Toyota 4Runner History
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The Toyota 4Runner is a mid-size SUV built on on a truck platform, rather than the increasingly dominant crossovers that you see on the road today. Where crossovers are car-based utility vehicles with better ride comfort and fuel economy, the 4Runner is a tough SUV that drives much like a Toyota Tacoma.
For those families, Toyota has its car-based crossover the Highlander in the mid-size utility vehicle category. So the 4Runner has become more of a niche vehicle, a tougher and truckier vehicle that stresses the "utility" side of the equation at the expense of family amenities. It competes with the smaller Nissan Xterra, the three-door Toyota FJ Cruiser, and the Jeep Grand Cherokee, along with a host of full-size truck-based sport utilities from several manufacturers.
For more information, including pricing with options, see our full review of the 2013 Toyota 4Runner.
The Toyota 4Runner's proportions are tall and solid, but it hardly looks outdated. The current model was introduced for 2010; it marked a return to form in some ways to the 4Runner's former focus of off-roading and towing/hauling capability. The V-8 engine option has been dropped, and a new base 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine was introduced on 2WD models. However, most 2010 4Runners came with a 270-hp, 4.0-liter V-6. Four-cylinder models had a four-speed automatic while V-6 models got a five-speed automatic.
Underscoring its ruggedness, a new 4Runner Trail Edition appealed directly to off-roaders with the company's Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS), plus off-road tires, a locking rear differential, and other upgrades. Then there was the Limited model, which carried over the X-REAS system and was loaded with comfort and convenience features. Although the 4Runner is still less fuel-efficient than more modern crossover utes, it has been rated well for safety, and its reliability and longevity are legendary.
The 4Runner has remained largely unchanged since its 2010 revamp, although the four-cylinder was dropped after just one year. Changes were very few for the 2013 model year, though it received redesigned audio systems, plus Toyota's Entune services and HD Radio with iTunes tagging, in the 2012 model.
Through most of its iterations, the 4Runner was closely related to Toyota's compact pickup (Tacoma). The original 1980s model was little more than a harsh-riding Toyota pickup with a topper over the bed and some very basic rear seating. That all changed with the generation introduced in 1996, which emerged as a more stylish separate model in its own right, but still sharing four-cylinder and V-6 powertrains with the pickup.
For 2003, the 4Runner was again redesigned, this time becoming significantly larger, more refined, and more lavishly equipped—though it retained the body-on-frame design. A small, barely usable third-row seat was optional, and for the first time Toyota offered an optional V-8 on the 4Runner. The 4.7-liter V-8 actually produced less power than the V-6 early on, but its 320 foot-pound torque rating was much higher.
While these 4Runners had nice interior appointments, ride quality could still be rather bouncy and harsh, but several more sophisticated chassis systems offered on the 4Runner included an off-road-oriented X-REAS hydraulic system and an air suspension on the Limited model, good for towing and ride quality. This 4Runner also offered an increased range of convenience options, including a navigation system, backup camera system, and JBL audio.
Todayt, the 4Runner's future is unclear--though it's possible that it could join the Tacoma and the related FJ Cruiser in a future product program that would be based on the Texas-built Toyota Tundra full-size pickup. That truck was recently updated for 2013 at the Chicago Auto Show.