2014 Toyota 4Runner 4WD

2014 Toyota 4Runner 4WD 2014 Toyota 4Runner 4WD
Instrumented Test

When Toyota introduced its 4Runner in 1984, it was on the leading edge of what became known as the SUV craze. Thirty years later, with the heyday of the SUV shrinking in our rearview mirror, competitors such as the Ford Explorer and Nissan Pathfinder have abandoned the “put a wagon body on a pickup-truck chassis” formula to embrace modern, car-based, crossover paradigms.

Not the 4Runner, though. Toyota simply refreshed the model for 2014 with face-lifted sheetmetal and an updated interior, carrying forward the same body-on-frame platform and 4.0-liter V-6 with five-speed automatic drivetrain in use since the fifth-generation was introduced in 2009. The platform, which also provides the mechanical underpinnings of the Tacoma pickup and the FJ Cruiser, provides credible off-road prowess and comfortable around-town utility. Unlike many of the “me too” SUVs of the 1990s, the 4Runner was embraced by serious off-road adventurers who might otherwise have shopped at Jeep or Land Rover stores. If towing is your primary interest, the 4Runner can manage up to 5000 pounds, beyond which you should be shopping one of several larger trucks equipped with a V-8.

Tale of Two 4Runners

We tested two of the new 4Runners, one in the top-peg Limited trim level and the other outfitted in the more rugged Trail togs. Significant differences: Starting at $39,505, the Trail has manually operated, part-time four-wheel drive with a proper transfer-case lever atop the trans tunnel; the $44,260 Limited has a full-time, fully electronic four-wheel-drive system operated by a dashboard dial. The Trail has manually controlled A/C and heating; the Limited has automatic climate control. The Trail runs 17-inch wheels with dirt-biting 70-section Bridgestone Dueler tires versus the 20-inch chrome bedazzlers that decorate the Limited’s wheel wells, clad in 60-section Yokohama Geolanders.

Both share hill-start-assist control, which prevents a backward roll when starting on an incline, and downhill-assist control that lets you choose your descent speed. Active traction control (what Toyota calls A-Trac), on all four-wheel-drive models, can distribute all torque to any single wheel that has the most traction. The Trail’s system, though, lets you disengage 4WD entirely and run in rear-drive mode, has a standard electronic locking rear differential, and adds crawl control that lets you set one of five forward or reverse speeds so you can focus on steering over challenging surfaces. The Trail has Multi-terrain Select, which adjusts wheel-slip (traction) control measures so there’s more slip allowed in, say, sand or mud.

The revised face for 2014 (a taller hood, a bigger grille, and an angular headlight design with projector beams rather than halogens) is executed in body color for the Trail, whereas the Limited gets chrome plating on the grille and bumper. Shiny stuff also accents the Limited’s side moldings, roof rack, and rear bumper. Now that the hip-hop­-influenced Urban Runner model Toyota offered in 2009 has mercifully run its course, the only other 4Runner today is the SR5, a base model that in $35,555 4WD guise offers the same part-time four-wheel-drive system as in the Trail.

Off-Roading on Pavement

We didn’t get a chance to do serious off-roading this time around, unless you count Michigan’s winter-ravaged pavement and a bit of late-season snow. A pity, since our Trail had the optional ($1750) Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS) that disengages the anti-roll bars to enhance suspension travel in extreme conditions. We’ve previously found this to be a useful addition off-road. It operates on its own volition, so we couldn’t be entirely sure, but we suspect KDSS helped out the ride quality over some of the worst potholed pavement, where the Trail did less crashing and banging than did the Limited. With running boards ($345) and carpeted floor and cargo mats ($225), the sticker price on our Trail was $41,825.

The priciest option on the Limited was the $1500 automated running boards, which we almost never deployed, followed by the $395 special Blizzard Pearl paint—that’d be white, only a little more special than you might find on your Whirlpool appliances. Oddly, you still pay $225 for carpeted mats in a Limited, so the bottom line was $46,380. The Limited comes standard with the X-REAS suspension and electronically adjusting shocks, cross-linked to manage roll and ride over rough surfaces. Compared with the KDSS-equipped Trail model, the Limited felt better at managing roll but less adept over the roughest pavement we found.

Both trucks share interior upgrades for 2014. On the Trail, these include soft-touch door trim and leather cladding for the steering wheel and shift knob, and an overhead console organizes the control switches for off-road functions. The Limited has standard leather trim with new ventilated-and-heated seats and new memory settings for the passenger-side chair. The most obvious interior change, though, is yet another application of Toyota’s Entune audio-infotainment system on the center display.

The Thread of Different Treads

Over the road, we actually preferred the ride quality and driving experience of the supposedly more “rugged” Trail edition. The Limited felt more ponderous and heavy, although the scales show the difference is only 65 pounds. Perhaps it was the full-time 4WD system’s fault, or a consequence of the big wheels, but the steering felt overly heavy, and the truck was less responsive at speed, so much so that we found ourselves double-checking that we had released the parking brake. (We had.) At the track, the stopwatch belied those impressions. The Trail ran to 60 mph in 7.6 seconds, and the Limited took 7.5. There was only 0.1 second between them after a quarter-mile, when both trucks were doing 89 mph. A 10th isn’t really significant, and even if it were, it might be attributable to the Limited’s tires being more suited to on-pavement launches than are the Trail’s Duelers. The difference in grip should also explain why the Trail took 187 feet to stop from 70 mph and the Limited did the deed in 179 feet.

In any case, the track performance was on par with what we measured in the pre-refresh models; no surprise given that nothing big has changed. Weather precluded skidpad testing in the Limited; the Trail cornered at 0.71 g, and we suspect the Limited would have done a bit better, given the Geolander’s traction advantage on dry pavement. Trucks that weigh more than 4750 pounds are no one’s choice for fuel efficiency, of course, and even guidance from the glowing green eco light on the dash (same as you’d find in a Corolla) didn’t help us beat 17 mpg in real-world driving.

In the end, these 4Runners felt more different than you’d expect. Driving the Limited was like a throwback to the ’90s and the peak era of SUV-as-luxury-statement, despite a few modern touches. The Trail seemed nimbler and more likely to satisfy those drivers whose lifestyles really do involve the extreme conditions that pretenders only dream about. Fortunately for Toyota, 4Runner loyalty runs deep. Today, customers who want a real truck-based SUV for what it can do will be glad to know there are still a few available; those who were buying into the image have moved on.