Rugged Appearances Aside, Crossovers Make a Smarter Choice
Mark Takahashi , Associate Editor
The Toyota 4Runner is best known as a go-anywhere, do-everything SUV. But that definition only holds true for the four-wheel-drive models with the accompanying off-road equipment. What about the two-wheel-drive models? Our rear-drive 2010 Toyota 4Runner SR5 test vehicle has the rugged look of its adventurous brethren, but lacks the off-road capabilities. In this form, it has to compete against a host of car-based crossovers that are more adept at city driving than the 4Runner. And that's where its shortcomings become obvious.
In this class, even Toyota's own Highlander seems a better choice, with better road manners and more interior space. Additionally, the Chevrolet Traverse and Ford Flex trump the 4Runner in these regards. It seems the only direct competitors with truck underpinnings come in the form of the Ford Explorer, Jeep Grand Cherokee and Nissan Pathfinder. Similarly equipped, these traditional body-on-frame SUVs are also outdone by the aforementioned crossovers.
Buyers who are loyal to the 4Runner name benefit from the SUV's 2010 redesign. New, aggressive sheet metal and an updated interior represent the most immediate rewards. Underneath, the new 4Runner is based on Toyota's robust FJ Cruiser, but last year's V8 option is no more. However, the 2010's V6 engine does make a bit more horsepower with better fuel economy to boot, though torque drops 28 pound-feet to 278. Still, all things considered, we would steer anyone considering a non-off-roading 4Runner toward a more road-friendly crossover.
Our rear-wheel-drive-only 2010 Toyota 4Runner SR5 test vehicle was powered by a 4.0-liter V6. Output for that engine is rated at 270 horsepower and 278 lb-ft of torque and is routed through a five-speed automatic transmission with manual shift control. Towing capacity tops out at 5,000 pounds for all V6-powered models.
In instrumented testing, the 4Runner accelerated from a standstill to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds and came to a stop from that speed in 122 feet. These figures are just about average among competing SUVs, as is the 4Runner's fuel economy. The EPA estimates 17/23 mpg in city/highway conditions and 19 mpg in combined driving. Under our aggressive right feet, however, we only managed 16.3 mpg in mostly city driving.
Handling, on the other hand, proved to be decidedly less accomplished than the competition. The 4Runner weaved through our slalom at a leisurely 58.4 mph and circled our skid pad at a 0.73g maximum. Our test-driver commented that the stability control was far too intrusive, causing the vehicle to go straight rather than trying to stay on the intended course, rendering steering ineffective at the limit. Observers also witnessed the inside front tire lifting off the pavement on the skid pad.
Far below its limits, in everyday driving, we found the 4Runner pleasant to drive. The steering felt rather disconnected and uncommunicative, but the light effort made low-speed parking lot maneuvers easy. The brakes felt spongy with an excess of pedal travel, but once engaged, were both linear and effective, while gearchanges were executed quickly and smoothly.
Rolling down the highway, the 2010 Toyota 4Runner is surprisingly smooth and comfortable, with only a hint of body-on-frame bounce. Wind noise at speed is almost nonexistent, while road noise is detectable but in no way intrusive. The front seats are fairly upright and well padded for hours of fatigue-free touring. Likewise, the rear seats offer plenty of room for adults and also recline for even more comfort. Except for an odd creaking emanating from the driver seat lumbar support, our 4Runner's cabin was pleasantly silent.
As with most high-profile vehicles, the Toyota 4Runner affords an expansive outward view. Rearward visibility is slightly hampered by thick roof pillars, but not enough to necessitate a rearview camera. Gauges and readouts are well placed within the driver's sight lines, but the patterned gray instrument panel faces with orange markers are a bit hard to read in some daylight conditions.
Control knobs and buttons are also well placed and logically situated. Climate controls consist of a traditional three-dial layout with oversized knobs for a beefy appearance and ease of use if you happen to be wearing gloves. The stereo knobs also feature a simple-to-use design, but we found ourselves wanting a larger, more legible display screen. The sound quality itself was decent, but not impressive. Tailgate partygoers will appreciate the system's Party Mode, which directs most of the sound to the rear speakers and increases bass response for a thumpin' good time.
Interior storage is impressive, with a capacious center armrest bin and other pockets. Cupholders feature a grippy rubber insert that keeps large beverages firmly anchored. For super-sized containers, these inserts can be removed. Cargo space is above average when compared to that of competing vehicles, with 47.2 cubic feet available behind the second-row seats. Folding the 60/40-split seats will present 89.7 cubic feet with a fairly flat load floor and upright walls to accommodate bulky items. Those with the smallest of passengers will be glad to know the rear seats can easily accept a rear-facing child seat without intruding on front-seat space.
Design/Fit and Finish
Much like its interior design, the 2010 Toyota 4Runner's exterior is blocky and industrial, to convey a rugged and solid demeanor. There is an abundance of hard plastics throughout the cabin, which is typical for SUVs with a heavier utilitarian slant, but most driver-to-car contact points are lightly padded. We found the large control knobs visually pleasing but wobbly to the touch. Overall, though, the cabin was well assembled, with consistent and tight fitment of panels.
Who should consider this vehicle
Given that our 2010 Toyota 4Runner SR5 test vehicle was configured in rear-wheel-drive form, we find it difficult to give it the edge over more comfortable and similarly capable crossover SUVs. Even Toyota's own Highlander represents a more enticing choice with better performance, fuel economy, a larger cargo capacity and a more carlike ride. As family haulers, the Chevrolet Traverse and Ford Flex also edge out the 4Runner in terms of drivability and space.
One of the 4Runner's great claims to fame is its off-road ability, but rear-drive-only models are limited to the lightest of soft-roading. If you plan on any degree of rugged terrain, we suggest the highly capable 4WD variant, which leads other competitors that include the Ford Explorer and Nissan Pathfinder.
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