2017 Toyota 4Runner Review

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2019
The Car Connection
2019
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Andrew Ganz Andrew Ganz Senior Editor
June 14, 2017

Buying tip

Skip the pricey Limited in favor of one of the TRD variants, which best show off the 4Runner's virtues.

If it's an exploration companion you're after, the Toyota 4Runner fits the bill exceptionally well.

It may be something of a relic among SUVs, but that's part of the Toyota 4Runner's lasting appeal. It's like a Patagonia fleece pull-over that never seems to wear out despite being your hiking go-to.

If you're a city slicker, there are far better SUV and crossover offerings on the market, but for those looking for a reliable pack mule with four wheels and four-wheel drive, the 4Runner—in SR5, TRD Off-Road, TRD Pro, and Limited trim levels—remains a solid choice. It's a 6.0 out of 10 on our scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

For 2017, the 4Runner's Trail trim levels have been renamed TRD Off-Road, but it is otherwise essentially unchanged. Evolution comes slowly to the 4Runner lineup.

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Toyota 4Runner styling and performance

Last redesigned for the 2014 model year, the 4Runner's looks are eye-catching. Our staff is deeply divided, with some defending the aggressive look on the SR5 and TRD models and others pointing toward the "chrome mustache" on the Limited as an example of gross overstyling. No matter your thoughts, there's no denying that the SR5 and TRD models look best with a splash or two of mud and muck. It's their natural element.

Inside, the 4Runner's blocky dashboard seems like a throwback to pickups from the 1990s. It's not decadent, but everything is arrayed logically. You'll find a slew of off-road switches and knobs in a rather aircraft-esque fashion up near the dome lights on TRD models. The view out is commanding, yet the interior doesn't feel quite as roomy as it actually is since the thick roof pillars and tall window sills create a confining affect.

All 4Runners are powered by the same 4.0-liter V-6 rated at 270 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque. Despite its girth—a 4Runner with a few options checks in at a plump 4,750 pounds—it moves with reasonable authority. Though the 4Runner's 5-speed automatic transmission and part-time four-wheel drive won't grab any headlines, the combination works well and without fuss. The Limited trim level with four-wheel drive includes a convenient "automatic" mode for its four-wheel-drive system that can be left engaged on any terrain; by contrast, the system on SR5 and TRD variants is for slippery surfaces only. 

Underneath, the 4Runner's ladder frame chassis is a distant cousin of the company's Tacoma pickups, but its suspension utilizes more comfortable coil springs to hold the old-school solid rear axle in place. TRD Off-Road models offer as an option a sophisticated Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System that uses hydraulics to either tighten its massive sway bars to aid on-road handling or loosen them up for more off-road articulation. TRD Pro models, meanwhile, skip that tech for a high-travel Bilstein-branded setup meant for severe off-road duty. If it's a more comfortable Jeep Wrangler you're after, the 4Runner delivers nearly as much off-road capability with more sound deadening and better handling on pavement. 

Limited models feature their own suspension tuning with the automaker's X-REAS system. Each corner of the suspension is linked to a central absorber that helps reduce lean while improving ride quality. Though the system can't fully eradicate the 4Runner's top-heavy nature, it does help it corner with less lean than you might expect. 

Toyota 4Runner comfort, safety, and features

In Toyota SUV tradition, the 4Runner sits high off the ground for more clearance. That translates to a high step-in height and a legs-out seating position that isn't the most comfortable. However, at least the seats themselves are nicely padded and outfitted in a choice of cloth, synthetic leather, and genuine leather trims. A third row is on the options list, but it's a tight, compromised setup. If you really need that space, Toyota's own Highlander is a far better choice. However, 5-seat models offer a convenient slide-out floor that makes loading heavier items a cinch. There's no power tailgate, but the rearmost window rolls down at the press of a button kind of like a '70s Detroit station wagon (only far less likely to leak). 

SR5 models come reasonably well-equipped with the expected power features (including a power driver's seat), plus a backup camera, Bluetooth, a household-style power outlet, and a 6.1-inch infotainment system with eight speakers. An SR5 Premium adds leatherette upholstery, heated seats and navigation. 

Last year's Trail model has been renamed TRD Off-Road and it's only available with four-wheel drive. It builds on the SR5 with a locking rear differential and a host of other off-road goodies we'll describe later. A TRD Off-Road Premium model essentially mirrors the SR5 Premium, except with the off-road tech. The Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System is optional on both TRD Off-Road models and is a worthwhile feature.

The Limited model features its own exterior styling outside with copious chrome and 20-inch alloy wheels. Inside, it adds leather upholstery that's heated and ventilated up front, plus dual-zone automatic climate control, and a 15-speaker JBL audio system.

Finally, the TRD Pro model is the most off-road-oriented offering in the lineup. It builds on the TRD Off-Road with its own more severe duty suspension system, special wheels, and all-terrain tires. 

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. 

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2017 Toyota 4Runner

Styling

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. We're not all smitten with the 4Runner, but there's no denying that it stands out.

