2008 Toyota 4Runner Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
September 5, 2008

The 2008 Toyota 4Runner isn’t as roomy or as efficient as newer crossover designs, but if you need towing or off-road capabilities, it’s a good, safe choice.

To produce the most comprehensive review on the 2008 Toyota 4Runner, the experts at TheCarConnection.com turned to a number of well-known review sources. To help make sense of the 4Runner and how it compares to its rivals, TheCarConnection.com’s editors added their own firsthand experience with this vehicle.

The 2008 Toyota 4Runner is a truck-based mid-size sport-utility model. A perennially popular off-roader, the 2008 Toyota 4Runner is offered in both two- and four-wheel-drive layouts, and in SR5, Sport, or Limited trim levels.

The standard 2008 Toyota 4Runner engine is a 236-horsepower 4.0-liter V-6 with variable valve timing (VVTi). A 4.7-liter V-8, also equipped with VVTi and 260 horsepower, is optional. Both engines are mated to a five-speed automatic gearbox, and both deliver satisfying acceleration, though the V-6 is a bit noisier than the especially smooth, refined V-8. Beware that fuel economy is significantly lower with the V-8; it’s rated at 14 mpg city, 17 mpg highway with 4WD.

Four-wheel-drive models of the 2008 Toyota 4Runner come with a series of electronic aids that help off-road performance, including Hill-start Assist Control (HAC), for moving from a standstill on a slippery slope, and Down-hill Assist Control (DAC), for moderating speed in downhill off-road situations.

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The current 4Runner was last redesigned for 2003, and its profile—upright, with prominently flared wheel wells bearing off-road styling cues—has held up quite well. Inside, the 4Runner has a simple, clean layout compared to other mid-size SUVs, although the materials used feel skimpy when you consider that prices can go way past $40,000. A third-row seat is available throughout the 2008 Toyota 4Runner line, but as one of the smallest designs, it doesn’t leave much room for cargo or stow away neatly. Otherwise, seating in the first and second rows is adequate, but the interior feels tighter than its outside dimensions might suggest.

Although the 2008 Toyota 4Runner lacks the ride quality of modern carlike crossover designs, it has quite responsive steering and handles well for such a tall vehicle, while the interior is relatively quiet.

Base SR5 models of the 2008 Toyota 4Runner come quite well equipped, with standard keyless entry, cruise control, automatic climate control, and an overhead console. SR5 Sport models get an enhanced suspension, plus steering-wheel audio controls and various appearance upgrades. Top Limited models focus on adding interior conveniences, including leather heated seats, dual-zone climate control, a premium sound system, and a 115-volt AC power outlet. Top options include a 10-speaker JBL sound system, a navigation system, a Bluetooth hands-free interface, a power moonroof, and a variety of Toyota Racing Development (TRD) performance accessories.

Standard safety equipment on the 2008 Toyota 4Runner includes anti-lock brakes with brake assist, electronic brake force distribution, hill descent control, vehicle skid control, and traction control. An automatic limited slip differential (LSD) is standard on 2WD models for improved traction in slippery conditions.

Side and curtain airbags are newly available on all models for 2008; other standard safety equipment includes anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control. The 2008 Toyota 4Runner does quite well in crash tests, with four stars in the federal frontal test and a commendable five stars for side impact. The typically tougher insurance-affiliated IIHS tests award top "good" results in both frontal and side impact, though the 4Runner gets "poor" results in the IIHS rear-impact test.

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2008 Toyota 4Runner

Styling

A couple of interior and exterior niggles aside, the rugged styling of the 2008 Toyota 4Runner serves it well in the body-on-frame SUV segment.

The 2008 Toyota 4Runner has masculine styling that most reviewers find purposeful, but a few see as overdone.

Most reviewers like the 4Runner's macho, rugged looks, finding them appropriate to its mission as a capable off-roader. Says Kelley Blue Book, “the 2008 Toyota 4Runner uses a compilation of bulging fender flares, blocky front and rear bumpers and a wide-slat grille to convey its message of stylish off-road capability.” MyRide calls it “big and burly,” and Car and Driver praises its “rugged looks.” Automobile is somewhat critical, labeling some of the 4Runner exterior elements a bit overdone: the “sport model's phony hood scoop and high-contrast cladding, and the Buick Rendezvous-esque roof pillars used on all models, give us pause.”

