Vehicle Overview
A redesigned version of the Toyota 4Runner went on sale in October 2002. Adding a V-8 engine choice is just one of the notable changes that Toyota made to its popular sport utility vehicle. In the prior generation, a V-6 was the only power plant available, but the 2003 model offers both choices. The V-8-equipped model went on sale first, and the V-6 version should be on the market in January 2003, according to the Japanese automaker. Toyota expects that close to two-thirds of all 4Runners will have the V-6 engine.

Toyota also sought to make the truck-based 4Runner larger and roomier so that it yields a more comfortable highway ride and great fuel efficiency while maintaining its offroad ability. Toyota’s Vehicle Skid Control electronic stability system is standard on all models. When equipped with four-wheel drive (4WD), the new 4Runner features Downhill Assist Control that restricts velocity to 4 to 7 mph when going down a steep grade. A new Hill-Start Assist Control does not stop the vehicle completely, but it keeps the vehicle from rolling excessively on an upgrade at the moment the driver moves his foot from the brake to the gas pedal.

Customers will find three versions of the 4Runner, at dealerships: the SR5, Sport and Limited. Standard equipment in the base SR5 model includes 16-inch tires, multireflector headlights and taillamps, and an integrated towing hitch. The Sport features a hood scoop, a new diagonal-linked sport-enhanced suspension and 17-inch tires. The Limited has a power-adjustable driver’s seat, heated front seats, 17-inch tires, and silver-painted running boards, bumper accents and roof rails. The 4Runner occupies the middle of Toyota’s five-model SUV lineup.

The new 4Runner’s wheelbase is 4.5 inches longer than its predecessor, and it measures 5.7 inches longer overall. Toyota’s SUV is 7.4 inches longer than the Jeep Grand Cherokee. It’s also gained 3 inches in width. A new body-on-frame chassis has full-length boxed-section frame rails. The rear liftgate contains a standard power window and a power opening closing feature.

A speed-sensitive sunroof wind deflector is installed. A plastic composite fuel tank fits within a steel cage, which allows all connections to be plastic to plastic.

The 4Runner seats five occupants in front buckets and a three-place, 60/40-split rear bench that folds downs. Cargo capacity is 75.1 cubic feet. Leather upholstery is standard in the Limited.

Cargo-area backup mirrors that are mounted in the rear pillars of models with the base-grade audio system allow the driver to see oncoming vehicles when backing out of a parking stall. For the first time, a navigation system is now available. Options include a JBL Synthesis 10-speaker surround-sound audio system.

Under the Hood
Toyota’s 4.7-liter I-Force V-8 engine sends 235 horsepower and 320 pounds-feet of torque to an all-new five-speed-automatic transmission. The 4.0-liter V-6 produces 245 hp. Both engines work with either rear-wheel drive or 4WD. A differential lock switch and full-time 4WD are included with the V-8 engine. A new cranking hold system is now offered on the 4Runner; when the driver holds the key in the Start position for two-tenths of a second, the engine keeps on cranking even after the key is let go. The system also prevents the driver from grinding the starter if the engine is already running.

Antilock brakes are standard. Side curtain-type airbags and seat-mounted side-impact airbags are optional in all models.

Driving Impressions
Performance is a big plus with the 4Runner’s new V-8 engine, which is very quiet. A tap on the gas pedal from a standstill sends the SUV practically lunging ahead with eager passion. Acceleration while passing and merging is wholly confident.

The 4Runner steers easily and with a reasonably good feel, which is a cut above the truck-based SUV norm, and its handling is also above average. The 4Runner produces comfortable sensations on the road, and it doesn’t feel antagonistic in any way. For this type of vehicle, the ride is pleasantly soft; it’s not quite cushiony, but the suspension absorbs many bumps. The Sport model feels a bit tauter and ride quality is a tad stiffer.

Reported by Jim Flammang  for
From the 2003 Buying Guide
Posted on 12/9/02