2016 Toyota 4Runner Review

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2019
The Car Connection
2019
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Senior Editor
June 27, 2016

Buying tip

The 4Runner is at its best in base SR5 or TRD Pro versions; we think the Limited misses the point.

With the 2016 Toyota 4Runner, you'll trade off a little refinement and on the road finesse for true SUV capability, off-road prowess, and unparalleled style.

Remember what SUVs used to be like? The Toyota 4Runner is one of the few remaining utility vehicles left on the market that keep to that old body-on-frame formula—with all the truck toughness, plus just enough refinement and modern ride-and-handling attributes thrown in.

If you keep almost only to the streets and highways, or never have things to tow, you'll be better served by one of Toyota's crossover models like the Highlander or RAV4. The 4Runner calls out to off-road enthusiasts—as well those who perhaps want to show that they'd rather spend less time crawling along on the commute.

With the rugged-chic FJ Cruiser already a footnote in Toyota history, the 2016 4Runner remains the pick of the Toyota lineup for off-road enthusiasts. Last year Toyota upped the 4Runner's off-road kit with an even more trail-focused TRD Pro Series model, which brings remote-reservoir Bilstein shocks, Nitto all-terrain tires, TRD-tuned front springs, unique wheels, skid plates, and pieces inside and out that distinguish it from regular 4Runners. TRD models make what's already a rugged, trail-ready vehicle even more so—and up to the task of things like boulder-clambering and stream fording.

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The 4Runner is authentic, and that's part of what makes its rugged style work so well. It's not just an image conjured up for marketing purposes; this truck family has had the same basic wagon shape for years. The window line is high, the proportions are chunky, and the downward slope of the rear pillars are a direct callback to models going back three decades or more. The cabin yields just a bit to passenger-vehicle modernity, but it also keeps it simple and rugged, with big knobs and controls that are simple and uncluttered; you won't find loads of glossy chrome trim here.

The only engine offered in the 2016 4Runner is a 4.0-liter V-6, making 270 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque and feeling plenty quick either off the line or at highway speeds. 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. The 4Runner is relatively refined inside, with a tight, quiet highway cruising experience, a reasonably smooth ride, and very little road or wind noise.

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.

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.

Base 4Runner SR5 models include 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. Limited models include 15-speaker JBL premium sound plus dual power front seats and a vehicle-based navigation system.

For 2016, the 4Runner lineup gains upgraded Entune multimedia systems, which in SR5 and Trail models have a Connected Navigation system that uses a connected smartphone for navigation functionality. The 4Runner also gets Siri Eyes Free with all version of the Entune system.

Rear-wheel-drive versions of the 4Runner are rated at 17 mpg city, 22 highway, 19 combined. And with either 4WD system, the 4Runner earns 17/21/18 mpg, according to the EPA. 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.

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2016 Toyota 4Runner

Styling

The 4Runner has a certain Tonka-truck charm, with its squared-off corners and remarkably straight surfaces, by today's standards.

The 4Runner stays true to sport-utility tradition, which dictates a truck front end and a wagon body, and some chrome tossed in only where it'll protect the paint from rocks or trees.

Inside, the 4Runner also feels traditional yet freshly detailed. It's quite upright, built 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 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. A secondary display sits atop the center stack, and redundant steering wheel controls access audio and Bluetooth functions—something that wasn't around when the 4Runner first came on the scene.

In recent years, the 4Runner has gained a more aggressive, almost cartoonish front end, along with some minor visual updates. Yet that silhouette hasn't changed—for decades, really. In profile, it's brawny and aesthetically unconcerned with sleekness, setting it apart from entries like the Ford Explorer and Dodge Durango. And overall, it's still mostly a conservative, traditional SUV look in the rear, with a wide, downward-sloping C-pillar looking to past generations of the 4Runner.

The TRD Pro Series takes the 4Runner's angry-catfish look even further, with a unique grille with inset Toyota lettering, and a TRD skid plate visible underneath. It's also available in a TRD-exclusive color, Inferno.

