2013 Toyota 4Runner Review

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The Car Connection
2018
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
June 10, 2013

The 2013 Toyota 4Runner is just as brawny as it looks off-road, yet much better than you'd probably suspect on the highway.

The 2013 Toyota 4Runner was once mainstream, but is more of a niche model today; as the market has moved toward softer crossovers, the 4Runner remains focused on the rugged trail ability that seduced American families in the 1990s. Only this time, ironically, it has a lot more of what those families wanted, and if you still place some priority on off-road prowess the 4Runner is a surprisingly deft everyday vehicle.

Toyota has kept the 4Runner's toughness intact in appearance, too. With its last redesign, the 4Runner became higher, chunkier, and more rugged, with a higher beltline and more flared wheel wells. While inheriting some of the imposing appearance from the Sequoia and Tundra full-size trucks, the 4Runner sticks to more of a conservative, traditional SUV look toward the rear, with a wide, downward-sloping C-pillar looking to past generations of the 4Runner. It's quite upright and chunky and builds 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 dash has macho, utilitarian appeal with its big, simple control knobs that could be operated with numb fingers or work gloves, while the gauge cluster is easy to read and the center stack of controls is done with bright metallic trim that's tasteful and not over-the-top.

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. 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. 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.

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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, and leave it to the (small) kids.

The 2013 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.

Base 4Runner SR5 models start just below $30k and actually include a good level of equipment; but the off-road purists who also sometimes need to haul the family will want the Trail model, which includes all the off-road goodies plus upgraded audio, a USB port, iPod connectivity, and Bluetooth audio streaming. Top Limited models step up to 15-speaker JBL premium sound, with a Party Mode that biases output to the rear tailgate speakers. Paired with the optional pull-out rear cargo deck, it's an instant tailgate party. 

Last year, the 4Runner gets redesigned audio systems, plus Toyota's Entune services and HD Radio with iTunes tagging. Those features carry over to 2013, while other desirable options include sonar-based rear parking, a navigation system, and a subscription-based Safety Connect telematics system.
8

2013 Toyota 4Runner

Styling

The 2013 Toyota 4Runner is dressed to impress on the trail; it looks rugged, as a proper SUV should.

If you ever wanted a sport-utility vehicle, owned one, or shopped for one, chances are you can conjure an image of the Toyota 4Runner from some era. And that image, in profile at least, likely isn't too distant from the profile of today's 4Runner. The 2013 Toyota 4Runner follows SUV tradition in combining the brawny good looks of a pickup from the front with a very traditional, upright utiliry-wagon silhouette and stance. The difference, though, is that Toyota has updated it with some chunky, modern details.

While other SUVs like the Ford Explorer have gone in a softer, somewhat more carlike (and family-oriented) direction, Toyota has kept the 4Runner's toughness intact. With its last redesign, the 4Runner became higher, chunkier, and more rugged, with a higher beltline and more flared wheel wells. While inheriting some of the imposing appearance from the Sequoia and Tundra full-size trucks, the 4Runner sticks to more of a conservative, traditional SUV look toward the rear, 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 and chunky and builds 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 dash has macho, utilitarian appeal with its big, simple control knobs that could be operated with numb fingers or work gloves, while the gauge cluster is easy to read and the center stack of controls is done with bright metallic trim that's tasteful and not over-the-top.

Review continues below
7

2013 Toyota 4Runner

Performance

The 2013 4Runner performs remarkably well on the road, even though follows through on every bit of its off-road promise.

With respect to off-roading, the 2013 Toyota 4Runner can be taken at face value; it has every bit of off-road ability that you might expect in sizing up the rugged exterior. What's a complete surprise, given that, is how it feels relatively athletic on the road and easy to drive on the highway.

No matter which model you choose, the 4Runner has no singular purpose. 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.

Under the hood of all 2013 4Runner models is a 4.0-liter V-6 engine, making 270 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque. Whether taking off from a stoplight, climbing a steep trail or driveway, or passing at highway speeds, it feels plenty quick, with the quick-shifting five-speed automatic transmission always on its game.

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 yet a different setup: a so-called X-REAS system with electronically adjusting dampers, geared for flatter cornering and pavement surfaces.

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. Limited models get a separate full-time four-wheel-drive system that's more road-oriented.

Review continues below
8

2013 Toyota 4Runner

Comfort & Quality

A roomy, high-quality cabin makes the 2013 Toyota 4Runner very appealing, but its cargo space isn't all that impressive.

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, and leave it to the (small) kids.

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.

The 2013 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.

Review continues below
8

2013 Toyota 4Runner

Safety

The 4Runner has all of the active and passive safety features that are expected, plus some electronic aids to keep you out of trouble off-road.

The 2013 Toyota 4Runner gets respectable safety ratings, and it includes a strong set of safety features plus a toolkit of electronic aids that should make some off-road situations a bit safer. 

All 4Runners 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. 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.

A tall, body-on-frame layout like the 4Runner's is more challenging for engineers to design occupant safety into. Yet the 4Runner earns top 'good' ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in frontal, side, and rear impact. The only letdown is 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.

Review continues below
9

2013 Toyota 4Runner

Features

Convenience and infotainment are the priorities over all-out luxury--but a 4Runner shouldn't be too plush anyhow.

Although the 4Runner appeals to a different kind of buyer--more the SUV traditionalist--Toyota equips and markets the 4Runner in a way that roughly parallels that of its pickups, as well as the Sequoia SUV.

The 4Runner has seen some significant price hikes and now starts at around $32,000. But it does include a pretty impressive level of standard equipment. 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.

The Trail model includes all the off-road goodies plus upgraded audio, a USB port, iPod connectivity, and Bluetooth audio streaming. Limited models are priced in Lexus territory, but they add 15-speaker JBL premium sound, with a Party Mode that biases output to the rear tailgate speakers. Paired with the optional pull-out rear cargo deck, it's an instant tailgate party, capable of holding up to 440 pounds.

Review continues below
Last year, the 4Runner gets redesigned audio systems, plus Toyota's Entune services and HD Radio with iTunes tagging. Those features carry over to 2013, while other desirable options include sonar-based rear parking, a navigation system, and a subscription-based Safety Connect telematics system.
5

2013 Toyota 4Runner

Fuel Economy

There's no green pick here in the Toyota 4Runner lineup; if family duty is the main game, you have many more fuel-efficient alternatives.

Compared to trucklike SUVs, as well as V-6 or V-8 crossovers, the Toyota 4Runner isn't all that bad, with its EPA ratings of up to 17 mpg city, 23 highway. 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 aren't good for gas mileage.

The 4Runner's EPA rating of 17 mpg in the city is 1 mpg better than that of the V-6 Grand Cherokee, and better than virtually all larger trucks.

You might say that the 4Runner needs a four-cylinder option, but Toyota has tried that--recently--and that model disappointed for mileage, at 18/23 with rear-wheel drive.

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April 28, 2015
2013 Toyota 4Runner 4WD 4-Door V6 Limited (SE)

I have thoroughly enjoyed owning and driving this vehicle.

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I purchased it to acquire a more comfortable vehicle which also had enough towing capacity to haul our travel trailer. It has not disappointed me at all to date. When I am towing the trailer and hauling two... + More »
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