2012 Toyota 4Runner Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
February 28, 2012

The brawny 2012 Toyota 4Runner targets off-road purists who sometimes need to haul the family—and it's better on the highway than you might think.

In the 1990s and even earlier last decade, the Toyota 4Runner occupied a place in the market that was very much mainstream. But as most families shoppers moved over to safer, more comfortable, and more efficient car-based designs (like Toyota's own Highlander), Toyota kept the 4Runner tough and very much a truck—relegating it to niche status.

For 2012, the 4Runner enters its third year since a complete redesign (for 2010) that again kept its toughness intact, and placed an even greater emphasis on off-road ability. Styling remains unchanged; with that redesign, the 4Runner became higher, chunkier, and more rugged, with a higher beltline and more flared wheel wells. While inheriting some of the imposing appearance from the Sequoia and Tundra full-size trucks, the 4Runner sticks to more of a conservative, traditional SUV look toward the rear, with a wide, downward-sloping C-pillar looking to past generations of the 4Runner.

Overall, the 2012 Toyota 4Runner drives much better—and more athletically—than its trail-crawling appearance might suggest. 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.

Review continues below

A 4.0-liter V-6 engine, makes 270 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque, and feels plenty quick either off the line or at highway speeds. 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.

In Trail grade (the off-road model), the 4Runner includes a host of electronics and systems meant to complement the sturdy off-road hardware. Base models can be a little pitchy on rough pavement, but Limited models get yet another setup: a so-called X-REAS system with electronically adjusting dampers, geared for flatter cornering and pavement surfaces. The Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS) that's optional in the Trail model uses hydraulics to reduce motions on-road or increase off-road traction and riding comfort, with more wheel travel in that situation.

You won't find the 4Runner to be quite as roomy inside as less trucklike options such as the Honda Pilot or Ford Flex, but it's up to par in comfort for the first two rows of seating. Front seats are wide and supportive—they look and feel great with the available perforated leather upholstery—and the driving position is excellent. In the second row, which adjusts for rake, adult-sized occupants will also feel at home. The third row is only good for kids—and hard to get to.

But as decent as the 4Runner is for passengers, it's disappointing for cargo and overall versatility. The flip-forward folding third row is easy enough to use, but the body is rather narrow and the cargo floor is quite high.

The way the 4Runner's controls are arranged—and the feel of them—is a highlight of its 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. The instrument panel and door trim build on the fundamentals seen in the Tundra pickup and Sequoia SUV, but with better attention to detail. It's macho and utilitarian, but the chunky center stack and easy-to-read gauge cluster highlight a macho, utilitarian look and common-sense simplicity.

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. Some include a small screen built into the rearview mirror that provides a fish-eye camera view backward for parking assistance. Safety Connect, a system that's similar to General Motors' OnStar, is available. About the only safety blemish is an only 'acceptable' IIHS roof strength score.

Base 4Runner SR5 models start just below $30k and actually include a good level of equipment; but the off-road purists who also sometimes need to haul the family will want the Trail model, which includes all the off-road goodies plus upgraded audio, a USB port, iPod connectivity, and Bluetooth audio streaming. Top Limited models step up to 15-speaker JBL premium sound, with a Party Mode that biases output to the rear tailgate speakers. Paired with the optional pull-out rear cargo deck, it's an instant tailgate party. 

New to the Limited for 2012 (and optional on other models), the 4Runner gets redesigned audio systems, plus Toyota's Entune services and HD Radio with iTunes tagging.

8

2012 Toyota 4Runner

Styling

The 2012 Toyota 4Runner looks as a good SUV should: brawny and rugged, yet well-detailed.

The Toyota 4Runner has the brawny good looks of a pickup from the front, with a very traditional, upright SUV silhouette and stance.

Styling remains unchanged; with the 4Runner's last redesign (for 2010), Toyota again kept its toughness intact, and placed an even greater emphasis on off-road ability. The 4Runner became higher, chunkier, and more rugged, with a higher beltline and more flared wheel wells. While inheriting some of the imposing appearance from the Sequoia and Tundra full-size trucks, the 4Runner sticks to more of a conservative, traditional SUV look toward the rear, with a wide, downward-sloping C-pillar looking to past generations of the 4Runner. 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

2012 Toyota 4Runner

Performance

The requisite trail prowess is here as you'd expect, but the 2012 4Runner is also surprisingly fleet-footed on the road.

The 2012 4Runner's trail-crawling appearance might suggest that this SUV has a singular purpose; but no matter which model you choose, the 4Runner is a relatively athletic and easy-to-drive vehicle on the highway. 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.

A 4.0-liter V-6 engine, makes 270 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque, and feels plenty quick either off the line or at highway speeds. 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.

