Because you can't really do a top five with the 4Runner.
I didn’t expect much from the 2016 Toyota 4Runner I had the pleasure of spending a week with. It’s not that the SUV is a bad car. It’s just that I saw it as more of a curiosity than anything else. In a time of unibody crossovers with curvaceous designs that prioritize car-like handling and fuel economy the 4Runner is an outlier, its boxy design and body-on-frame construction making it stick out like a sore thumb. Despite my lack of expectations I was still surprised in a few ways.
Surprise No.1: Hate the touchscreen, love the infotainment center. The first thing I noticed upon stepping inside the 4Runner was that its touchscreen is laughably tiny. It measures 6.1 inches and is serviceable when it only has to display one thing, say the audio menu. But when it comes to screen sharing, like when both the nav and audio are displayed, six inches isn’t enough. While I hated the tiny screen I did love the infotainment center’s overall design, especially the bulbous buttons and the grooved volume and selection knobs. Touch controls and steering wheel controls are all well and good, but sometimes the most convenient thing for a driver to do is turn a knob or mash a button. Way to keep it old school, Toyota.
Surprise No. 2: The ride is smoother than expected. Toyota’s Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS) is a $1,750 option designed to smooth out the body-on-frame SUV's ride. KDSS lets the sway bars work fully during on-road driving to lessen body roll. When you hit the dirt the variable hydraulic system softens up the suspension to provide more wheel articulation. It’s a simpler bit of tech compared to what else is out there and is not exactly a must-have feature. But I was glad my tester came with it as it made the pothole-filled streets and sudden turns ubiquitous to driving in a city like San Francisco bearable.
Surprise No. 3: Sticker shock. My 4Runner was the 4x4 Trail Premium trim and came in at $41,345. It had two options: KDSS for $1,750 and a sliding rear cargo deck for $350. I could have lived without the latter in favor of a third row of seats. The 4.0-liter V6 mated to a five-speed automatic averaged about 16 mpg city and 20 mpg highway and its 270 hp and 278 lb-ft of torque barely managed to motivate the 4,750-pound SUV. Although I liked the infotainment center I wasn’t blown away by it. The interior materials also left a lot to be desired. That being said I didn’t take it rock crawling or load it up with camping equipment or construction supplies so I didn't live the full 4Runner experience. I did roll down the rear window, though.
Surprise No. 4: My newfound respect for Toyota. The SUV segment has shifted away from ruthlessly square body-on-frame brutes and towards refined and elegant car based-designs that glide across cities while shying away from sand and dirt. But the 4Runner isn’t meant for people who wish their sedan rode a bit higher and had more cargo space. No, it’s meant for people who wish mid-size pickups with camper shells didn’t look stupid. As the tides have changed Toyota has stood firmly in the shifting sands and I respect that. Consumers apparently do too, as through six months the 4Runner is exceeding its month-to-month sales from 2015. I guess there's still room on the road for dinosaurs to roam after all.