2010 Toyota 4Runner Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
March 4, 2010

The 2010 Toyota 4Runner is a brawny “true truck” worth serious consideration if tough off-roading capability for regular trail driving is one of your requirements—and it won’t sacrifice comfort the rest of the time.

The experts at TheCarConnection.com have put the all-new 2010 Toyota 4Runner through the paces—on- and off-road—and tested its passenger space and utility in order to give you a complete assessment by which to compare it to other SUVs. TheCarConnection.com is also compiling a survey that includes some of the most useful information from other review sources in the accompanying Full Review.

Mid-size body-on-frame sport-utility vehicles have just a fraction of the appeal that they did a decade ago—or even just a few years ago—with modern, passenger-oriented crossover models like the Chevrolet Traverse, Ford Edge, and Toyota’s own Highlander far surpassing them in sales. Yet as GM has gotten out of this segment of the market and others such as Chrysler are due to retreat as well, Toyota is rolling out a completely redesigned version of the body-on-frame 4Runner. Although a V-8 option is no longer available, the new 4Runner is geared for those who have heavy-duty needs that involve regular off-roading or trailer-towing; it’s slightly taller, wider, and longer than the previous model and promises even more toughness with a comfortable, almost downright luxurious interior.

With its complete redesign, the 4Runner gets a chunkier, more chiseled-and-creased look on the outside, and aggressively flared areas extend from the wheel wells into the fenders. The beltline of the new 4Runner is higher yet, bringing the secure, elevated impression of a large SUV, and lips around the wheel wells continue clearly through the running boards and around to the creases of the front and rear fascia. In front, the new 4Runner inherits some of the imposing appearance of the latest Sequoia and Tundra, with a mesh recessed grille, large chrome bar, and swept-back headlamps; in back it gets a more conservative, traditional SUV look, with a wide, downward-sloping C-pillar looking to past generations of the 4Runner. Inside, the new 4Runner goes in a new and pleasant styling direction for Toyota, with a bright metallic center stack of controls and an easy-to-read gauge cluster.

Most 2010 Toyota 4Runner models come with a new 4.0-liter V-6 engine, making 270 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque. Toyota has shuffled the engine lineup for better fuel economy numbers, dropping the V-8 option, but the new V-8 actually makes 10 hp more than the previous generation’s V-8. The four-cylinder model—including a 157-horsepower, 2.7-liter four-cylinder (essentially the same as the Tacoma pickup) won’t be widely available, Toyota says, and is only offered in base rear-wheel-drive form. That’s fine, as the four promises quite slow acceleration because of a still-hefty 4,300-pound curb weight; it won’t significantly increase fuel economy (18 mpg city, 23 highway with the four, versus as high as 18/22 with the V-6). In addition, it comes with a penalty-box tow rating of just 2,000 pounds—versus a respectable 5,000 pounds with the V-6. V-6 SR5 models are offered either with rear-wheel drive or a part-time four-wheel-drive system, while Trail models are only offered with that 4WD system. Limited models get a separate full-time four-wheel-drive system that’s more road-oriented.

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In V-6 form, the 4Runner feels plenty fast either off the line or at highway speeds. You likely won’t miss the V-8. The five-speed automatic feels very responsive with the engine, showing quick downshifts for passing and smooth, early shifts when puttering around town. Steering feel and maneuverability are unexpected delights in the 2010 4Runner; at low speeds especially, the 4Runner handles with better precision and control than you might expect from such a big, heavy model, and visibility isn’t bad. Attack faster corners with a little too much zeal, and you’ll be reminded that you’re in a tall vehicle with a suspension calibration that errs on the safe side, with relatively soft sidewalls. On that matter, the 4Runner’s suspension soaks up the major heaves better than most trucks, but with the standard setup, you’re likely to find it quite busy, with an uncomfortable level of head toss on jiggly pavement surfaces or when off-roading. All that changes for the better with the Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS) that’s optional in the Trail model. Through a system of clever hydraulics, it averts body motions on-road and actually increases off-road traction and riding comfort with more wheel travel then. Also on the Trail grade, Crawl Control uses electronics to maintain a slow, steady speed when in low range, while a Multi-Terrain Select system allows driver-selectable levels of electronically allowed wheel slip for terrains ranging from soft sand or snow to solid rock. Limited models get yet another setup: a so-called X-REAS system with electronically adjusting dampers, geared for flatter cornering and pavement surfaces.

Inside, the 2010 4Runner gets a much-needed complete redesign of its seating. Front seats have been recontoured, and they’re a bit longer and significantly wider than before to accommodate American-size occupants. The driving position is excellent, and the available perforated leather upholstery made us feel like we were in a luxury-brand perch. Second-row occupants also get new contours that don’t feel flat like before; this 6’-6” editor rode in the backseat for more than an hour very comfortably. The second-row seatback can also recline 16 degrees in four stops. Gone are last year’s small flip-to-the-side third-row seats, replaced by a more conventional folding third row that’s a little hard to access and only good for kids. Although passenger comfort is good, compared to modern crossover designs, the 4Runner doesn’t have as spacious an interior; fold the seats down, and you won’t be able to fit items that are as high as you would in larger crossovers or minivans. The hatch in the 4Runner opens upward, rather than sideways in some truck-based utes. Overall, the way the controls are arranged—and the feel of them—is a highlight of the 4Runner’s interior. Off-road-focused controls are located in an overhead console, keeping the center stack of controls straightforward and accessible, with large buttons and knobs that have a great tactile feel. A secondary display sits atop the center stack, and redundant steering wheel controls access audio and Bluetooth functions. Our several test 4Runners had no rattles or cheap-feeling interiors, and the cabin is relatively free of wind and road noise.

The 2010 Toyota 4Runner paints a positive safety impression, thanks to top "good" results from the IIHS in frontal, side, and rear tests, along with mostly five-star results from the federal government, with the exception of four stars for the frontal passenger. All V-6 4Runner models get electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes with Brake Assist, and Hill-start Assist Control (HAC) for safe uphill starts, and all 4WD models get Downhill Assist Control, to help maintain a slow, steady speed down steep slopes. Some models include a small screen built into the rearview mirror that provides a fish-eye camera view backward for parking assistance. All 4Runners also come with eight standard airbags, including front side bags, side-curtain bags for the second and third rows, and front knee bags for the driver and passenger.

The 4Runner will be offered in basic SR5, off-road-oriented Trail, and luxurious Limited models. 4Runner Trail models get an upgraded audio system with XM satellite radio, a USB port, iPod connectivity, and Bluetooth audio streaming, while top Limited models step up to 15-speaker JBL premium sound, with a Party Mode that biases output to the rear tailgate speakers for better outward projection. Also available is a pull-out rear cargo deck that includes a separate small cargo box behind the rear seat and can function, when slid out, as a tailgating or camping seat that holds up to 440 pounds. Other desirable options include sonar-based rear parking, a navigation system, and a subscription-based Safety Connect telematics system. The desirable KDSS system that’s available on Trail models is only offered with the navigation system, at a total extra price of $4,170.

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