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Tuesday, January 21, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Autos

Aging Toyota 4Runner is more popular than ever

Last year, Toyota sold more copies of the 4Runner than at any other time in the SUV’s 35-year history.

Which is remarkable, since overall SUV sales have fallen sharply with the rise of car-based crossovers. Moreover, the 4Runner ($35,110) is ancient by any standard; it hasn’t been refreshed in a significant way since the fifth-gen edition dropped in 2009. 

It seems buyers are responding to the authenticity of the 4Runner experience. The uniquely capable rig possesses first-rate off-road chops but is comfortable enough for the everyday commute.

Yes, it is thirsty (18 combined mpg) and pokey (0-60 in 7.7 seconds) and, though its truck roots can be mitigated, they cannot be denied. The 4Runner is more stable underway than the typical pickup, but its ride is choppier and less fluid than its crossover competitors.

New trim debuts, TRD Pro returns

Toyota debuts a new trim this year, a cosmetic package based on the upscale Limited trim ($43,425) called Limited Nightshade Edition ($46,6150).

And, following a one-year hiatus, the 4Runner TRD Pro ($46,615) returns. It’s the 4Runner’s priciest and  most capable trim. The TRD Pro suspension includes 2.5-inch Fox Internal Bypass Shocks that boost off-road performance and tames unwanted body motions on the road.

The package also includes an industrial-strength TRD Roof Rack, JBL Premium Audio and a moonroof.

Powering 4Runner is a 4.0-liter V-6 that makes 270 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque. It’s paired with a five-speed automatic transmission that makes quick, sure shifts and keeps the engine in the heart of its power band.

4Runner is tow-rated to 5,000 pounds and an integrated tow-hitch receiver and wiring harness are standard. 

Two- and three-row editions

The base SR5 is fitted with skid plates, foglights, heated mirrors, roof rails, a windshield wiper deicer, power rear window, power front seats (eight-way driver, four-way passenger), 40/20/40-split reclining and folding second-row seats, cloth upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a 120-volt power outlet in the rear cargo area.

The 4Runner is available in two- and three-row editions. Large, supportive seats accommodate a quartet of full-size adults (five in a pinch) and the third row makes room for a pair of children. 

A comfort to buckle in 

Climbing aboard — and getting into the 4Runner’s high-riding seats does require a climb — is to step back in time. Switchgear has a heft reminiscent of an older era of work-focused sport-utes. 

A tiny touchscreen is placed low in the dash and 4Runner lacks modern driver-assist and safety technology. 

The standard infotainment system boasts a 6.1-inch touchscreen, a USB port, and an eight-speaker sound system with a CD player, a media player interface and HD and satellite radio. Toyota’s barebones Entune infotainment system lacks native navigation and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are not supported.

The roomy cabin includes few opportunities for casual storage.

Nevertheless, it is comforting to buckle oneself into this extravagantly capable vehicle during a winter marked by berm-jammed city streets and toboggan-run back roads.

The 4Runner is bred for those conditions. Its ladder-frame underpinnings, solid rear axle and 9.6 inches of ground clearance form the platform on which Toyota layers manifold 4WD functions.

Old-school 4WD

Most 4Runner trims run an old-school part-time 4x4 system with a two-speed transfer case that pairs a set of low-range gears for extreme conditions and a high range for normal driving. 

To this can be added a locking rear differential — it forces the rear wheels to spin at the same rate, producing maximum low-speed traction — and Toyota’s computerized Crawl Control feature.

The Limited trim ($45,460) has a full-time 4WD system that operates without driver intervention. Its “open” center differential automatically adjusts power fore and aft as conditions change.

All 4Runners get Hill-start Assist Control, which holds it in place on steep pitches as the driver moves her foot from the brake pedal to the gas pedal. Available Downhill Assist Control eases the 4Runner down steep slopes at a constant speed, preventing slides caused by wheel-lockup.

4Runner isn’t scheduled for a makeover for another two or three years. No matter; it appears prospective owners don’t plan to wait around.

Questions or comments? Contact Don at don@dadair.com.

2019 Toyota 4Runner 4x4 TRD Pro 
Vehicle base price: $35,110
Trim level base price: $46,415
As tested: $47,460 (includes destination and handling)
Options: Our TRD Pro tester came fully equipped, sans options
Tow rating: 5,000 lb
EPA rating: 18 combined/17 city/20 highway
Regular unleaded gasoline specified



Don Adair
Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer.