This is the third time that Toyota Motor Corp. has introduced a sport-utility vehicle, and each time seems to be an improvement over the last.
The company is introducing its third generation of sport-utility vehicles: The 1996 Toyota 4Runner. This completely redesigned SUV features a new engine, chassis, interior and exterior styling and enhanced safety equipment.
That constitutes a pretty tall order by anyone’s standards, but Toyota has accomplished its goal by creating a vehicle that does not share either the sheet metal or chassis with Toyota’s compact pickup trucks.
The 4Runner comes in two series, a base SR5 and a Limited, with both models offering two- and four-wheel drive configurations. Obviously, the four-wheel drive version is the one with the greatest off-road capabilities. The Limited has as standard equipment Toyota’s One-Touch Hi-4 feature, which allows four-wheel drive to be engaged by pressing a button.
Also on four- wheel drive models is an optional locking rear differential. When this system is engaged, the rear wheels provide maximum power transfer under low traction conditions.
To give the 4Runner the power to go with all this powertrain, Toyota has done something just a bit unusual.
Standard is a double-overhead cam, four-valves-per-cylinder, 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine. Dual-cam, 16-valve, four-cylinder motors are fairly common in today’s market, but not in 2.7 liters.
That translates to 164.3 cubic inches, generally the province of a V-6. However, Toyota’s 2.7 develops 150 horsepower, an increase of 34 horses over the previous generation’s four- cylinder engine and equivalent to the predecessor’s V-6.
For those who want more engine, Toyota still offers an optional V-6. This also is a dual overhead cam motor with four valves per cylinder. At 3.4-liters (206 cubic inches), power moves up to 183 horsepower, and this increases the towing capacity from 3,500 to 5,000 pounds.
Both engines are available with either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic transmission. To provide various towing capabilities, optional gear ratios are available.
The 4Runner’s 105.3-inch wheelbase is a full two inches longer than the previous model, and there is an extended side rail cross section on the frame.
The side rail’s bending rigidity has been strengthened for improved steering stability, and this facet is further enhanced by replacing the recirculating ball-type steering with a rack-and-pinion unit. The more rigid chassis also has resulted in a better ride, especially when traveling off-road.
The front suspension is a coil-spring, double-wishbone configuration that replaces the Hi-Trac torsion bar suspension on previous vehicles. The rear suspension is a new four-link, coil-spring type designed specifically for the 4Runner.
As a sport-utility vehicle, the 4Runner is locked in to an overall styling configuration for its 178.7 inches of length. However, the vehicle has rounded aerodynamic lines and, in additi on to all-new sheet metal, there are new exterior features.
The rear door has been re- engineered from a two-piece to a one-piece lift-up tailgate. The back door can be unlocked, and the power window raised or lowered with a single turn of the key.
The rear wiper has been repositioned to the bottom of the window, improving visibility by preventing washer fluid from dripping down and streaking the glass. Driver- and passenger-side mirrors have been increased for better visibility, and the halogen headlights have been enlarged for greater illumination.
The driver’s cockpit is pretty much state-of-the art, except that the center console holds two shift levers instead of the conventional single lever. The second lever activates the four- wheel drive system.
You can build your own 4Runner with a choice of engine, drive systems, gear ratios, tire and wheel sizes. The 2.7-liter, two- wheel drive with a five-speed has the best gas mileage at 20 miles per gallon city and 25 hi ghway. Th e 3.4-liter, four-wheel drive with a four-speed automatic is rated at 17 mpg city and 19 highway.