- Unmistakably a sport-ute
- V-6 and five-speed automatic a good match
- A very well-executed interior
- Trail model's handy off-road electronics
- Off-road-ready TRD Pro Series
- Cargo space is meh
- Third-row seat is a kids-only zone
- Base versions have a choppy ride
- Gets expensive in Trail and Limited trim
The 2015 Toyota 4Runner offers true SUV capability--and trades away some on-road refinement for it.
The 4Runner is one of few remaining true SUVs, built on a separate frame and using parts from trucks underneath instead of those pulled from passenger vehicles. While Toyota definitely sells more of its car-based crossovers (Venza, Highlander, etc.), the 4Runner remains for true off-road enthusiasts, using a recipe that's as old as the badge itself.
The big news for the 2015 4Runner is the addition of a TRD Pro Series model. Accompanied by similar versions of the Tacoma and Tundra pickups, the TRD 4Runner is the most off-road focused of the Toyota SUV lineup. The package includes remote-reservoir Bilstein shocks, Nitto all-terrain tires, TRD-tuned front springs, unique wheels, skid plates, and a host of interior and exterior pieces to distinguish it from regular 4Runners. It should make an already capable off-roader even more so.
The rugged look of all 2015 4Runners isn't just an image conjured up for marketing purposes. The 4Runner has had the same basic wagon shape for years, offering a longer alternative to models like the Jeep Cherokee and Grand Cherokee. The beltline is high, the proportions are chunky, and the downward slope of the rear pillars are a direct callback to the original. 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.
A 4.0-liter V-6 engine, now the only engine offered, 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 17/22 mpg for rear-drive models, and 17/21 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 and TRD Pro models are only offered with the part-time system. Limited models get a separate full-time four-wheel-drive system that's more on-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 big sidewalls and a soft suspension if you attack corners too quickly.
Base models can roll a bit 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 smoothing out bumps. 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.
The 4Runner is relatively 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 in the top tier. A rearview camera is standard on all models.
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 when you get inside. While the 4Runner has smartly designed seating and is comfortable enough for long highway trips, it's not quite up to the competition's levels 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.
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.