper RPM range. The gearing and the 5-speed automatic transmission programming always try keeping the engine speed below 2000rpm, where it seems to be the happiest. Keep things civil and the 4Runner is a smooth cruiser, start rushing things and you may want to reconsider your choice. The 4×4 4Runner is rated at 17mpg in the city and 22mpg on the highway. My real-world mixed driving number came out to about 19mpg, which is not much less than an average V6 CUV.

2014 toyota 4runner trail exterior details

For 2014 4Runner got a facelift, and I have yet to meet anyone who thinks it’s an improvement over the squarer 2010-2013 vehicle. The sports car-like headlights look as much out of place on this truck as the fake WRX-like hood scoop. The good news is that the rest of it remains handsomely utilitarian and square, with a useful roof rack, large doors, and big but slightly short windows.

Inside, the 4Runner feels like a truck and a bit old-school in a good way. There is no ignition button but rather a key operated ignition switch that is actually connected to a starter. It has a normal shifter and not one of those electronic joysticks, and an actual lever to engage 4WD. The dash consists of big basic gauges and large, almost cartoon-y, knobs and buttons. The infotainment/nav system is all inclusive and easy to use but the screen can be difficult to see it direct sunlight. Most enthusiasts will love this simple interior, others should just buy a Highlander.

2014 toyota 4runner interior details

Seats are comfortable, with high seating position but unfortunately limited headroom – at 6’2” my head was almost touching the liner. Rear bench splits 60:40 and folds flat. Unfortunately it does not slide, nor does it recline further back, which would be nice on longer trips. The big hatch has a roll down rear window, another old-school feature which is just fantastic. Once opened, it reveals a very big, especially tall, cargo area. There are a 12vDC and a 120vAC receptacles, cubbies, and full-size spare under the frame.

There was a time when all SUVs were just like the 4Runner. Over time most of these other vehicles softened up dramatically, to a point where they are nothing more than taller station wagons. The 4Runner has remained true to its roots however; it’s an incredibly capable machine (when outfitted with proper tires) that, if history is any indicator, will last a long time. I predict that very soon it, and the FJ Cruiser, will be sought-after much like the 80-series Land Cruiser is now. Personally, despite some criticism seen here, I love this vehicle and it is in my top five next purchases.


To get more pictures of the 4Runner, I took it to a local construction site. The area, which I know well, which is frequently used by common cars, is just dirt roads but due to recent rains it was muddy. I approached one mud puddle, no more than three inches deep, at around 15mph and continued through it with a steady throttle. Like the time in the snow, I was in 2WD with all settings in default positions. In the middle of a large puddle the vehicle began to slow down, almost stopping. My foot was on the throttle the whole time. I realized that it was the traction control applying brakes and cutting engine power due to slipping rear wheels. The exact same sequence of events occurred on the snow covered road, except there the vehicle lost enough momentum to come to a stop.

At the 2014 Chicago Auto Show, Toyota announced that they will be making a line of TRD Pro 4Runners, Tacomas, and Tundras. These 4x4s will come with upgraded (raised) suspension systems, exhausts, skids plates, badges, and upgraded tires! The tire of choice for the Tacoma, and hopefully 4Runner, is… drum roll… the BFGoodrich All Terrain KO!

That leaves just one problem…

2014 toyota 4runner trail front

Disclaimer: Toyota provided the vehicle for the purpose of this review. I returned it washed and with a full tank of gas.

[Images: copyright 2014 Hooniverse/Kamil Kaluski and Toyota (interior pictures)]

  • CherokeeOwner

    I say this as someone with rather mild All-Terrain tires on their 2000 Jeep Cherokee: Very rarely is it the tires giving you a problem unless they're balding or bald.

    Honestly, you were simply impatient and you were using the wrong technique. It's not, "Throw it in Four Wheel Drive and Hit the Gas like a BAMF!" You got to rock it back and forth in 4-Hi; forward, goose it a little, reverse, goose it a little, don't spin the tires, repeat. This flattens out the snow and gives you room, and this takes time. That's how you get out.

    There will be times where you'll high-center. You might need a tow for that, but if you got a shovel, you can probably get out without help.

    • I Think Not

      Bit presumptuous, don'tcha think?

      No matter what I did, the four wheels would just spin, digging the vehicle in even deeper. Rocking did not help. Digging the snow around did not help. This would be a good time to point out that I grew up in the northeast and that I have driven many other, less capable, vehicles into much deeper snow, many times, without ever getting stuck.

      • Scandinavian Flick ★

        Not even presumptuous. Just completely missed that part, I guess…

        That said, I drove a '95 Ford Exploder Eddie Bauer edition through snow up to the windows. Stopped multiple times. Nailed the gas in 4WD low, and it powered right out of it. This is pretty sad for the 'runner…

        • CherokeeOwner

          Yeah, apparently my reading comprehension disappeared this morning. Sorry about sounding like an A-Hole know-it-all.

