Yesterday we covered the aptly named 4Runner Limited, finding it to be roomy and pleasant, but largely devoid of the capability to justify its purchase over a crossover or wagon. We’ve got good news: the Trail is just as aptly named, with a host of features specifically engineered for hitting the dirt. Our tester came equipped with a offroad-tuned traction control, Crawl Control, the Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System and the killer app of offroading: a rear locking differential. We needed to see if the assorted driver aide systems actually worked in the real world, so we hit the trail in the Trail (“yo dawg…”) and brought my ’00 Wrangler along for support.
Compared to yesterday’s Limited, the Trail trades 20 inch wheels for 17s, leather for cloth and knob-activated full time 4wd for a part time system controlled by a lever that’s actually attached to the transfer case. We preferred the Trail across the board. The cloth seats gripped better and felt less hard, the 17s eliminated some road harshness, and the part time 4wd felt less draggy and netted us a couple mpg more (20 Vs 18). Getting to watch a transfer case lever dance around as you torque the engine is a great novelty these days.
Traction control is controlled by the mutli-terrain selector dial. In high-range 4wd, all but the lowest of four trail “gnarliness” settings are locked out. In 4-low you can activate the upper three, which culminate in “Rock”. They all work. There’s no annoying ABS intrusion, annoying beeping or any other distractions. Further evidence of success: turning everything off resulted in a more herky-jerky, wheel-spinny experience.
Many serious offroaders equip their rigs with sway-bar disconnects, allowing for increased suspension travel offroad. Chrysler even has OEM versions of this for the Wrangler Rubicon and Power Wagon. Toyota’s KDSS (we prefer the acronym to the super-redundant full name) offers a less binary, more nuanced approach. One of the attachment points of both the front and rear swaybars has been replaced by a hydraulic cylinder. These two cylinders are linked through a valve buried under the car. KDSS takes inputs from a number of sensors and meters fluid through the valve accordingly, loosening up when you’re crawling and gradually tightening up as speed increases. Like the traction control, it works. Slow, medium or fast, the 4Runner was predictable and capable.
‘Wheeling in an automatic is a pain. Rather than crawl steadily over obstacles, the torque converter slips until you give it enough gas to lurch forward and slam something expensive into something hard. Downhills are no fun without adequate engine braking. To combat this, Toyota’s come to their senses and
offered us a manual transmission created Crawl Control. Once enabled, it modulates the throttle and brakes to keep you creeping along at integer speeds from one to five mph. No pedal inputs from the driver are required (unless you’d like to stop). It works, but it’s weird. There’s a constant chattering coming out of the ABS system as it fires the brakes to keep things in check. Once I got over the sound, hill descents went from being a brake-stomping harrowing affair to a walk (crawl?) in the park.
Toyota got three complicated things right, but three very simple things wrong. Two are easily fixed. Do you remember the BFG Mud Terrains and rock rails pictured in the 4Runner’s PR material? Those would’ve been nice to have on our tester. Instead I spent undue time checking and re-checking rocker clearance and stressing about the sidewalls on the weak-ass street tires. Luckily, the aftermarket is your friend on those two.
Unfortunately, the third problem’s completely unfixable: this thing is wide. Width, tight trails and a loaned vehicle combine to make stress. In one tight section of trail I had to get in and out through the window, as there was no room to open the door. This is the price one pays for having a four door SUV that can seat five full size people comfortably.
Now would be an easy time to delve into a nostalgiagasm about the first generation two-door 4Runner. Its clean lines and trim proportions are easy to appreciate. Unfortunately, those trim proportions get cramped when more than two people and their gear enter the picture. While the 22RE four-cylinder earned a reputation for incredible reliability, its 112hp and 142ft-lb got old fast. And I should know, I owned two. The truth of the matter is that the market’s moved on. Given their primary purpose as people-haulers, four door SUVs with enough room for all the people they’re intended to haul sell better than vehicles that cause fights over who has to ride in the back. This matters to the people most seriously considering dropping roughly $42 grand on a new SUV.
In Trail guise, we genuinely like the 2010 4Runner. It has the feel of a vehicle that could do 10 years of family truckster duty, tackling whatever you could throw at it (or throw it at, in the case of the front skid plate on our tester). It offers very real offroad capability in a package that works for the whole family.