In Trail grade (the off-road model), the 4Runner includes a host of electronics and systems meant to complement the sturdy off-road hardware. 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. The Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS) that's optional in the Trail model uses hydraulics to reduce motions on-road or increase off-road traction and riding comfort, with more wheel travel in that situation. Limited models get yet another setup: a so-called X-REAS system with electronically adjusting dampers, geared for flatter cornering and pavement surfaces.

8

2012 Toyota 4Runner

Comfort & Quality

Cargo space isn't all that impressive, but the 2012 Toyota 4Runner has good passenger space and a high-quality cabin.

You won't find the 4Runner to be quite as roomy inside as less trucklike options such as the Honda Pilot or Ford Flex--in part due to the rather narrow body and high floor--but it's up to par in comfort for the first two rows of seating.

Front seats are wide and supportive—they look and feel great with the available perforated leather upholstery—and the driving position is excellent. And in the second row, which adjusts for rake, adult-sized occupants will also feel at home, thanks to seat contouring that goes well beyond the stiff bench cushions in some rivals. The second row can also recline 16 degrees in four stops. The third row is only good for kids—and hard to get to.

But as decent as the 4Runner is for passengers, it's disappointing for cargo and overall versatility. The flip-forward folding third row is easy enough to use, but the body is rather narrow and the cargo floor is quite high.

The simple, sensible way the 4Runner's controls are arranged—and the chunky yet precise feel of them—is a highlight of its 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. The instrument panel and door trim build on the fundamentals seen in the Tundra pickup and Sequoia SUV, but with better attention to detail. It's macho and utilitarian, but the nicely styled center stack and easy-to-read gauge cluster highlight a macho, utilitarian look and common-sense simplicity.

The 4Runner also avoids some other impressions of body-on-frame trucks--that they tend to be noisier, for example. The 4Runner feels tight and quiet, with road and wind noise very well damped.

9

2012 Toyota 4Runner

Safety

The 2012 Toyota 4Runner offers all the active and passive safety you'd expect in a passenger car.

The 2012 Toyota 4Runner is a tall, body-on-frame SUV. And while this layout has become less popular in recent years because it's easier for engineers to design occupant safety into unibody crossover utes, the 4Runner shows few, if any, signs of offering inferior protection.

The only exception might be in rollover protection; the 2012 4Runner earns an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) rating for roof strength (related to rollover) of just 'acceptable'--though it's earned top 'good' ratings in every other category. The 4Runner hasn't yet been tested by the federal government.

All 4Runners 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. In addition to electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes, they also get Hill-start Assist Control (HAC) for safe uphill starts, plus Downhill Assist Control (on 4WD models), to help maintain a slow, steady speed down steep slopes. Some also include a small screen built into the rearview mirror that provides a fish-eye camera view backward for parking assistance. Safety Connect, a button-activated, concierge-style system that's similar to General Motors' OnStar, is available.

9

2012 Toyota 4Runner

Features

Toyota packs an excellent set of features, sure to delight the 4Runner's target audience.

Toyota equips and markets the 4Runner in a way that roughly parallels that of its pickups, as well as the Sequoia SUV. Base 2012 Toyota 4Runner SR5 models start just below $30k and actually include a good level of equipment; but the off-road purists who also sometimes need to haul the family will want the pricier Trail model.

The Trail model includes all the off-road goodies plus upgraded audio, a USB port, iPod connectivity, and Bluetooth audio streaming. It's harder to make an argument for top Limited models, which are priced in Lexus (or Toyota Sequoia) territory. They add 15-speaker JBL premium sound, with a Party Mode that biases output to the rear tailgate speakers. Paired with the optional pull-out rear cargo deck, it's an instant tailgate party. 

New to the Limited for 2012 (and optional on other models), the 4Runner gets redesigned audio systems, plus Toyota's Entune services and HD Radio with iTunes tagging.

Oddly, 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.

Other desirable options include sonar-based rear parking, a navigation system, and a subscription-based Safety Connect telematics system. Also, a pull-out rear cargo deck is optional and 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.

5

2012 Toyota 4Runner

Fuel Economy

The 2012 Toyota 4Runner simply isn't a green pick, if everyday family duty is the game.

The 4Runner's body-on-frame layout has some advantages off-road or when hauling heavy loads, but its added weight (compared to modern car-based crossovers) and boxier body altogether aren't good for gas mileage.

That said, 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.

Originally in 2010, with the launch of the current-generation 4Runner, Toyota offered a four-cylinder engine with rear-wheel drive. But it didn't do much better, at 18/23, and they discontinued that combination for last year.

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Styling 8.0
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Features 9.0
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