The Toyota 4Runner is something of an artifact in today's automotive landscape. It rides on a beefy truck platform (the same chassis that underpins the FJ Cruiser), whereas most competitors have switched to lighter unibody designs. With that in mind, I was surprised by just how quiet and comfortable the 4Runner was. When I turned the radio down and barreled along pothole-ridden roads, the 4Runner's cabin remained blissfully quiet and agreeable. The only thing I really dislike is the fact that the brake pedal is soft and squishy, belying the effectiveness of the brakes.
There are a few unusual elements on this SUV, starting with the "Party Mode" button that pumps up the bass and activates only the liftgate speakers. It is designed so you can jam to your iPod while tailgating. Like Chris, I was amused by the power-retractable liftgate glass, for which I can think of zero practical uses. I also like how the rear wiper is concealed inside the spoiler, a clever touch that cleans up the liftgate design.
Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editor
The 4Runner is a relic from another age, the era of $2-a-gallon gas, when the body-on-frame Ford Explorer was king, people used pickup trucks for the school run, and the SUV was the new sedan. Although the 4Runner was never the sales success of the Explorer, there are still numerous examples on the road -- I saw at least a dozen from various generations during my time with Toyota's midsize truck. Yes, truck -- the 4Runner is a body-on-frame, two-box kin to the durable Tacoma pickup; it is not a vehicle for canyon carving and spirited driving. Lucky for me, it is a vehicle used for hauling stuff and -- thanks to the novel "Party Mode" -- for entertaining. The 4Runner was perfect for hauling everything for a bonfire, from firewood to cement pavers to, and doing duty as party shuttle. And once all was setup, the cargo area's nifty slide-out tailgating tray (it holds up to 440 pounds!) and hatch-mounted speakers meant added seating and no need to run an extension cord for the boombox. (Although, the 4Runner also has a standard household outlet in the cargo area as well.)
Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor
I don't think of the 4Runner as a relic or an artifact, I think of it as an SUV in the true sense of the word. It has all the off-road and heavy-duty hauling and towing capabilities that come from being built on a truck platform, and yet it is also a vehicle that can be driven every day. What it gives up in ride comfort (and that's not to say it has a bad ride, because it doesn't) it makes up in personality and capability. Plus, Toyota already has the Highlander in its lineup if you want a cushy crossover. I will say that I was a bit taken aback by how large the 4Runner has gotten. I pulled up next to an older Land Cruiser in traffic, and the two vehicles were about the same size. It seems that auto manufacturers are still having a hard time realizing that bigger doesn't always mean better. Still, the added heft surely means a larger cargo capacity, which can't be a bad thing in a vehicle that prizes utility above all else.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
Chevrolet, Ford, and Chrysler have all forsaken the midsize, body-on-frame SUV segment. Toyota maintains three -- the FJ Cruiser, the Lexus GX, and this 4Runner. This seems like two too many in my opinion. The suburban moms who popularized these vehicles in the late '90s have all moved on to crossovers that offer as much people-carrying capability without the compromises of an SUV. Driving the 4Runner is a reminder of all those compromises -- it's big, bulky, relatively noisy, and tough to maneuver into tight spaces. The interior is functionally beyond reproach but aesthetically doesn't have much in the way of charm. The 4Runner unapologetically caters to the relatively few buyers who actually use an SUV as a sport utility vehicle. The 4Runner has attracted some 32,500 buyers this year; the FJ and GX don't manage a third as many. Why not infuse the next 4Runner with some of the FJ's charm and offer the GX's V-8 as an option rather than spreading the budget across three distinct models?
David Zenlea, Associate Web Editor