        • Alff

          I can totally see how this happened. A couple of winters ago I got my half-ton Dodge 4×4 stuck in the backyard in about the same amount of snow, over grass. The old BFG Long Trail T/As (pure road tires) were completely useless. The truck didn't move until the snow melted three weeks later.


      It's not the fact that they're mild AT's, it's this specific tire. I did some research on these as there were multiple sets very cheap on CL when my dad was looking for a set of tires for his Dakota. Universally bad reviews. Every forum I went on said that the AT20s were damn near useless at anything beyond going down the road and wearing like diamonds. They were UNIVERSALLY panned in even mild off-road/snow performance. The problem seems to be that the tread packs up VERY easily and basically doesn't do any self clearing at all, very quickly turning into useless gumballs.

      • That's pretty much what happened. Look at the last pic, look how the mud perfectly filled in all the thread.

  • Kamil

    I did do all that.

    • Remember when the Ford got stuck, The Chev got stuck, then the Chev got unstuck when the Dodge showed up, but the Dodge got stuck in the tractor rut (which eventually pulled out the Ford)? 2 sacks of Canola seed fixed that all up. Then there's my favorite solution, The Board With The Nails In It. But 4Runners don't come from the factory with either of those, do they?

      (Not embedding video since I used it in a comment last week already.)

  • The driver. …In the end, no vehicle will ever go a place that it has not been directed to.

    Yes, but as you said later, it was also the traction control following an algorithm that didn't yield an acceptable result. In soft snow. You may have been captain of the vessel, but your oarsmen were nincompoops.

    A nimble little Subaru with metal studded snows can do a lot of things a wallowing behemoth like the 4Runner can't. So can a dirtbike.

    But you're right, wrong tires will stop everything in its tracks.

    [youtube s2-LEBc2sO8 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s2-LEBc2sO8 youtube]

  • Feds_II

    I sympathize. I tried to pull my boat out of the back yard in the 5000 lb, 31" tall-General-Grabber-AT2-tired Delica and got hung up when the front cross member met a particularly thick patch of snow bank. 17' long van stuck on a 25' long patch of snow. Had to dig it out over the course of about an hour. Same van that earlier in the year went through bumper-deep snow for about a mile with no issue.

    Some days you're the windshield, some days you're the bug.

  • PotbellyJoe ❤❤❤❤♡

    The problem is that you had the 4Runner Trail. Had you brought the 4Runner Snow, all of this could have been averted.

    • Neen85

      Maybe it was the Limited version?

  • jeepjeff

    The moment I hit soft stuff, I put my Jeep in 4Hi. That way it's on when I actually need it. Also: before needing to get out and dig, in that little snow, you should be able to get the front tires spinning in 4hi and saw the steering wheel back and forth. That can work to dig you down to where you can get some bite. Otherwise, you'll need to dig yourself out or otherwise enhance your traction on one axle (since I'm normally dealing with deep snow when I get stuck, tossing chains on the front wheels is usually the quickest way out of a jam).

    However, to go with those tires, Toyota should put a complementary brown-paper bag in the glovebox. So you have something to put on your head when you get stuck in 5" of snow. My Cooper Discoverer A/T3s are no louder than the Michelin LT4s that were on there previously (and were nice highway tires). There are good, quiet A/T tires out there. They could do a lot better. It is telling about who they expect to be buying these new.

    • Drzhivago138

      I suppose you could use my father's method. Put the F-150 and F-350 in 4×4 on the first snow day and don't take 'em out of 4×4 until April. Sure, the MPG suffers, but they're both registered farm vehicles, so it's all a tax write-off anyway,

      • jeepjeff

        Even at 6000', California tends to have have long dry spells where the roads clear back up (even during the most furious winters). So, in practice I've never done this. However, during the storm cycles, yeah, I'd always drive in 4Hi. Yeah, gas mileage suffers but traction (and it's fun, the truck transforms when I pull the lever).

  • Craig

    It's not the truck, it's those crappy tires. Even with the most sophisticated off-road modes and higher ground clearance…low traction situations combined with tires designed for highway (low resistance/noise) are the problem. One snowstorm up in Canada, I took Mom's A6 avant to an empty lot for some fun. It had proper winter tires and I had no problem plowing a low awd wagon through almost 2' of virgin snow…until I briefly stopped. After 5 minutes of rocking it back and forth, I was back in business. Tires are everything.

  • Your photoshop skills are unrivaled. Nicely done. Tires…tires…tires. Never, ever compromise for less when better works so much…better.

  • Scandinavian Flick ★

    I have to wonder if these are the tires they normally package the "Trail" edition with, or if they figure reviewers aren't going to test its off-road capabilities anyway, so they would rather you didn't ding them for NVH.

