- Unmistakably a sport-ute
- V-6 and five-speed automatic a good match
- A very well-executed interior
- Cargo space is meh
- Third-row seat is a kids-only zone
- Base versions have a choppy ride
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.
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.