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2016 Toyota 4Runner

Performance

The Toyota 4Runner isn't as uncomfortable on-pavement as it used to be; yet it's kept all the off-road prowess.

The 2016 4Runner is offered with a sole drivetrain: a 4.0-liter V-6 engine, making 270 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque, with a 5-speed automatic transmission.

There also are some differences in how the various 4Runner models deliver their power to the pavement—or the ground, anyway. SR5 models are offered either with rear-wheel drive or a part-time four-wheel-drive system, while Trail and TRD Pro Series models are only offered with that 4WD system.

Limited models get a full-time four-wheel-drive system that's more road-oriented. They also include the X-REAS system, with electronically adjusting dampers, geared for flatter cornering and smoothing out rough pavement.

The combination is strong enough to deliver competitive acceleration, whether taking off from a stoplight, climbing a steep trail or driveway, or passing at highway speeds—and there's enough torque to handle even difficult rock-crawling situations. The quick-shifting automatic always seems to be on its game, though it's at least one cog behind the state of the art, if not three.

Any off-road-capable SUV, especially a true body-on-frame such as the 4Runner, is going to suffer somewhat on the road for it. Depending on the model, however, the 4Runner can be made to remain somewhat civilized on the road as well. What it lacks in on-road composure, it more than makes up for off-road, assuming you plan to use it in the rough stuff.

Base models can be busy on rough pavement, and they lean in a more pronounced way into corners; 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 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.

Considering its off-road ability, the 4Runner is pretty well behaved on pavement. Steering feel and maneuverability are unexpected delights in the 4Runner; at low speeds especially, the 4Runner handles with better precision and control than most would expect from such a big, heavy model, and visibility isn't bad.

Especially in SR5 versions, you'll be reminded you're in a tall vehicle with big sidewalls and a soft suspension if you attack corners too aggressively. It's all about expectations: if you're hoping for car-like maneuverability and visibility, you'll be disappointed, but as an updated version of the SUV circa 1990, the 4Runner feels downright advanced.

The TRD Pro Series model raises the bar with a new suspension with reworked springs and Bilstein remote-reservoir dampers. It also gets Nitto all-terrain tires and other TRD parts like skid plates to ensure that this old-school SUV keeps its capability up—which in a couple of brief off-road opportunities we've found to be every bit up to its tough look.

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2016 Toyota 4Runner

Comfort & Quality

The 4Runner has a surprisingly quiet ride, and its cabin is good for four adults.

Get inside the 4Runner, and 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. 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.

Of course, most modern crossover models offer superior packaging, space, and comfort to a body-on-frame SUV. But for a traditional off-road fan that needs room for five and some gear, the 4Runner does the job. Its shortcomings as a minivan substitute are easy to pick out, and drivers looking for that should look elsewhere anywhere.

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 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.

The 4Runner's high floor and rather narrow body give away its truck roots, but it's still reasonably comfortable for up to five adults. In front, great-looking, supporting seats are best with the available perforated-leather upholstery. They're wide and supportive, and they fit quite the range of sizes and shapes.

The second-row bench seat adjusts for rake (with four detents), 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 two-passenger third-row seat offered on SR5 and Limited models, it's hard to get to—leave it to the little ones.

One thing you won't find of in the 4Runner (at least relative to rugged-truck expectations) is noise. The soft suspension does a good job of keeping smaller impacts (and impact noises) from the cabin, while it's remarkably free of wind noise considering its boxy shape.

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2016 Toyota 4Runner

Safety

The 2016 4Runner earns respectable ratings, though small-overlap test results bring down its GPA.

Safety ratings 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.

All 4Runners come with a good array of safety features. Eight airbags are standard, including front side bags, side-curtain bags for the second and third rows, and front knee bags for the driver and passenger.

