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PERFORMANCE | 8 out of 10
on the road the 4Runner drives just ok
Off-road, the Trail really proves its worth
Car and Driver
The steering is pretty numb, there's no feedback from the chassis, and the engine is almost character-free
While the 4Runner might be so-so when it comes to on-road manners, it clearly excels in off-road capability
a mountain goat amidst lambs
Most 2010 Toyota 4Runner models come with a new 4.0-liter V-6 engine, making 270 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque. Toyota shuffles the engine lineup for better fuel economy numbers, dropping the V-8 option, but the new V-8 actually makes 10 hp more than the previous generation’s V-8. The four-cylinder model—including a 157-horsepower, 2.7-liter four-cylinder (essentially the same as the Tacoma pickup)—won’t be widely available, Toyota says, and is only offered in base rear-wheel-drive form. That’s fine, as the four promises quite slow acceleration because of a still-hefty 4,300-pound curb weight; it won’t significantly increase fuel economy (18 mpg city, 23 highway with the four, versus as high as 18/22 with the V-6). In addition, it comes with a penalty-box tow rating of just 2,000 pounds—versus a respectable 5,000 pounds with the V-6.
In V-6 form, the 4Runner feels plenty fast either off the line or at highway speeds. You likely won’t miss the V-8, though several reviewers do. The five-speed automatic feels very responsive with the engine, boasting quick downshifts for passing and smooth, early shifts when puttering around town. "The V6 is never strained by the 4Runner's heft, the unobtrusive transmission doesn't have to hunt down a couple of gears just because of a slight grade, and it's super-creamy smooth," says Car and Driver. However, the same reviewer describes the experience as lacking in personality: "The 4.0-liter V6 is deceptively bland; there's no exhaust note, no induction noise and doesn't so much rev as whirr. But look down at the speedometer, and the 4Runner is building velocity at a solid clip."
The 4Runner isn't the fastest horse in the stable either. Truck Trend measures acceleration for the nearly 4,800-pound 4Runner at 7.8 seconds—slightly slower than the V-6 Kia Borrego, another body-on-frame SUV. There are some conflicting takes on whether the V-6 provides enough oomph for everyday driving. Truck Trend says, "When overtaking slower vehicles on the highway, where the 4.0-liter strains through a downshift and some heavy breathing." However, Cars.com declares, "The 4Runner feels quicker than ever before, with stronger response," adding, "We had ample high-speed passing power and on-ramp acceleration — even with a full load, and there’s enough power to pass on the highway without forcing a downshift." Car and Driver asserts that the 4Runner "keeps pace with traffic easily enough, although at 7.8 seconds to 60 mph, it proved slower by 0.6 second than the last 4Runner we tested in April 2005."
Just about every reviewer warns that the four-cylinder model should be avoided by all but the most miserly, limited-use truck owners. "And, after all, the lightest 4Runner 4x2 weighs in at a portly 4295 pounds," reports Popular Mechanics. "A puny 157 hp hauling that much truck around is a pathetic thing to contemplate."
Steering feel and maneuverability are unexpected delights in the 2010 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. Attack faster corners with a little too much zeal, and you’ll be reminded that you’re in a tall vehicle with a suspension calibration that errs on the safe side, with relatively soft sidewalls. On that matter, the 4Runner’s suspension soaks up the major heaves better than most trucks, but with the standard setup you’re likely to find it quite busy, with an uncomfortable level of head toss on jiggly pavement surfaces or when off-roading. "A new steering setup also allows the 4Runner to carve highway corners like it never could before, no doubt aided by the KDSS's body control," beams Inside Line. "Leave it to Toyota to find a hard-core four-wheel-drive technology that also hugely improves on-road driving dynamics."
"For as great as its amenities are, however, on the road the 4Runner drives just ok," says Automobile Magazine. "The steering feel is rather numb and the vehicle is very susceptible to cross winds." Automobile also notes that the brake pedal is touchy and warns that "from the vague, light steering to the way the nose dives when you hit the brakes, there's no doubting this vehicle does not handle on-road chores as well as the average car or crossover." On the road, reports Popular Mechanics, "the steering is pretty numb, there's no feedback from the chassis, and the engine is almost character-free, but the 4Runner will putter about amiably with the best of the crossovers out there." Cars.com comments that "steering is easy and reasonably accurate in the 4Runner, and it’s easy to keep on-center while cruising on the highway." The reviewer praises overall maneuverability, but contends that more modern crossover designs are likely to be better.
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. "The least interesting thing about the 4Runner is how well it drives on-road," asserts Popular Mechanics. "Off-road, the Trail really proves its worth," notes Car and Driver. "Up a steep climb to an 8000-foot peak in the California highlands, the 4Runner was unstoppable, scrambling confidently over loose gravel and large roots and even pausing to tow a pinned Toyota pickup out of a tight spot." But Car and Driver gripes, "The four-wheel-drive system is off-road only and old-fashioned. A manual console shifter selects among 'two high,' 'four high,' and 'four low' in a no-differential transfer case with a 2.6:1 low-gear reduction (Limited models have a more sophisticated electronic all-wheel drive), and a button engages the rear locker."
With the Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS) that’s optional in the Trail model, a system of clever hydraulics averts body motions on-road and actually increases off-road traction and riding comfort. Also on the Trail grade, 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. Crawl Control "rolls the truck confidently—although leisurely—over trail obstacles," says Car and Driver. Limited models get yet another setup: a so-called X-REAS system with electronically adjusting dampers, geared for flatter cornering and pavement surfaces. Popular Mechanics declares, "Off-road is where the 4Runner is a stunner." The reviewer elaborates that "with its 33-degree approach angle and sure-footed suspension, the 4Runner is in the same league as the Jeep Wrangler—and that's high praise indeed."
"The frame is as rugged as they come, and the driveline has been strengthened all the way back to the rear differential," reports Cars.com. "The four-wheel-drive system in the SR5 and Trail Edition is a part-time system favored by off-road enthusiasts, enhanced by electronic traction control, speed control and terrain-following innovations."
The 2010 Toyota 4Runner handles and performs very well for a truck—and that includes off-road.