    • PotbellyJoe ❤❤❤❤♡

      According to tirerack, the OE for the Trail is these Dunlops or Bridgestone Duelers. So yeah, these are factory tires.

      • Scandinavian Flick ★

        Huh… well then…

        Then again, TireRack also says the wheels that are currently on my car… don't fit my car.

        • PotbellyJoe ❤❤❤❤♡

          Having sold Toyotas in my past life, I remember that most of the trucks and SUVs were Dunlops or Bridgestones. The Land Cruiser was the only one that would occasionally see Michelins. So It's probably the right tires.

          The TRD Off-Road (locking rear) Tacoma had BFs, but the TRD Sport (LSD) had Dunlops.

          Toyota was weird.

  • I put my mom's 4Runner into 4WD in the snow once. Once. (This was a classic, pop-top, live axle 22R truck.)

    I tried to go around the rotary in Powderhouse Square, Somerville, MA thinking I'm all tough in my 4WD. What I found out 4WD does is break all 4 wheels loose instead of the usual two rear ones (this was before my SAAB), ensuring that you lose both steerage and traction. Pfft! (The SAAB, it should be noted, would take that rotary at rally speeds with 195 mm Semperit studded snows on the front.)

    Mom and I would dutifully put the Toy in 4WD every couple of months because knowledgeable folks had told us that was preventative maintenance, and Mom went on to buy another 4Runner or two, and a Jeep Cherokee, and now a Subaru… but the both of us are damned if we can figure out what the hell good that 4WD system is.

    • jeepjeff

      I can tell you what good my transfer case is. I lived in the Northwoods neighborhood in Truckee for a winter. The main access to the loop has an 11% grade. I got stuck on it once when the roads were mostly clear and I left my Jeep in 2Hi (not terribly stuck, pulling the lever got me out). Another time, there was an idiot in a beater, RWD Nissan Hardbody with bad tires trying to get up that hill with 2" of packed ice and snow. He was doing around 12mph and his rear end was fishtailing through about a 120° arc with a nice regular frequency. It seemed unsafe to remain behind him. In 4Hi and 2nd gear I was able to easily accelerate up that 11% grade and pass him.

      That said, yeah, don't out drive your 4×4. Spinning out is much more entertaining (thus spake the man with a short wheel base 4×4). The locals in Truckee sneer at spun and stuck 4x4s (particularly those of the tourists who bought a Lexus they don't know how to drive).

    • Feds_II

      This is where we get into the difference between AWD(open/limited slip centre diff) and 4WD (locked centre diff) become important. My first 4×4 was a '98 Pathfinder with 4WD only. Handling SUCKED. You could carry a little more speed, but once you broke traction it was like the physics problem where you cut the string on the rock you are swinging around your head (<- which now that I've typed that sentence, I realize that problem, and it's associated diagram may not be totally familiar to the general reader of this comment).

      Suffice it to say that once you broke traction, you would immediately slide for the outside of the curve. No oversteer, no understeer, just POOM, into the rhubarb.

      The Delica has a selectable centre diff (equivalent to Jeep's Selec-Trac). In 4-hi, I have a viscous limited slip on the centre diff. It makes it handle snow like a rally car: Tail out, but front wheels pulling to keep you in line. 4-hi-loc is just like the Pathfinder: Break traction and head for the weeds.

      Point being, my experience tells me that unless you are on totally unimproved (i.e. mud) roads or worse, you're better off with an open/limited slip centre diff.

  • Alff

    Why would a lumberjack wear loafers?

  • Most stuck I ever got in any vehicle ever was a Z4 3.0 SI axle deep in mud. After all the usual forward, backward, bouncing techniques, TCS on, TCS off, I eventually got impatient and nailed it. Didn't work.

    It was spectacular, though. And I'll add that getting mud out of a BMW Professional Navigation screen is hard.

  • Nuclearspork

    Really when it comes down to it, it doesn't matter how much power you have, what kind of suspension you had, how many or which wheels get the power.

    If you tires suck your stuck.

  • Post-2010 4Runner is at the top of my list for The_Missus's next car.

    Unfortunate detail: the Trail cannot be had with the rear 3rd row seats, which is a requirement if I'm buying a big SUV like that.

    Luckily, for the price of a trail you can start with a base model and add suspension, a rear locker, armor and a decent set of tires.

    • Have we met? Cuz you and I think alike too often.

    • PotbellyJoe ❤❤❤❤♡

      Have you seen the 3rd row in the 4Runner? If your kids have legs that aren't made of thumbs, they won't fit.

  • rustylink

    Some Toyota Exec. is hating your ass about now….

    • For being honest? For saying that I really like this truck? For saying that I really want to buy one?

      I don't think so.