The interior receives praise for its typical Toyota-like quality and ergonomics, but certain details are troublesome. “Convenient controls work with precision, but their markings may be too small for some eyes,” says ConsumerGuide, which also notes that “interiors are nicely appointed with a good mix of textured plastics and soft-touch surfaces.” “The overall design of the interior,” comments Edmunds, “is aesthetically pleasing and functional, with most controls easy to find and use.” They cite “the climate controls, which look like intuitive dials but work more like joysticks” as their only major ergonomic complaint.

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2008 Toyota 4Runner

Performance

The 2008 Toyota 4Runner has a supple ride and a good handling for such a capable off-roader—if that’s what you really need.

Enthusiastic engines and an extremely versatile suspension make the 2008 Toyota 4Runner an endearing performer both off-road and on.

The base V-6 feels more enthusiastic than some SUVs' optional V-8 engines. Displacing 4.0 liters and equipped with variable valve timing, it produces 236 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of readily accessible torque. Automobile remarks that it gives “an ambitious charge when you leg the throttle,” and ConsumerGuide attests “the V6 is more than adequate for most needs.” Moving up to the 4.7-liter i-Force V-8 brings you to a powerful vehicle that won’t break a sweat while towing. This engine, recently enhanced by Toyota’s variable valve timing, nets 260 horsepower and 306 pound-feet of torque. ConsumerGuide praises the V8’s “ample, ready power.”

Both engines are backed by a five-speed automatic transmission that provides well-spaced ratios and smooth shifting. ConsumerGuide considers it a “smooth, responsive transmission,” and Car and Driver reports that it “shifted smoothly and elegantly in every situation.”

Beware that fuel economy is significantly lower with the V-8; it’s rated at 14 mpg city, 17 mpg highway with 4WD; the V-6 with 2WD rates 16/21 mpg for thriftier off-road fans.

Brake feel is criticized by a few, and some find that simply replacing the factory pads on mechanically similar Tacoma pickups dramatically increases pedal feel. But the handling and agility of this SUV are universally praised, as it delivers a nimbleness and responsiveness very unusual for a truck-based body-on-frame SUV. “This largish SUV steers precisely,” says Car and Driver. “Handling around turns is surprisingly tight and responsive,” reports Edmunds, and Motor Trend is “impressed with the vehicle's overall athletic nimbleness that makes it easier to hustle down the road.”

Of note is the X-REAS system, which diagonally ties front and rear shock absorption on opposing sides of the vehicle with a center nitrogen damper, helping to reduce pitch and body roll. Standard on the mid-level sport trim and optional on the Limited, this feature improves the road manners of the already responsive platform, impressing most reviewers.

Hill Assist Control (HAC), Downhill Assist Control (DAC), Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), and even a limited slip center differential on 4WD models help give the 4Runner “true off-road capability of a stout, no-nonsense sport-utility vehicle,” according to Edmunds. However, the inability to completely defeat some systems such as VSC seriously limits the fun that can be had with the extremely capable chassis.

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2008 Toyota 4Runner

Comfort & Quality

The 2008 Toyota 4Runner doesn’t carry people as well as the best crossovers, but its interior is well trimmed.

While not as versatile or as roomy as the best car-based crossovers, the 2008 Toyota 4Runner is high on comfort and capability among its full-framed peers.

ConsumerGuide considers the front seats “comfortable but fairly low to the floor,” an issue Motor Trend also explores. Some of those editors also “noted that the 4Runner's rather shallow floorpan makes you feel as if you're sitting too close to the floor.” Ergonomics and controls, aside from deeply set gauges and nonintuitive, gimmicky HVAC controls, are judged “aesthetically pleasing and functional, with most controls easy to find and use,” says Edmunds.

“The 2nd-row bench is nicely contoured but low, allowing good headroom but forcing adults to sit knees-up,” comments ConsumerGuide, who also note that “it's a squeeze for three.” MyRide.com remarks that “getting into the back seats is a little more challenging than in a sedan.” This brings up the issue of ride height; being a full-frame off-road-capable vehicle means the 4Runner is a bit tougher to climb into than a car-based SUV or a crossover, which families should consider before buying. Regarding the third row, optional on SR5 and Limited models, Edmunds calls it an “afterthought,” claiming “it provides minimal legroom even for kids and it doesn't fold flat into the floor.”

