Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: April 3, 2018
It’s only when you start paying attention do you realize how many Toyota 4Runners there are on the road. They’re everywhere and for every Starbucks I seem to pass, I’m bound to see at least one or two. How did these 4Runners, or what I like to call Japanese Land Rovers, get so popular?
I’m driving around midtown Toronto in a bright blue 2018 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro designed by Papa Smurf, and wondering why anyone would want this large and boxy body-on-frame SUV that only seats five passengers, has a measly five-speed transmission that translates into poor fuel economy, is low on power, lacks any sort of modern technology like keyless entry, push button start, adaptive cruise control, or even automatic air conditioning, and carries a $50,000 price tag. What gives?
Well it turns out that you can’t just look at the 4Runner’s ingredients and come to a conclusion. After spending a week with this off-roading relic, it seems to be more than the sum of its parts, and I came away charmed and attracted by its honest attitude and humble beginnings. It doesn’t offer the best performance or the best comfort in its class, but it does give away the same kind of appeal that draws enthusiasts to purpose-built icons like the Land Rover Defender, Toyota FJ Cruiser, or Mercedes-Benz G-Wagon. There’s just something about its imposing and go-anywhere personality that seems to tugs at the heartstrings of many despite its noticeable shortcomings.
The 4Runner comes in four trims in Canada: SR5 ($45,440), Limited ($50,855), TRD Off-road ($47,780), and TRD Pro ($52,920). SR5 is the base model with standard features like seven-seater capacity, Bluetooth, and navigation, while the Limited model spruces things up to modern times with automatic climate control, push button start, driver’s seat memory, and ventilated front seats.
The latter two TRD trims are more off-road focused. Think of TRD Off Road like a beginner’s package with 4-wheel crawl control, a multi-terrain system, rear diff lock, retuned suspension, and off-road wheels. TRD Pro on the other hand, which costs $5,140 more, takes it up a notch to expert level with retuned front springs, high performance Bilstein shocks, and center cap 17-inch wheels with Nitto Terra Grappler A/T tires. That and Toyota’s menacing “heritage grill” that adds undeniable presence on the road.
I’m testing the TRD Pro, and while I am not taking it off-road and evaluating its prowess on uneven pavement, I am assessing its street manners where 4Runner owners will undoubtedly be spending the majority of their time. That means all those buttons and knobs on the top center console to lock the rear differential and adjust the driving modes will turn into dust bunnies for most drivers.
Right off the bat you realize how high you sit in this mid-size SUV. In fact, the 4Runner rides higher than most other SUVs in this class like the Acura MDX or Ford Explorer. It’s nearly pick-up truck height, and you’ll realize that when you have to look “down” to regular sedans and SUVs at red lights. That being said, there isn’t a lot of body roll when you swing around corners - those beefed up shocks and springs actually give this 4Runner TRD Pro surprisingly good road manners. It absorbs bumps rather well and while I wasn’t expecting S-Class levels of ride quality, I was surprised by this level of body control from a bulky SUV with these kinds of dimensions. The off-road tires don’t help very much in the noise or comfort department but they do look aesthetically pleasing.
While it may sound like there’s a heavy breathing V8 under the hood, it’s actually an awkwardly high displacement 4.0-litre V6 punching out 270 hp and 278 lb-ft. It offers good power and agility off the line actually, and doesn’t have any problem getting up to highway speeds. The mid-range is lacking in some juice, though. That power is mated to a five-speed transmission that can be slow to shift and cumbersome to operate but at least it feels durable. We averaged 15.9 L/100km driving around the city alone, and that’s in 2WD mode exclusively. You realize again that the 4Runner prides itself on its heavy-duty and impenetrable construction rather than cutting edge efficiency.
The interior also exudes this same ethos, and delivers satisfying and durable material quality all around. There is leather on most areas with convincing plastics that look expensive. Those huge knobs that appear metallic? Yeah they’re plastic as well. The seats are wide and comfortable, there is ample storage throughout the front and rear cabin, and though the infotainment system isn’t the easiest to use, it earns a pass from our team due to its responsive touchscreen and vibrant colours.
The 4Runner offers some quirky charms as well, such as the ability to roll down the rear windscreen allowing you to cruise with fresh air coming from all sides. This TRD models only seat five passengers as well, as a third row only comes on the base SR5 and Limited models.
Once you understand what the 4Runner is all about, it only gets more attractive from that point onwards. From its old-school hydraulic steering, powertrain setup, off-roading tires, and basic creature comforts, it’s all about charm and presence rather than comfort and performance. The TRD Pro trim may not be for everyone, and the 4Runner may not jive with the rest of its class, but that only makes it that much more special and iconic in the midst of today’s overcomplicated and overengineered SUVs.
Model: 2018 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
Paint Type: Cavalry Blue
Base Price: $45,440
Price as Tested: $52,920
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,820 / 1,925 / 1,780
Curb weight (kg): 2,111
Engine: 4.0-litre V6
Horsepower: 270 hp @ 5,600 rpm
Torque: 278 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, 4WD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 14.3 / 12.0 / 13.3
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 15.6
Tires: Nitto Terra Grappler A/T