2010 Toyota 4Runner Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
March 4, 2010

The 2010 Toyota 4Runner is a brawny “true truck” worth serious consideration if tough off-roading capability for regular trail driving is one of your requirements—and it won’t sacrifice comfort the rest of the time.

The experts at TheCarConnection.com have put the all-new 2010 Toyota 4Runner through the paces—on- and off-road—and tested its passenger space and utility in order to give you a complete assessment by which to compare it to other SUVs. TheCarConnection.com is also compiling a survey that includes some of the most useful information from other review sources in the accompanying Full Review.

Mid-size body-on-frame sport-utility vehicles have just a fraction of the appeal that they did a decade ago—or even just a few years ago—with modern, passenger-oriented crossover models like the Chevrolet Traverse, Ford Edge, and Toyota’s own Highlander far surpassing them in sales. Yet as GM has gotten out of this segment of the market and others such as Chrysler are due to retreat as well, Toyota is rolling out a completely redesigned version of the body-on-frame 4Runner. Although a V-8 option is no longer available, the new 4Runner is geared for those who have heavy-duty needs that involve regular off-roading or trailer-towing; it’s slightly taller, wider, and longer than the previous model and promises even more toughness with a comfortable, almost downright luxurious interior.

With its complete redesign, the 4Runner gets a chunkier, more chiseled-and-creased look on the outside, and aggressively flared areas extend from the wheel wells into the fenders. The beltline of the new 4Runner is higher yet, bringing the secure, elevated impression of a large SUV, and lips around the wheel wells continue clearly through the running boards and around to the creases of the front and rear fascia. In front, the new 4Runner inherits some of the imposing appearance of the latest Sequoia and Tundra, with a mesh recessed grille, large chrome bar, and swept-back headlamps; in back it gets a more conservative, traditional SUV look, with a wide, downward-sloping C-pillar looking to past generations of the 4Runner. Inside, the new 4Runner goes in a new and pleasant styling direction for Toyota, with a bright metallic center stack of controls and an easy-to-read gauge cluster.

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 has shuffled 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. 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.

Review continues below

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. The five-speed automatic feels very responsive with the engine, showing quick downshifts for passing and smooth, early shifts when puttering around town. 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. All that changes for the better with the Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS) that’s optional in the Trail model. Through a system of clever hydraulics, it averts body motions on-road and actually increases off-road traction and riding comfort with more wheel travel then. 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. Limited models get yet another setup: a so-called X-REAS system with electronically adjusting dampers, geared for flatter cornering and pavement surfaces.

Inside, the 2010 4Runner gets a much-needed complete redesign of its seating. Front seats have been recontoured, and they’re a bit longer and significantly wider than before to accommodate American-size occupants. The driving position is excellent, and the available perforated leather upholstery made us feel like we were in a luxury-brand perch. Second-row occupants also get new contours that don’t feel flat like before; this 6’-6” editor rode in the backseat for more than an hour very comfortably. The second-row seatback can also recline 16 degrees in four stops. Gone are last year’s small flip-to-the-side third-row seats, replaced by a more conventional folding third row that’s a little hard to access and only good for kids. Although passenger comfort is good, compared to modern crossover designs, the 4Runner doesn’t have as spacious an interior; fold the seats down, and you won’t be able to fit items that are as high as you would in larger crossovers or minivans. The hatch in the 4Runner opens upward, rather than sideways in some truck-based utes. Overall, the way the controls are arranged—and the feel of them—is a highlight of the 4Runner’s 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. Our several test 4Runners had no rattles or cheap-feeling interiors, and the cabin is relatively free of wind and road noise.

The 2010 Toyota 4Runner paints a positive safety impression, thanks to top "good" results from the IIHS in frontal, side, and rear tests, along with mostly five-star results from the federal government, with the exception of four stars for the frontal passenger. All V-6 4Runner models get electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes with Brake Assist, and Hill-start Assist Control (HAC) for safe uphill starts, and all 4WD models get Downhill Assist Control, to help maintain a slow, steady speed down steep slopes. Some models include a small screen built into the rearview mirror that provides a fish-eye camera view backward for parking assistance. All 4Runners also come 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.