With its slashed intakes (both functional and fake) and tall stance, the Toyota 4Runner boasts a commanding presence on the road.

Yet for every person who loves its rugged looks, there are at least two who think it's confused and over-styled. We've awarded it a point above average for its ability to stand out from the crowd, bringing it to a 6 for styling—but we'll admit that beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder here. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The 4Runner stays true to sport-utility tradition, which dictates a truck front end and a wagon body. It sits high off the ground and rides on tires with big, rock-absorbing side walls, adding to its brawny look. SR5 and TRD models share most of their styling elements, although the TRD Pro variant has its own retro-esque grille with "Toyota" spelled out in chunky letters. The Limited model, meanwhile, appears to have used up Toyota's excess supply of chrome-coated plastic. It's tonier, perhaps, but it's also gaudy. 

Inside, the 4Runner also feels traditional yet freshly detailed. It's upright with a commanding view out the front windshield. The blocky dashboard features controls that are sensibly-arrayed. 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.

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2017 Toyota 4Runner

Performance

Though its trucky roots show around town, the 4Runner is an especially capable off-roader.

Some of the Toyota 4Runner's specs wouldn't seem out of place 20 years ago, but there's a remarkable degree of refinement and modernity hidden behind its old-school facade.

We've given the 4Runner one extra point above average for its impressive off-road ability and then another for its flexible suspension options, but we've deducted one because of its less-than-precise steering. That brings the 4Runner to 6 out of 10 for its performance. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

There's just one engine offering under the 4Runner's hood: a 4.0-liter V-6 engine, making 270 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque mated to a 5-speed automatic transmission. SR5 and Limited models come standard with rear-wheel drive. Four-wheel drive is optional on those and is standard on the TRD variants. However, only the 4Runner Limited includes a four-wheel-drive system that can be used on any kind of terrain; the system on other models is part-time and meant to be engaged only on slippery surfaces like a dirt trail or a snow-covered road.

Underneath, the 4Runner's separate frame and independent front/solid axle rear suspension setup isn't exactly ground-breaking. Yet it does endow the SUV with a 5,000 pound towing capacity and terrific stability with a trailer attached. Off-road, of course, the 4Runner excels. Its big sidewalls absorb rocks and ruts with aplomb. On the pavement, however, the SUV can feel bouncy and almost too plush. 

Suspension story

Four suspension setups are on offer, all building on the same basic design. SR5 models feature the simplest arrangement: coil springs and traditional stabilizer bars.

That setup is standard on TRD Off-Road variants, but those models offer Toyota's desirable Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS). In short, KDSS rips out the standard stabilizer bars for much thicker units and hydraulic actuators that either press down on the bars for flatter cornering or lift up on them for off-road articulation. It's an impressive setup that makes so-equipped models both better on a curvy road and more capable when the going gets rough.

Limited models, meanwhile, feature Toyota's X-REAS suspension. Starting with the SR5's simple setup, X-REAS links all four corners to a central absorber located under the center of the vehicle. This has the affect of significantly reducing body lean without resulting in an overly stiff ride quality, even with the Limited's 20-inch alloy wheels. 

Finally, the TRD Pro utilizes the most off-road-oriented suspension. Developed by Bilstein, the TRD Pro's shock absorbers feature rear remote reservoirs that help them recover from big shocks like large rocks and boulders or high-speed desert driving. The TRD Pro also sits a little higher than its siblings and it includes beefier skid plates to keep the SUV's underbelly in good shape.

All TRD models are four-wheel drive and in addition to a two-speed transfer case shared with the SR5, they include Toyota's Crawl Control system and its Multi-Terrain Select traction control system. When activated, Crawl Control automatically applies individual wheel brakes to move the 4Runner at very, very low speeds for difficult off-road driving and descending steep hills. Multi-Terrain Select, meanwhile, includes traction and stability control modes for all sorts of terrain situations. 

No 4Runner is a match for more car-like crossovers in typical day-to-day driving. Despite its suspension tech, we're always finding ourselves throwing in the qualifier "for an SUV" when we praise the way the 4Runner drives. Its steering transmits little feedback from the road and there's plenty of on-center play, while its ride is busy and bouncy over pockmarked pavement. 

If it's off-road where you plan to use your 4Runner, however, you'll find that it delivers a far more comfortable experience than the Jeep Wrangler—even if the Jeep can ultimately bounce its way down a more challenging trail with fewer scrapes and bangs underneath. 

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2017 Toyota 4Runner

Comfort & Quality

Comfy seats and a roomy and versatile cargo area make the 4Runner a great pack mule.

Car-based crossovers like the Ford Explorer and Nissan Pathfinder certainly offer more interior room, but the 4Runner's seats are comfortable and its cargo area has a few tricks up its sleeve worth a mention.

Combine that with its well-screwed together feel and the 4Runner scores a 7 out of 10 for its comfort and quality. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

That said, we need to get a few things out of the way. First, the 4Runner's tall body means it requires a big step up to climb aboard. While that's aided by the optional running boards (rigid on SR5 and TRD models and power-retractable on Limiteds), there's no getting around the legs-out seating position forced by the relatively high floor and low roof design. Truthfully, the 4Runner isn't nearly as bad here as Toyota's own Tacoma, but you'll find a more chair-like position in some rivals.

