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The 2013 Toyota 4Runner was once mainstream, but is more of a niche model today; as the market has moved toward softer crossovers, the 4Runner remains focused on the rugged trail ability that seduced American families in the 1990s. Only this time, ironically, it has a lot more of what those families wanted, and if you still place some priority on off-road prowess the 4Runner is a surprisingly deft everyday vehicle.
Toyota has kept the 4Runner's toughness intact in appearance, too. With its last 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. It's quite upright and chunky and builds on the fundamentals of the Tundra pickup and Sequoia SUV as much as it does take after 4Runner tradition--but again with better attention to detail throughout. The dash has macho, utilitarian appeal with its big, simple control knobs that could be operated with numb fingers or work gloves, while the gauge cluster is easy to read and the center stack of controls is done with bright metallic trim that's tasteful and not over-the-top.
Overall, the 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. 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.
Interior space is where you might start to notice some of the shortcomings of the 4Runner's traditional body-on-frame layout versus models like the Ford Explorer or Dodge Durango. Simply put, while the 4Runner has smartly designed seating and is comfortable enough for long highway trips, it's not quite up to some of these alternatives in terms of cargo space or flexibility, due to its narrower body and rather tall floor. The front seats look and feel great with the available perforated-leather upholstery, and they're wide and supportive, to fit quite the range of sizes. The second row adjusts for rake (reclining 16 degrees in four stops), and adult-sized occupants will also feel at home, thanks to seat contouring that goes well beyond the stiff bench cushions in some rivals. As for the third row, it's hard to get back there, and leave it to the (small) kids.
The 2013 4Runner is also surprisingly refined inside--dodging some of the impressions of trucks and off-road-able vehicles and providing a tight, quiet highway cruising experience, with a reasonably smooth ride and very little road or wind noise. Safety is also not at all compromised compared to popular crossovers, 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. Safety scores from the IIHS and federal government have indicated that the 4Runner has relatively good occupant protection, but it's not quite in the top tier.
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.Last year, the 4Runner gets redesigned audio systems, plus Toyota's Entune services and HD Radio with iTunes tagging. Those features carry over to 2013, while other desirable options include sonar-based rear parking, a navigation system, and a subscription-based Safety Connect telematics system.
- Rugged, traditional exterior
- Strong, smooth V-6 powertrain
- Perhaps the best Toyota truck interior
- Useful off-road electronics (Trail)
- Outward visibility
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- Disappointing cargo space
- Small third-row seat
- Choppy highway ride (SR5)
- Trail and Limited models can be pricey