2014 Toyota 4Runner Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
August 13, 2014

The 2014 Toyota 4Runner's brawny looks don't fit the crossover mold, but neither do its off-road talents, either.

The 2014 Toyota 4Runner is something of a throwback to the days when old-style sport-utility vehicles, built on truck chassis, ruled the roads--both dirt and paved. It's now massively outsold by crossovers like the RAV4 and even the Venza, but the 4Runner retains a small following that treasures its ability to do things the softer, more comfortable family-focused utilities just can't.

Only the 4Runner will slog through a deep, muddy, rutted trail or charge up a steep incline--and it'll do so without complaining. Only Toyota's two-door FJ Cruiser, the Nissan Xterra, and of course not only the Jeep Grand Cherokee but the original Jeep Wrangler can match its abilities. And the 4Runner seats four or more and has four doors to boot.

The rugged look of the 2014 4Runner isn't just an image conjured up for marketing purposes. It's the reverse: a long time ago, the 4Runner was divorced from truck-based hardware and given a wagon body, with few concessions made to style. That's held true for decades now, and while we might like a ground-up fresh start every generation or so, the 4Runner at least remains honest to its mission. The beltline is high, the proportions are chunky, and the downward slope of the rear pillars are a direct callback to the ur-4Runner. Inside, the same fundamental approach works, and works well: the knobs and controls are big and laid out in an uncluttered way, and the controls and gauges are framed with simple materials and the barest dash of metallic trim. For 2014, the 4Runner adds more soft-touch trim inside on base SR5 and Trail models, and the SR5 gets Toyota's sharp, bright Optitron gauges.

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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. Fuel economy is estimated at 17/23 mpg for rear-drive models, and 17/22 mpg for four-wheel-drive versions. 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, with overhead controls. Limited models get a separate full-time four-wheel-drive system that's more road-oriented. The Limited gets standard 20-inch wheels and tires, while other models come fitted with 17-inchers.

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.

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, so leave it to the (small) kids; it's only offered on the more on-road-oriented models, not on the Trail edition.

The 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. A rearview camera is now standard on all models.

Base 4Runner SR5 models include plenty of standard equipment, including a power driver seat, a roof rack, power features, and an audio system with a CD player, satellite radio, a USB port, iPod connectivity, and Bluetooth audio streaming. Mobile-app connectivity is standard via Toyota's Entune services. The off-road purists who also sometimes need to haul the family will want the Trail model, which includes all the off-road goodies. Top Limited models step up to dual power front seats, navigation, and 15-speaker JBL premium sound. Other desirable features include sonar-based rear parking, a navigation system, and a subscription-based Safety Connect telematics system.

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2014 Toyota 4Runner

Styling

The 2014 Toyota 4Runner has spot-on SUV looks--if you're into that.

For better or worse--maybe a little of both--the Toyota 4Runner's profile hasn't changed much over the past decade.

The 4Runner stays true to sport-utility tradition, which dictates a truck front end and a wagon body, and some bright chrome tossed in only where it'll protect the paint from rocks or trees. You can admire that from a philosophical point of view, even if something like the 4Runner gets very, very familiar over time--even with with year's chunky new grille that borders on a Mitsubishi look more than ever.

It's brawny and aesthetically unconcerned with sleekness. That sets the 4Runner aside from entries like the Ford Explorer and Dodge Durango even toward the rear end, where it's still mostly a conservative, traditional SUV look, with a wide, downward-sloping C-pillar looking to past generations of the 4Runner.

Inside, the design of the 4Runner also feels traditional yet freshly detailed. It's quite upright, built 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 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.

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2014 Toyota 4Runner

Performance

The 2014 4Runner is more comfortable on road than expected, and its exceptional off-road talent is undiminished.

The Toyota 4Runner lives up to its SUV look, with every bit of off-road capability factored into its suspension and drivetrain. We think it's fairly competent on the street too, though other reviews find it a poor substitute for a crossover.

The 4Runner is a large, heavy SUV, though nowhere near as bulky as Toyota's own Sequoia. It's offered with a sole drivetrain, one that pairs a 4.0-liter V-6 engine, making 270 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque, with a five-speed automatic transmission. The combination is strong enough to deliver competitive acceleration, whether taking off from a stoplight, climbing a steep trail or driveway, or passing at highway speeds. The quick-shifting automatic always seems to be on its game, though it's at least one cog behind the state of the art, if not three.

No matter which model you choose, the 4Runner has the fundamentals to handle off-road obstacles with ease. There also are some differences, across models, in how the 4Runner delivers its power to the pavement--or lack thereof. 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.

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 a separate full-time four-wheel-drive system that's more road-oriented. It's a so-called X-REAS system with electronically adjusting dampers, geared for flatter cornering and pavement surfaces.

