Crossovers from near and far have ditched their rugged truck frames in favor of cushy third rows and lazy AWD.
What is a real off-roader to do for an SUV with 2015 tech and features alongside totally invincible traction and durability?!
You can pick up a Wrangler Unlimited with its four-door hardtop giving year-round thrills, or perhaps the Nissan xTerra?
Or you can stick with the one you know delivers: the Toyota 4Runner.
This is a truck that maintains the greatest parts of its core appeal for 30 years of US sales, but enters 2015 with a sexy and butch new design outside, plus newly-comfy power seats and LED gauges inside.
How does the 4Runner feel taking on highways and off-road trails this year? And how quick and fun is the truck in a world awash with hybrids and soft-roaders?
Let's dive in to find out! Standard headings of Exterior, Interior, Performance and Pricing below!
The new 4Runner Trail grade really hooks you with its sweet new face. Unlike the 4Runner Limited and its chrome nose, the Trail is fully monochrome and body-color aside from black grilles and the silver skid-plate accent down below.
The design of the Trail grade 4Runner starts at its standard hood scoop. Each edge of the scoop makes a line continued by the edges of a massive new single-frame grille.These two edges chop the top portion in a pinched and aggressive way, giving a great sense of power. This bulging edge flows downward into twin bumper uprights, and opens a giant breathing area for the upper and lower main grilles. Beside this big lantern jaw are two fangs of black grille with embedded round foglamps.
However you look at this new nose, there is no mistaking it for 4Runners of yore. It is a cool look on the move, too, with the slimline headlights just the right amount of intimidating. Even so, we wish the Runner had HID and LED lighting from the factory instead of its halogen bulbs for all front lighting.
Around the profile, the 4Runner Trail enjoys body-color fender flares to set off the classic proportions of a tall hood, upright windshield and blocky glasshouse. The latest 4Runner's design helps its roof to look pretty low by SUV standards, with the giant ride height making it look Baja-ready. The 17-inch wheels and 265-series tires are as tall as ever, with the seven-spoke alloys looking tough enough for a rally.
Around back, the LED brake lamps are a new chunky design with dark grey lamp internals. The LEDs are still the dot type, looking a bit tacky versus the coolest new styles.
The tailgate is still one of the 4Runner's best assets -- with the power rear window still fantastic.
The 4Runner's cabin is its major advantage over the other hardcore SUVs available. The 2014 redesign brought the latest Entune touchscreen and nav controls, new eight-way power drivers seat and a big helping of NVH materials. The 4Runner is seriously quiet on the roads, even with giant mud/snow rubber down below. The Trail Premium trim level comes in with a base of $38,000 with Softtex seating. This is a nice techy fabric that feels part leather, part microfiber. Stays cool and is grippy, yet nice to the touch. Cloth in three colors is standard on the Trail 4Runner from just above $35,000.
In the second row, the new 4Runner is much comfier than ever. Individual bolsters make the outboard seats feel reclined and relaxed, with a good overall comfort level. No longer very low, you can recline in back there with a plush armrest. A roof or seatback multimedia option is offered in the 4Runner builder for around $1500 extra.
The trunk of the 4Runner is roomy but deep, so the luggage slider is actually a handy element. It is strong enough to sit on as a bench as well.
We love the driving position and overall feel from behind the wheel. The 4Runner can really be chucked around through corners very happily, with its V6 engine loving a good redline scratch from hard throttle on-ramps.
With a five-speed automatic transmission and standard 4.0-liter V6 making 270-horsepower, the 2015 4Runner Trail Premium delivers a sprint pace of around 7.5-seconds to 60-mph. It feels quicker than any 4Runner in memory, with the Sport drive mode always keeping the truck ready to pounce on other traffic. In normal D mode, the 4Runner takes a heavier foot to make it downshift and dance.
On to the 4Runner's party piece: its rockin' chassis.
Truck frames are fantastic for towing, off-roading and overall weather-busting grip. But what downsides do they have?
Typically, they come with a bouncy ride that transfers sharp bump impacts into the cabin. They have also handled fast paved corners clumsily with lots of body roll and little playfulness.
The 4Runner Trail avoids both of these issues nicely thanks to the main option included on the test truck: the $1755 Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System. KDSS is an active decoupler of the anti-roll bars. This lets the 4Runner have a huge range of wheel travel off-road, yet be taut and sporty on the road.
The KDSS is one of the many 0ff-road tools in the 4Runner Trail's backpack. A locking rear differential, part-time 4WD with A-TRAC, multi-terrain controls, crawl control and hill descent control. The header of the 4Runner behind the rear-view mirror ends up like a battle tank or heavy military vehicle....
Next to this OshKosh tanker, the 4Runner feels right at home. Even in its bright Barcelona Red, 4Runner Trail is clearly a truck that would be ideal for special ops.
KDSS - Does It Work?
So, does KDSS work? We did a few off-road driving sessions and are proud to report that the 4Runner made it through a series of 4-foot-deep holes easily.We broke the main rules of rock-hopping: never go alone and know the trails beforehand. We were solo and on uncharted territory. Make or brake time for the 'Runner.
On the way into the woods, we left the 4Runner in 4-High with no terrain settings activated. The super-deep hole was passable, but only with big power to shove the nose up and out of the muck.
These were giant mud potholes that dumped the whole truck at a crazy angle while sinking a wheel down deep. To engage KDSS, you first put the 4Runner in 4-Low and activate the system via the headliner console. This hums a bit and de-couples the anti-roll bars, with the diff locking as you move forward a few feet.
On the way out of the woods, with KDSS on, you are limited in overall speeds because the 4-Low keeps the truck in first/second gear. Passing over logs and through the pits mentioned above, the 4Runner with KDSS active stayed more level overall as it sunk its tires down into the brown abyss. It also needed much less of a shove on the gas pedal to keep moving through the holes. An endorsement for KDSS. Makes 4Runner even more unstoppable.
Would be nicer if KDSS was able to engage in 4-High, however.
The 4Runner comes in four trims, with the base SR5 stickering at $33,210 and up to $41,400 for the Limited.
The test truck came in at just below $41,000 including destination charge.
- SR5Est. MPG 17/22 New 17-in. 6-spoke alloy wheels Leather-trimmed steering wheel Towing capacity of up to 4,700 lbs
- TrailEst. MPG 17/21 Ground clearing approach angle of 33° and departure angle of 26° Available Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS) Crawl Control (CRAWL)
- TRD ProEst. MPG 17/21 Oversize Bilstein® high-performance shocks 1/4-in. aluminum skid plate 17-in. black alloy TRD wheels wrapped in all-terrain tires