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Toyota Not Planning On Many Takers For 4-Cylinder 4Runner

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2010 Toyota 4Runner SR5

2010 Toyota 4Runner SR5

Enlarge Photo

2010 Toyota 4Runner SR5

2010 Toyota 4Runner SR5

Enlarge Photo

2010 Toyota 4Runner SR5

2010 Toyota 4Runner SR5

Enlarge Photo

2010 Toyota 4Runner SR5

2010 Toyota 4Runner SR5

Enlarge Photo

2010 Toyota 4Runner SR5

2010 Toyota 4Runner SR5

Enlarge Photo

2010 Toyota 4Runner SR5

2010 Toyota 4Runner SR5

Enlarge Photo

2010 Toyota 4Runner SR5

2010 Toyota 4Runner SR5

Enlarge Photo

Toyota is bringing an economical new four-cylinder engine back to the base SR5 version of its fully redesigned 2010 4Runner. But as we recently discovered, this doesn’t significantly improve fuel economy for this body-on-frame ute. Instead though, it appears to enable Toyota to offer a value-leader model at an even more affordable price.

The 2010 Toyota 4Runner starts at $27,500 for the four-cylinder, rear-wheel-drive SR5. That’s an $1,140 price cut versus the base RWD 2009 Toyota 4Runner SR5 V-6. This year’s base V-6 4Runner runs $29,175, however.

Once upon a time, most of Toyota’s 4Runners in the U.S. were sold with economical four-cylinder engines. That was the ‘80s, but Toyota did offer a four-cylinder version all the way through the beginning of this decade, and just a few years later, for 2003, Toyota began offering a V-8 on the 4Runner.

This year, the V-8 is no more. The new four—the same 2.7-liter engine that’s also installed in the Tacoma— makes 157 horsepower and 178 lb-ft of torque and is only offered with two-wheel drive, in 4Runner SR5 trim. An official suggested that other models weren’t offered because of concerns that the model would be underpowered with 4WD or as a Trail model.

One look at the official EPA fuel economy ratings give you another perspective—and a lesson that smaller engines don’t always bring better fuel economy. The four-cylinder engine isn’t likely to save you much, if any, money over the long run in the 4Runner, because even in four-cylinder form the engine hauls around nearly 4,300 pounds of curb weight.

The four-cylinder 2010 4Runner is rated at 18 mpg city, 23 highway, while the V-6 4Runner, with rear-wheel drive, does almost as well, at 17/23 (17/22 with 4WD). Towing capacity is 2,000 pounds for the four-cylinder model, versus 5,000 pounds for all the other 2010 4Runners.

Last year’s 4Runner V-6 rated as low as 16/20 with 4WD—the improvements mainly attributed to revised gear ratios—and with the now-discontinued V-8 engine the 4Runner achieved just 14 mpg city, 17 highway.

A base Toyota Highlander—about the same size, and with the same size four-cylinder engine (though technically not the same unit)—weighs about 3,800 pounds and gets 20 mpg city, 27 highway.

In all, Toyota expects four-cylinder models to only make up about five percent of 2010 4Runner sales, nationwide, with total sales of 25,000 to 30,000. At one time, Toyota sold more than 100,000 4Runners per year.

Surprisingly, Toyota will only make the four-cylinder 4Runner available only in select markets. In California, where there’s still a market for rear-wheel-drive sport-utility vehicles, Toyota plans to sell the vast majority of them; it will likely be offered more widely in Southern states but only special-order in Northern climes.

One thing's for sure: By getting into the four-cylinder market, Toyota has an engine option that's not offered in any of its rivals like the 2010 Nissan Pathfinder, 2010 Kia Borrego, or 2010 Ford Explorer.

Although V-6 versions of the 2010 Toyota 4Runner are already at dealerships, the four-cylinder model will be arriving this month or next. Stay tuned tomorrow as TheCarConnection.com brings you driving impressions of the brand-new 4Runner, and we’ll update you on how the four-cylinder version stacks up as soon as we can get some seat time.

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