It's on pavement where the 4Runner does better than we'd expect for such a specialist, though our opinions aren't too widely shared. 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. It's all about expectations: if you're hoping for carlike maneuverability and visibility, you'll be disappointed, but as an updated version of the SUV circa 1990, the 4Runner feels advanced for its kind.

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2014 Toyota 4Runner

Comfort & Quality

Cargo space isn't its forte, but the 2014 Toyota 4Runner has an appealing, roomy cabin for five (plus two).

Crossovers are superior people carriers to most true sport-utes for a reason. Their car-based underpinnings allow for better packaging and more interior and cargo space.

But for a traditional SUV fan that needs room for five and a bit of kit, the 4Runner's fine, really. Its shortcomings as a minivan substitute are easy to pick out, and drivers looking for that should look elsewhere--maybe something in an Explorer, or even a Durango.

The 4Runner's high floor and rather narrow body give away its truck roots, but it's still reasonably comfortable for up to five adults. In front, great-looking and supporting seats are best with the available perforated-leather upholstery. They're wide and supportive, and they fit quite the range of sizes.

The second-row bench seat 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 two-passenger third-row seat offered on SR5 and Limited models, it's hard to get back there. We'd leave it to the (small) kids.

The 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.

8

2014 Toyota 4Runner

Safety

Safety scores aren't yet updated, but last year the Toyota 4Runner performed very well in NHTSA and IIHS tests.

The Toyota 4Runner has earned fairly good crash-test scores in the past, and while this year's results haven't been generated, it's safe to say they'll carry over since no major structural changes have taken place.

A body-on-frame layout coupled with a tall-wagon body can be a challenge for safety engineers. Still, the Toyota 4Runner has earned top 'good' ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in frontal, side, and rear impact. The only letdown has been its only 'acceptable' rating for roof strength (related to rollover). And in federal NCAP testing, the 4Runner has earned four (out of five) stars overall, including four stars for frontal impact and five stars for side impact.

All 4Runners come with a passel of safety features plus a toolkit of electronic aids that should make some off-road situations a bit safer. Each 4 Runner has 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 Connect, a button-activated, concierge-style system that's similar to General Motors' OnStar, is available.

In addition to the requisite 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. For parking assistance (or perhaps spotting when off-roading), some also include a small screen built into the rearview mirror. Some form of rearview camera is standard on all models, while rear parking sensors are an option on some models.

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2014 Toyota 4Runner

Features

Infotainment features get a light update this year; luxury's on the back burner in the 4Runner, as it should be.

The Toyota 4Runner is truest to the off-road mission, but it's not starved for infotainment features. It's only lean on traditional luxury frills like wood trim, even though it's priced from more than $32,000.

In most ways, the 4Runner is equipped like Toyota's Tacoma and Tundra pickup trucks, down to the trim levels: SR5, Trail, and Limited. Even base SR5 4Runners get a comprehensive package of standard features including power windows, locks, and mirrors; cruise control; a rearview camera; and air conditioning.

All versions now get a basic audio system with Entune Audio Plus, a sound/connectivity package that includes satellite radio, a USB port, iPod connectivity, and Bluetooth audio streaming, as well as smartphone-driven connections to Pandora, Bing, and other mobile apps.

Those off-road purists who also sometimes need to haul the family will want the pricier Trail model, while the Limited model appeals to those who want a level of conveniences--if not outright luxury--on par with Land Rover.

Limited models are priced in Lexus territory, but they add 15-speaker JBL premium sound, HD Radio with iTunes tagging, and navigation; last year's "Party Mode" that biased output to the rear tailgate speakers has been deleted since the new audio system has a better balance feature.

The Trail comes in five-passenger trim; both the SR5 and Limited can be ordered with two small rear seats, for a total of seven passenger spots.

Other desirable options include sonar-based rear parking sensors and a subscription-based Safety Connect telematics system.

 

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2014 Toyota 4Runner

Fuel Economy

Gas mileage isn't the 4Runner's best feature; families and frugal drivers should steer toward a car-based crossover instead.

The Toyota 4Runner's gas mileage doesn't fare too badly, for what could be a truly inefficient SUV.

The EPA has downgraded the 4Runner slightly, though, for the 2014 model year. Fuel economy is down to 17 miles per gallon city, 22 miles per gallon highway, a loss of 1 mpg on the highway cycle.

Keep in mind that those ratings hold true for the rear-wheel-drive edition; with four-wheel drive, the 4Runner's been rated at 17/21 mpg, another 1-mpg downer.

There are seven-passenger crossovers that match or exceed those numbers, though. 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 just aren't as good for gas mileage.

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