However, the 4Runner's seats are wide and supportive to fit a range of passenger sizes. SR5 and TRD Off-Road trim levels feature a choice between cloth and easy-to-clean heated leatherette upholstery, but real leather hides are reserved for the Limited grade only. The 4Runner's second row is a little tighter, but there's good room at the outboard positions for adults and the backrest adjusts 16 degrees for rake. The second row folds easily with a lever for what is admittedly subpar access to the tight optional third row. Not many 4Runners are ordered with the third row, and that's fine because most shoppers are better suited to the third row in Toyota's own Highlander. 

Without the third row, the 4Runner's cargo area is high off the ground but aided by an available pull-out floor that operates kind of like a flat drawer. It's easy to load and it doubles as a sitting platform for tailgating. The 4Runner's tailgate lifts up but isn't power-operated. It makes up for that demerit, however, with a standard power rear window; you've probably seen a 4Runner with a big dog poking its nose out the rear window at some point. 

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.

Even the Limited falls short of luxury inside. Materials have been selected more for durability (and low cost) than pampering, but the 4Runner does include some nice surface detailing that helps out. Still, the Jeep Grand Cherokee ultimately feels like an upmarket vehicle inside. 

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2017 Toyota 4Runner

Safety

Bigger isn't necessarily better when you lack some advanced safety tech.

Lacking some of the latest available collision-preventing tech, the Toyota 4Runner doesn't exactly ace this category.

We've given it 4 points out of 10, owing to its so-so crash test ratings and its light roster of safety equipment. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The basic safety package is decent, with the requisite stability control and anti-lock brakes joined by eight airbags including front knee airbags. A rearview camera is standard across the line, as is Toyota's concierge-style Safety Connect system that can automatically call police if the airbags are deployed. 

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."

Where the 4Runner really falls short is in its lack of automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control. Those features are standard across most of Toyota's lineup for 2017, but they're not even available on this rugged off-roader. 


 

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2017 Toyota 4Runner

Features

While it's not a budget Range Rover, the 4Runner is well-outfitted and features a lot of available off-road tech.

It may not be quite the bargain it once was, but the Toyota 4Runner represents a pretty good value and offers a wide range of trim levels.

We've given it some extra points for including an infotainment system as standard (and with navigation on most models, which fits its outdoorsy role), its wide range of trim levels with their own distinct personalities, and its serious off-road tech. That brings it to 8 out of 10 points for features. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

SR5 models come reasonably well-equipped with the expected power features (including a power driver's seat), plus a rearview camera, Bluetooth, a household-style power outlet, and a 6.1-inch infotainment system with eight speakers. An SR5 Premium adds leatherette upholstery, heated seats and navigation. 

Options on the SR5 include navigation, a third row, a pull-out shelf floor for the cargo area, and running boards. SR5 Premium models offer the third row, the pull-out shelf, and a moonroof.

Last year's Trail model has been renamed TRD Off-Road and it's only available with four-wheel drive. It builds on the SR5 with a locking rear differential and a host of other off-road goodies we'll describe later. A TRD Off-Road Premium model essentially mirrors the SR5 Premium, except with the off-road tech. The Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System is optional on both TRD Off-Road models and is a worthwhile feature—more so than the available running boards that seem to defeat the purpose of this rugged trim level.

The Limited model features its own exterior styling outside with copious chrome and 20-inch alloy wheels. Inside, it adds leather upholstery that's heated and ventilated up front, plus dual-zone automatic climate control, and a 15-speaker JBL audio system. The third row is optional on the Limited, as are power-retractable running boards. 

Finally, the TRD Pro model is the most off-road-oriented offering in the lineup. It builds on the TRD Off-Road with its own more severe duty suspension system, special wheels, and all-terrain tires. TRD Pro models come loaded from the factory and offer only running boards and a pull-out shelf cargo floor as options.

Toyota also includes two years or 25,000 miles, whichever comes first, of standard maintenance on the 4Runner. 

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2017 Toyota 4Runner

Fuel Economy

Think of the 4Runner as a throwback SUV...with throwback gas mileage.

There's a price to pay for the 4Runner's girth and its off-road ability: dismal fuel economy.

Although it's still more miserly than the Jeep Wrangler, the 4Runner's figures aren't great. It scores 5 points here. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Last year's rear-wheel-drive versions of the 4Runner were rated at 17 mpg city, 22 highway, 19 combined. And with either four-wheel drive system, the 4Runner earns 17/21/18 mpg. Regular unleaded is all that's required, however. 

We don't expect those ratings to change much for this year, but we'll update this space once those numbers are finalized.

Those figures aren't all that bad if you factor in the 4Runner's capability. For a family or commuter vehicle, a crossover probably makes more sense for most of us.

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6.0
Overall
Expert Rating
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Styling 6
Performance 6
Comfort & Quality 7
Safety 4
Features 8
Fuel Economy 5
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