The 4Runner will be offered in basic SR5, off-road-oriented Trail, and luxurious Limited models. 4Runner Trail models get an upgraded audio system with XM satellite radio, a USB port, iPod connectivity, and Bluetooth audio streaming, while top Limited models step up to 15-speaker JBL premium sound, with a Party Mode that biases output to the rear tailgate speakers for better outward projection. Also available is a pull-out rear cargo deck that includes a separate small cargo box behind the rear seat and can function, when slid out, as a tailgating or camping seat that holds up to 440 pounds. Other desirable options include sonar-based rear parking, a navigation system, and a subscription-based Safety Connect telematics system. The desirable KDSS system that’s available on Trail models is only offered with the navigation system, at a total extra price of $4,170.

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2010 Toyota 4Runner

Styling

The 2010 Toyota 4Runner looks chunky and chiseled on the outside, while its interior sets a functional and stylish new direction.

With its complete redesign, the 4Runner gets a chunkier, more chiseled-and-creased look on the outside, and aggressively flared areas extend from the wheel wells into the fenders. The beltline of the new 4Runner is higher yet, bringing the secure, elevated impression of a large SUV, and lips around the wheel wells continue clearly through the running boards and around to the creases of the front and rear fascia. In front, the new 4Runner inherits some of the imposing appearance of the latest Sequoia and Tundra, with a mesh recessed grille, large chrome bar, and swept-back headlamps; in back it gets a more conservative, traditional SUV look, with a wide, downward-sloping C-pillar looking back to past generations of the 4Runner.

"The exterior styling is rigid and masculine," asserts Automobile Magazine. "The 4Runner’s new design is bolder, boxier and bulgier," explains MotherProof. "Essentially, it’s an old 4Runner on steroids." But MotherProof doesn't at all like the look of the 4Runner's front end. The downward-angled grille appears to frown, according to the reviewer, and the headlights "are rectangular and bulge out over the edges of the SUV; they look kind of like a blister," remarks Mother Proof. "Yuck."

"Based on the Land Cruiser Prado sold in other world markets, the made-in-Japan 4Runner wears boxier—retro, if you will—sheetmetal that more closely resembles that on the FJ Cruiser," explains Truck Trend. "Headlamp and taillamp lenses extrude from the body, the grille is bold and in your face, and the overall appearance just looks bigger," says Truck Trend, despite very modest gains in size.

"Squared-off wheel wells accentuate the boxiness and make the 20-inch wheels look even bigger," notes MotherProof. "From the side you can also see the taillights bulging out beyond the end of the truck."

Inside, the new 4Runner goes in a new and pleasant styling direction for Toyota, with a bright metallic center stack of controls and an easy-to-read gauge cluster. It's definitely more heavily styled than other trucks, and not all reviewers appreciate that. "The interior has a utilitarian aesthetic but is far from Spartan; it seems to be inspired both by the FJ Cruiser and the Land Cruiser," says Automobile Magazine, adding, "It's trying to be masculine." Truck Trend comments, "Inside, the FJ similarities continue, due to oversized knobs and buttons, a more upright windshield, and water-resistant seats."

"Some love Toyota's latest interior themes, and others find them a bit overwrought and self-conscious," contends Popular Mechanics. But Truck Trend says "none could argue it wasn't extremely functional, roomy, and easy to use." An Automobile Magazine reviewer also declares, "I like the five big chunky knobs for radio volume, radio tuning, fan speed, temperature, and HVAC selection, which are all very logically and symmetrically presented to the driver and passenger."

Review continues below
8

2010 Toyota 4Runner

Performance

The 2010 Toyota 4Runner handles and performs very well for a truck—and that includes off-road.

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."

