This old dog needs some new tricks.
Driving vehicles for a couple of hours or a day gives us an impression, but living with one for a week gives us time and experience to get to know the car thoroughly. In some cases, that week can override that first impression. The best example this reviewer can give is the current Toyota 4Runner. Each year, it arrives in one trim or another, and on the first day, I'm unimpressed. By the end of the week, I'm having a discussion with my wife about whether we should buy one or not.
There's a reason Toyota just keeps selling unit after unit despite this generation being in production since 2009, making it a 13-year-old vehicle - an eternity in modern automotive terms. It is well out of date on paper, but still sold 144,696 units in 2021 and is selling well here in 2022, despite the arrival of the new Ford Bronco.
We've put together this list of what we love and hate about the current 4Runner, and what we would particularly like to see addressed when the new generation finally gets to market. If Toyota gets it right, there's no reason the next generation won't sell well for another 10-plus years.
Part of the reason we don't want to give back a 4Runner at the end of a week's loan is that it truly is a utilitarian vehicle. However, it's not uncomfortable. Inside, there are durable plastics just about everywhere, which means it can take a kicking in terms of being heavily used, then cleaned easily later. However, the TRD Sport we just begrudgingly gave the keys back to has large, comfortable seats that can absorb a day's bumping around off-road or hours at the wheel on a road trip. The cargo space is equally practical at up to 47.2 cubic feet behind the second row. We're also a fan of the available speakers in the tailgate.
What we want to be improved is the interior styling. The control knobs are large, so they can be sought out quickly and turned with a gloved hand. However, the painted silver gives them a "My First Real SUV" kind of look. We don't expect, or even want, there to be intricately knurled knobs made of billet aluminum or anything so sophisticated. Just tone the color down and up the quality, Toyota, and we'll be happy.
A few automakers have demonstrated that a body-on-frame vehicle doesn't have to drive like a boat. Given what the suspension has to be capable of on the 4Runner, we're not expecting crossover-like performance on the road, but the 4Runner could still be better in this area. It takes a lot of correcting to keep in a straight line, and on a freeway, it's not at all relaxed in fast-moving traffic. It is communicative, though, and not a complete embarrassment around town in its directness when turning. Again, we don't expect it to become a luxurious affair; after all, it's a truck that has to do truck things. It just needs to be more positive, responsive, and easier to keep in a straight line. Thirteen years later, the technology is there to make a difference, even with a body-on-frame chassis.
A Jeep Wrangler or Ford Bronco might be more suited to agility-based off-road adventures like rock crawling, but the 4Runner's tradeoff is more room inside. It's more practical than both and will go off-roading, whether for work or play. The all-wheel-drive system isn't fancy, but it's tough and capable and will go places crossovers wouldn't even dream of, even without the TRD Off-Road Package. The 4Runner you see in the pictures is the head-scratching TRD Sport designed for extra curb appeal with its 20-inch wheels with street rubber, and sport-tuned X-REAS (Cross-Linked Relative Absorber System) suspension; it's still more than capable of tackling a trail. As you can see in the photos, we didn't hesitate to go and have some fun.
Even on the road tires, it was hard to shake the 4Runner loose on flat dirt, and medium trails in the dry were tackled in two-wheel-drive High and only the occasional use of four-wheel drive when necessary for sandy tracks and inclines. Any which way, the 4Runner attacks with absolute confidence. No doubt, the next generation 4Runner will have a more trick AWD system, and why not?
Looking at the infotainment system in the 4Runner, you can see how dated the vehicle is. Toyota has refreshed it over the years, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, but the screen is far from ideal in size (the touchscreen measures eight inches), clarity, and user experience. Surprisingly, though, the eight-speaker sound system in our TRD Sport is pretty good without boasting about it. Our vehicle also had modern driver assistance tech like blind spot monitoring and radar cruise control through the Toyota Safety Sense system . We're not worried about the infotainment when a new 4Runner appears as Toyota has been upping its game there.
What we would like to see is adaptive headlights for those early nightfalls when you find yourself making your way back down a trail in the dark. We would prefer to see it as standard, but we feel it would be essential on the more off-road biased trims.
Admittedly, we find something endearing about a slow-shifting transmission in a body-on-frame vehicle weighing well over 4,500 pounds in 4x4 guise. However, it insists on being in the lowest gear possible all the time in Normal mode, presumably to try and save fuel. That means when you need to accelerate with any briskness or start going up a hill that doesn't bother your average car, you have to give a lot of throttle to get the 4Runner to change gears and get itself moving. That gets old quickly in the hills or the mountains.
The 4Runner's 16/19/17 city/highway/combined is not great in 2022. Of course, it's logical that Toyota will address that in a big way with a new generation. What we would love to see is enough weight saving in the chassis that would then justify a hybrid drivetrain. Not just for fuel economy, but that extra low-end shove would be useful for off-roading.
As much as we love the 4Runner to the point that we've contemplated buying one, it's hard to recommend to people, and there's a reason we haven't pulled the trigger. We could live with the infotainment and the rudimentary cabin controls, but the transmission and fuel economy are the deal-breakers. Despite its age, the 4Runner still has a brawny and appealing appearance, but the time has come for a new platform.
The people that the 4Runner appeals to will continue to buy them, but as the supply chain issues dissipate, the 4Runner's competition is going to be more easily available, and sooner rather than later, that's got to start to hurt down the line.