The 4Runner is “among the quieter SUVs of this type,” reports ConsumerGuide: “wind rush and tire roar evident at highway speeds, but neither is severe.” Kelley Blue Book deems the 4Runner's interior “handsome, functional and assembled of the finest materials with the tightest tolerances.”

The 4Runner doesn’t come cheap, and Kelley Blue Book warns that “budget-conscious buyers will probably suffer sticker shock, as even the most basic 4Runner model starts around $29,000.” However, the 4Runner doesn’t perform or ride cheap either, and that’s why many pay handsomely for Toyota quality.

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2008 Toyota 4Runner

Safety

Respectable crash-test results and superlative active safety features make the 2008 Toyota 4Runner an easy recommendation.

Solid crash-test ratings and a host of electronic active safety systems make the 2008 Toyota 4Runner a good choice where safety is concerned.

In crash testing, the 4Runner received perfect five stars for side impacts and four stars for frontal impact, but only thee stars for rollover resistance and rollover crashes by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) graced it with the highest rating, “good,” for frontal offset and side impact collisions.

Car and Driver points out that “roll-sensing curtain airbags that inflate if the vehicle tips over or goes wheels up” are standard for 2008. Edmunds explains that these side curtain airbags serve “the first and second rows of seating” and mentions that the 4Runner comes standard with anti-lock disc brakes with brake assist, stability control, and front seat side airbags.

The 4Runner’s comprehensive electronic safety gear includes--in addition to the requisite airbags and anti-lock braking systems--Downhill Assist Control, Hill Assist Control, and Vehicle Stability Control. The first is more useful for serious off-roading and comes standard on four-wheel-drive 4Runners, but the last two, HAC and VSC, are standard across the board and useful on any road, where they help the 4Runner remain easy to launch and provide excellent accident avoidance.

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2008 Toyota 4Runner

Features

Thoughtful, well-designed features abound on the 2008 Toyota 4Runner, but selecting too many of them quickly inflates the base price.

The 2008 Toyota 4Runner comes with a laudable list of standard features, but uplevel models and optional items add to the bottom line quickly.

In base SR5 trim, the 4Runner comes well equipped. But at nearly $30,000, some would argue that it should. Among standard features of note, Edmunds mentions automatic climate control with rear vents; remote keyless entry; cruise control; and full power accessories, including a power rear window, tilt steering wheel, power front seats (V-8 models), a trip computer, and a CD/MP3 player with an auxiliary audio jack. Automobile also cites the standard “miniature inside mirrors mounted on the rearmost roof pillars” that “are handy for spotting tricycles while backing up.”

Moving up to the Sport, the midlevel trim, adds 17-inch wheels, the X-REAS system, color-keyed exterior mirrors, power front seats (V-6 models), special seat fabric, and a telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls. Nearly everyone is wowed by the X-REAS system, which Car and Driver likens to “the diagonal jacking systems found in CART race cars” and says helps the 4Runner steer “into bends with a discernible lack of roll motions.”

The Limited is the third and highest trim level, and to the aforementioned list of equipment, it adds illuminated running boards, 18-inch wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control, a 115-volt power outlet, leather upholstery, heated front seats, a six-CD changer, and satellite radio. “X-REAS can be coupled with an optional rear air suspension (available only on V-8 Limited 4Runners) that replaces the steel coils with reinforced air bladders,” mentions Car and Driver.

Stand-alone options include a navigation system, which features a touch-screen monitor, voice guidance, and Bluetooth capability, which is named “among the best, intuitive and relatively easy to use” by MyRide.com. A premium 360-watt JBL Synthesis setup with 10 speakers, a third-row seat, four-wheel drive with a limited slip center differential, and a rear backup camera round out the list of notable options available individually.

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7.2
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Styling 7.0
Performance 7.0
Comfort & Quality 6.0
Safety 8.0
Features 8.0
Fuel Economy N/A
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