Review continues below
8

2010 Toyota 4Runner

Comfort & Quality

Inside, the 2010 4Runner has plenty of space for passenger, though it’s not as good for cargo as modern crossover designs; materials and build quality are excellent.

Inside, the 2010 4Runner gets a much-needed complete redesign of its seating. Front seats have been recontoured, and they’re a bit longer and significantly wider than before to accommodate American-size occupants. The driving position is excellent, and the available perforated leather upholstery makes us feel like we're in a luxury-brand perch. Second-row occupants also get new contours that don’t feel flat like before; this 6’-6” editor rode in the backseat for more than an hour very comfortably. The second-row seatback can also recline 16 degrees in four stops.

"The oddly sporty on-the-floor seating of previous 4Runners is largely gone," says Car and Driver, remarking that ingress and egress are easy. "As in the FJ, the new 4Runner’s seats are higher, the head and knee clearances are generous, and the sightlines and controls more like those of other traditional SUVs such as the Kia Borrego." On the other hand, MotherProof warns that getting in and out might be tough for shorter drivers, "especially without running boards for some assistance." Reviewers note that smaller kids would have trouble getting into the 4Runner.

Popular Mechanics proclaims "there's no denying that the front two seats are well-shaped, and that there's a good deal of leg space in the second row." The reviewer also points out that the second row reclines up to 16 degrees. "The interior volume is enhanced by the rear seats that fold flat without having to remove the headrests, and the rear liftgate opens wide," says a Cars.com reviewer who used the vehicle to help a college student move.

Also gone are last year’s small flip-to-the-side third-row seats, replaced by a more conventional folding third row that’s a little hard to access and only good for kids. Although passenger comfort is good, compared to modern crossover designs, the 4Runner doesn’t have as spacious an interior; fold the seats down, and you won’t be able to fit items that are as high as you would in larger crossovers or minivans. "Cargo loading and weekend tailgating are aided by a slide-out tray that holds 440 pounds, standard on the Trail," says Car and Driver.

"Speaking of full loads, the new 4Runner can accommodate more than before—89.7 cubic feet versus 75.1, with the rear seats folded; 47.2 versus 42.2, with the seats up—and its available third row, which boasts 5.2 more inches of legroom, now folds flat rather than up against the side windows," states Truck Trend. Automobile also points out the "signature roll-down glass in the rear hatch." The hatch in the 4Runner opens upward, rather than sideways in some truck-based utes.

In two-row 4Runners, MotherProof notes that instead you get "a weird sliding luggage shelf in the cargo area that I still don’t see the value in." The reviewer says that "it doesn’t make it any easier to get to luggage or groceries since you still have to reach across it; it also takes up a significant amount of cargo space." Up in front, MotherProof isn't so enthused about the center console: "The old-school shifter takes up a lot of space, and the storage cubbies are oddly shaped."

Inside Line observes, "Interior design touches similar to those of the current FJ include window controls at the top of the door panel (which will unfortunately expose them to moisture)." The reviewer also sums up the switchgear as "solid, sturdy, and easy to use."

Overall, the way the controls are arranged—and the feel of them—is a highlight of the 4Runner’s interior. "The large knobs and buttons controlling the radio and climate control are fantastic," says Automobile Magazine. "They're easy to locate without taking your eyes off the road and can readily be twisted with a pair of bulky gloves on." 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. Our several test 4Runners had no rattles or cheap-feeling interiors, and the cabin is relatively free of wind and road noise.

"The 4Runner's new cabin is spacious and practical," declares Popular Mechanics, while Automobile Magazine says, "Despite its weight, the 4Runner is a spry errand runner in the city with a surprisingly compliant ride and a well-hushed cabin."

Cars.com remarks that the suspension on Trail models is well suited for off-roading but not as comfortable on the road. "The suspension permits a fair amount of vibration on the highway; contact with cracks and small imperfections are noticed in the cabin," the reviewer points out. "On the other hand, larger irregularities — washed out dirt roads, speed bumps or dips at intersections — tend to disappear, soaked up by springs, shocks and bushings tuned to handle tough terrain."