In addition to the requisite electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes, 4Runners also get hill start assist and hill-descent control to help maintain a slow, steady speed down the steepest slopes.

A rearview camera is standard on all models, and Safety Connect, a concierge-style system that's similar to General Motors' OnStar, is optional.

The 4Runner earns four stars overall from the NHTSA, four stars in frontal crash, five stars in side crash, and three stars in rollover. The IIHS gives it top "Good" ratings in all but the small overlap front test, which it scores as "Marginal."


 

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2016 Toyota 4Runner

Features

Just as it should, the Toyota 4Runner puts the focus on off-road gear and useful hardware.

The 2016 Toyota 4Runner is no longer the fully roofed cousin of a pickup. In recent years, the 4Runner has become far more convenience- and luxury-oriented—even though it's still aimed more toward off-road trails than coddling passengers. And it's worth keeping in mind that if you care to take advantage of everything that's available on the 4Runner, it can become one very expensive truck.

The "walk" in trim levels for the 4Runner has changed only slightly, and with the introduction of the off-road-focused TRD Pro model last year, it now includes SR5, Trail, TRD Pro Series, and Limited. 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 a Land Rover. And the new TRD Pro Series model is aimed at the extreme off-road crowd; it's the only way to get all-terrain tires on a 4Runner, which are a must when doing anything but light off-roading.

Base SR5 4Runners get a comprehensive package of standard features including power windows, locks, and mirrors; cruise control; a rearview camera; and air conditioning.

Limited models are priced in Lexus territory, very near to the Lexus GX 460, and add 15-speaker JBL premium sound, HD Radio with iTunes tagging, and navigation; last year's "Party Mode" that biased output to the rear tailgate speakers has been deleted since the new audio system has a better balance feature.

The Trail comes in five-passenger trim; both the SR5 and Limited can be ordered with two small rear seats, for a total of seven passenger spots.

All versions now get a basic audio system with Entune Audio Plus, a sound/connectivity package that includes satellite radio, a USB port, iPod connectivity, and Bluetooth audio streaming, as well as smartphone-driven connections to Pandora, Bing, and other mobile apps.

For 2016, the 4Runner lineup gains upgraded Entune multimedia systems, which in SR5 and Trail models have a Connected Navigation system that uses a connected smartphone for navigation functionality. The 4Runner also gets Siri Eyes Free with all version of the Entune system.

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2016 Toyota 4Runner

Fuel Economy

Gas mileage isn't exactly the focus here—and if it is, you shouldn't be considering the 4Runner.

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 just aren't as good for gas mileage.

Rear-wheel-drive versions of the 4Runner are rated at 17 mpg city, 22 highway, 19 combined. And with either 4WD system, the 4Runner earns 17/21/18 mpg.

That's somewhat respectable for the 4Runner—especially if you consider the capability and off-roading ability on all models. But if you plan to use it mainly as a family or commuter vehicle, you should probably focus your attention to other models.

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October 24, 2016
2016 Toyota 4Runner 4WD 4-Door V6 Trail Premium (Natl)

Trail Premium knows how to stay on the Trail

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I do 20 camping trips a year in the Pacific Northwest and this vehicle is very off road capable not to mention the 90 cubic feet of storage for my two YETI 50's and gear. It could use more safety features like... + More »
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December 25, 2015
2016 Toyota 4Runner 4WD 4-Door V6 Trail (Natl)

It's brand new I love it the radio is incredible

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RUGGED' MOBILE, STYLISH, I THINK IT IS AHEAD OF ITS TIME STYLE WISE, IN 5 YEARS PEOPLE WILL CATCH UP AND SAY WOW, ITS AN INCREDIBLEVEHICLE THE LAST OF ITS KIND, BODY ON FRAME DESIGN STRONG FOR THE MOUNTAINS... + More »
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7.6
Overall
Expert Rating
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Styling 7
Performance 7
Comfort & Quality 8
Safety 7
Features 9
Fuel Economy 5
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