  • mr smee

    I drive a Lexus GS and a Cressida where we get 6-mo of snow on the ground (Alberta). TIres are the key. I run Michelin Xice3, I've been stuck 3-4 times in 3-years. Only once was it due to the snow, about 8-9 inches once, the times were bad judgement. BUt, I've driven past many, many AWD/FWD/ 4X4 vehicles in the ditch.

  • Dave

    It's not the wand, it's the magician!
    -You should have tried turning off VSC as the ABS can prevent you from rocking the truck back and forth. RTFM to see how to do this. Old time Vermonters will also tell you to let 5-10 psi out of your tires and take it out of auto drive and put in first gear. I have the same tires on my 2014 T4R SR5, drive to vermont reguarly and never had a problem.
    BTW- the rear bench seats do recline and are split 40/20/40 as the center armrest folds down to allow you to put your skis through the middle.

  • Stefan

    Deflate the tires a lot, then rock.

  • fester

    i'm still missing the point. reviewer drives a vehicle with all season tires into snow and gets stuck. what is the story here again?

  • mechimike

    I put my F350 into mud this winter, got out, and watched all four tires hopelessly clawing at the ground. Brand new A/T tires all around.

    I think the 8,000 pound trailer I had hitched to it may have been the problem.

  • mac350

    Back in Germany a long, long time ago we got one of our 5 ton 6x6s stuck in some icy mud.
    <img src="http://shop.wanamakerguns.com/images/m54.jpg&quot; width="600">
    Luckily we had one of these sitting around doing nothing and used it to pull it out. Everybody should have a spare M109 as a chase vehicle.
    <img src="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/bc/M109_self_propelled_howitzer-back_right_ID_DM-SN-93-00866.JPEG&quot; width="600">

  • Rod

    Driving a vehicle with tires like these into even moderately deep snow is asking for trouble. Anyone who has lived in a snowy climate for even one year, and still has "smoothies" like this on their vehicle is not thinking clearly. 4 wheel drive is useless without traction. All it does is dig you deeper. Yet, for some reason, anyone who modifies their vehicle with even a moderate lift, to prevent getting hung up, is accused of being penis impaired. P.S. This vehicle is double ugly.

  • C³-Cool Cadillac Cat

    …in all categories but ride and noise comfort. This is why they’re installed on this rig from the factory, to keep buyers from complaining about noise.

    The noise is why My Lovely Wife wants street-only tires on her AWD RX300.

    I put BFG A/Ts on it, last time around. Yeah, they hum pretty good.

    Meh. The BFGs'll go on the new-to-me '98 ZJ 5.9L. These vehicles, surprisingly, have identical OEM tire sizes.

    Still, I really want to take her RX out for some serious mudding, just to freak people out. The AWD in that tall Camry wagon impressed the hell out of me doing some near rock-crawling in CO. Had one rear wheel a solid foot in the air, not a problem.

    Though, I thought I heard very angry shouting in Japanese from a distance.

    Pro tip: If you even think you're going to require 4WD in a section of earth, engage it plenty of time before you get to it. Once you start losing traction, you're hosed.

    edit: I've had a Quadra-Trac ZJ, before, but during an ice storm a few months back, I took mine out to the local, lightly used, traffic circle, once I thawed it long enough to get in.

    I forgot what true 4WD 'drifting' was like. You'd be amazed at how exciting 4 MPH can be when the coefficient of friction is effectively -0-. Helping this was the tires on the ZJ are round and hold air…that's it. Will swap out shoes after I do some much needed suspension bush and steering part replacement.

    This truck had the original cap/rotor/wires/PLUGS when I bought it…with 163K miles on it. I am baffled as to how it ran with a plug gap twice that of spec'd, due solely to electrode wear.

    • fester

      better have that tow truck on speed dial. AWD and mud still does not mean your a bad ass. even a subaru can only handle mild amounts of mud, and it is far more capable than a RX300.

  • Joe

    Trust me it's the tires! I bought the exact truck down to the color. I sold the tires after 400 miles on them. They were useless on anything but dry level pavement. I now have real a/t's on it and the truck is very capable on and off road. You can be the best driver in the world but street tires will only get you so far in wet snow. The truck is great. Dunlops were junk!

  • John Erle

    I drive a 2010 SR5. Ive had it burried in 24" of snow. Did not get stuck once. Stopped in it to see what would happen. No problems. The truck was brand new then, not even 500 miles. Was rightfully given the nickname, forcefield.

  • Matt Neverstuck

    Yep. Better tires would have gotten you out. Also, airing down your tires likely would have done it. It's amazing how much of an impact it can have if you air down to 8 or 10 PSI in all tires. Top up the air again as soon as possible of course.

  • I just drove through the worst month of snow New England has ever seen, 100 inches total, in the same exact truck, with the same exact tires, in the same color even. If you’re getting stuck, it’s not the trucks fault…although in all fairness, the stock tires are terrible.