2011 Toyota 4Runner Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
January 31, 2011

If off-road capability is a top requirement, the brawny 2011 Toyota 4Runner is a good choice—with surprisingly good road manners to boot.

Last year the 4Runner was given a complete redesign, including styling that became higher, chunkier, and more rugged.

There's no mistaking that the 4Runner is truck-based. With a more chiseled-and-creased look on the outside, with a rather upright windshield, aggressively flared areas extend from the wheel wells into the fenders, and a beltline that's higher yet, bringing the secure, elevated impression of a large SUV. Flares 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.

The 4Runner's cabin also takes a new design direction, with a more upright, chunky look that builds on the fundamentals seen in the Tundra pickup and Sequoia SUV but with better attention to detail. A bright metallic center stack of controls and an easy-to-read gauge cluster highlight the layout, which has big, simple control knobs and a macho, utilitarian look.

Review continues below
8

2011 Toyota 4Runner

Styling

The 2011 Toyota 4Runner looks chunky, chiseled, and utilitarian, yet stylish and nicely detailed.

Last year the 4Runner was given a complete redesign, including styling that became higher, chunkier, and more rugged.

There's no mistaking that the 4Runner is truck-based. With a more chiseled-and-creased look on the outside, with a rather upright windshield, aggressively flared areas extend from the wheel wells into the fenders, and a beltline that's higher yet, bringing the secure, elevated impression of a large SUV. Flares 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.

The 4Runner's cabin also takes a new design direction, with a more upright, chunky look that builds on the fundamentals seen in the Tundra pickup and Sequoia SUV but with better attention to detail. A bright metallic center stack of controls and an easy-to-read gauge cluster highlight the layout, which has big, simple control knobs and a macho, utilitarian look.

7

2011 Toyota 4Runner

Performance

The 2011 Toyota 4Runner is set up for the trail, but it performs reasonably well on the road.

Overall, the 2011 Toyota 4Runner drives much better—and more athletically—than its trail-crawling appearance might suggest. And for 2011, with the former base four-cylinder engine dropped, the only engine offered in the Toyota 4Runner is a 4.0-liter V-6 engine, making 270 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque. 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.

There's no longer any V-8 engine offered in the 4Runner, but it feels plenty fast either off the line or at highway speeds with the V-6. The five-speed automatic also 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 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. But you'll be reminded you're in a tall vehicle with soft sidewalls and a safe suspension calibration if you attack corners too quickly.

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. With the Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS) that's optional in the Trail model, that all changes for the better, thanks to a system of clever hydraulics. The system averts body motions on-road and actually increases off-road traction and riding comfort with more wheel travel in that situation.

Also in the Trail grade, the 4Runner includes a host of electronics and systems meant to complement its sturdy off-road hardward. 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.

8

2011 Toyota 4Runner

Comfort & Quality

The 2011 Toyota 4Runner has good passenger space and a tight, high-quality interior; cargo space isn't as ample or convenient as other vehicles, though.

The complete redesign of the 4Runner last year included completely redesigned seating that was much-improved over the previous version of this truck. 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 makes us feel like we're in a luxury-brand perch.

In back, adults-sized occupants will also feel at home. 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. The third row is only good for kids—and hard to get to—but most will like its flip-forward folding better than the old flip-to-the-side arrangement.

Although passenger comfort is good, compared to modern crossover designs, the 4Runner, a rather narrow body and high floor keep the 4Runner from being as spacious as you might anticipate. 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. However, we think it's a positive move that the hatch in the 4Runner opens upward, rather than sideways in some truck-based utes—making loading easier in most situations.

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.

9

2011 Toyota 4Runner

Safety

Especially when you consider all the electronic aids, the 2011 Toyota RAV4 offers well-rounded active and passive safety.

With good crash-test results and an extensive safety-feature list, the 2011 Toyota 4Runner leaves a positive safety impression.

The 4Runner has achieved top 'good' ratings in frontal, side, and rear impact tests from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), though it scored only 'acceptable' in the new IIHS roof strength test. The model still hasn't been tested by the more stringent federal NCAP test program that's been introduced for 2011.

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. Also newly available is Safety Connect, a system that's similar to General Motors' OnStar, bringing 24-hour roadside assistance and allowing location of your stolen vehicle or emergency location for accidents.

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.

9

2011 Toyota 4Runner

Features

With this latest 4Runner, Toyota has honed in on its target audience with an excellent set of features and options.

As is the case with most of its truck models, Toyota allows the opportunity to get a basic level of equipment, luxury appointments, or specialized off-road equipment. The 2011 Toyota 4Runner remains offered in base SR5, off-road-oriented Trail, and luxurious Limited models.

Base 4Runner SR5 models start just below $30k and actually include a good level of equipment; it includes air conditioning, cruise control, a tilt/telescopic steering wheel, and an eight-speaker sound system with two auxiliary inputs.

The most desirable of the 4Runner models, the 4Runner Trail, offers all the good off-road hardware and electronics, but it's pricey. 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, costing more than four thousand dollars in all.

5

2011 Toyota 4Runner

Fuel Economy

The 2011 Toyota 4Runner is not at all green for family duty. But compared to other trucks, it's one of the more fuel-efficient.

The 2011 Toyota 4Runner is a body-on-frame sport-utility vehicle, and when it comes to saving weight, optimizing aerodynamics, and being fuel-efficient, it's not the greenest layout. But next to trucklike SUVs (and even a number of luxury crossovers), the 4Runner isn't so bad; its EPA rating of 17 mpg in the city is 1 mpg better than that of the V-6 Grand Cherokee, and better than virtually all larger trucks.

For 2011, the 4Runner has become a little less green, as Toyota has completely dropped the base four-cylinder engine from the lineup. It's no big loss, however, as the engine was offered only on entry-level rear-wheel-drive models and earned only slightly better fuel economy, at 18/23.

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8.2
Overall
Expert Rating
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Styling 8.0
Performance 7.0
Comfort & Quality 8.0
Safety 9.0
Features 9.0
Fuel Economy 5.0
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