A number of other comments make clear that the 2010 Toyota 4Runner isn't as quiet or refined inside. "On the highway the 4Runner tends to wander in the lane and wind noise is bothersome," says Automobile Magazine, while MotherProof notes, "the 4Runner’s ride is truckish and bouncy, which makes sense since it’s a truck-based SUV."

Review continues below
9

2010 Toyota 4Runner

Safety

The 2010 Toyota 4Runner has a compelling safety feature list—especially when you consider all the electronic aids.

The 2010 Toyota 4Runner paints a positive safety impression, thanks to top "good" results from the IIHS in frontal, side, and rear tests, along with mostly five-star results from the federal government, aside from four stars for the frontal passenger.

All V-6 4Runner models get electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes with Brake Assist, and Hill-start Assist Control (HAC) for safe uphill starts, and all 4WD models get Downhill Assist Control, to help maintain a slow, steady speed down steep slopes. Also newly available is Safety Connect, a system that's similar to General Motors' OnStar, bringing 24-hour roadside assistance and allowing location of your stolen vehicle or emergency location for accidents.

"In the second row, the wide, flat seat allows a booster seat to fit well, while firm seat belt receptacles make buckling easy for little hands," notes the family-minded MotherProof reviewer.

"Visibility to the front is great since the 4Runner sits so high up, but it’s not as great to the rear and sides," says MotherProof. "The 4Runner’s big side mirrors and a backup camera help mitigate that." The reviewer notes that even on models without the rear camera, parking sensors are included.

Some models include a small screen built into the rearview mirror that provides a fish-eye camera view backward for parking assistance. All 4Runners also come 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. "For better safety, the side-curtain airbags now extend to the third row, if that option box is checked, and there are standard knee bags for both the driver and front passenger," notes Truck Trend.

Review continues below
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2010 Toyota 4Runner

Features

Offering a host of off-road and tech-focused features, Toyota clearly knows its target audience for the 4Runner.

The 4Runner will be offered in basic SR5, off-road-oriented Trail, and luxurious Limited models. The most desirable of the 2010 Toyota 4Runner models, the 4Runner Trail, offers all the good off-road hardware and electronics, but it's pricey.

While the luxurious Limited "returns to answer the needs of those few who wish to spend $40,000 on an old-fashioned body-on-frame SUV," according to Car and Driver, the Trail slots below that and above the base SR5. "With its sparse exterior decoration and blacked-out fender flares, the Trail reminds us most of the original, Reagan-era 4Runner," Car and Driver explains, with the exception of all the electronic aids.

4Runner Trail models get an upgraded audio system with XM satellite radio, a USB port, iPod connectivity, and Bluetooth audio streaming, while top Limited models step up to 15-speaker JBL premium sound, with a Party Mode that biases output to the rear tailgate speakers for better outward projection. Press the Party Mode button on the front dash, and the stereo tunes are concentrated to the tailgate and rear-cargo area for maximum enjoyment.

Also available is a pull-out rear cargo deck that includes a separate small cargo box behind the rear seat and can function, when slid out, as a tailgating or camping seat that holds up to 440 pounds. "Pass on the third row," Truck Trend recommends, pointing to the "sliding cargo deck that doubles as a tailgate tray—as the latter, it can support 440 pounds."

Other desirable options include sonar-based rear parking, a navigation system, and a subscription-based Safety Connect telematics system. The excellent KDSS system that’s available on Trail models is only offered with the navigation system, at a total extra price of $4,170.

"While I'm glad Toyota is sticking with the rough, tough, body-on-frame mantra, the 4Runner is far from cheap," Automobile Magazine remarks, noting how the Trail model "pushes the price tag closer to $40,000. Yikes." Car and Driver warns that the Trail's price "might put it out of reach for buyers who pine for the more serious dirt lovers such as the Jeep Wrangler and Nissan Xterra."

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