When I test drove the 2008 Toyota 4Runner, I thought it was a pretty cool SUV. So, I was excited to drive the newly redesigned 2010 4Runner. I don’t know if I’m just old and no fun anymore, but to me, the new 4Runner is just ridiculous. It’s huge for no reason, and it’s bouncy, beefy, bulgy and bloated. It felt about five sizes too big for my family of four, and it also seemed like family wasn’t really part of the design.
It’s not like the 4Runner is horrible. It has plenty of power and tons of features and tech. If I needed to plow through the woods with the 4Runner’s full-time four-wheel drive or haul a trailer up a mountainside, I might feel differently. If my kids were 6 feet tall and I had to drive them and huge amounts of gear around to hockey practice, I might understand an SUV this large with only two rows and a pull-out luggage shelf. But I don’t, and they aren’t and I can’t. So, for us, the 4Runner is just annoying.
The new 4Runner feels huge. It’s only about half an inch wider and less than an inch longer than last year’s model, but it feels bloated. For 2010, there’s a new 157-horsepower four-cylinder engine that gets 17/23 mpg city/highway; I drove the 270-hp V-6 with four-wheel drive, which gets 17/22 mpg. The V-8 engine is no longer available, so if you were hoping to tow something really heavy you’re out of luck. However, the V-6 can tow up to 5,000 pounds, and it had plenty of power for my day-to-day driving.
The 4Runner’s ride is truckish and bouncy, which makes sense since it’s a truck-based SUV. It has big, 20-inch wheels that soak up the bumps in the road. Visibility to the front is great since the 4Runner sits so high up, but it’s not as great to the rear and sides. The 4Runner’s big side mirrors and a backup camera help mitigate that.
The 4Runner’s new design is bolder, boxier and bulgier. Essentially, it’s an old 4Runner on steroids. The face of the 4Runner seems to frown, with a downward angled grille that’s wider at the bottom than the top. A thick bar of chrome cuts across it, bearing a larger Toyota icon. The headlights are rectangular and bulge out over the edges of the SUV; they look kind of like a blister. Yuck.
In profile, the angles are more pronounced from the hood to the tail. Squared-off wheel wells accentuate the boxiness and make the 20-inch wheels look even bigger. From the side you can also see the taillights bulging out beyond the end of the truck. They stick out to the back and sides. The new 4Runner kept the power rear window in the liftgate, which opens easily, and the liftgate has a large grab handle to pull it shut.
Getting in and out can be tough for the shorter folks among us, especially without running boards for some assistance. My 9-year-old managed it with no problems, but my 6-year-old actually fell back onto the sidewalk once as he was trying to climb into the 4Runner. (He was fine since he landed on his cushy, little butt.) Preschoolers probably won’t be able to get in on their own at all. It would be nice to have a low grab handle or something for little kids to pull themselves up and into the SUV with.
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Great
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Some
The 4Runner’s interior offers plenty of comfort and room, as well as a terrific sound system. The leather seats are wide and comfy, and the front row’s seats are heated. The instrument panel’s red and white color scheme is easy to read, and there’s a large color touch-screen that comes with the navigation system. Everything is fairly easy to figure out.
The center console area is less pleasing, though. The old-school shifter takes up a lot of space, and the storage cubbies are oddly shaped. The cubby that I’m sure was originally designed for a mobile phone is too small to hold today’s larger smartphones. A power plug and an MP3 jack are at the bottom of the center stack, which leaves cords trailing around the shifter. However, the center console is large, with plenty of room for wipes or a purse.
In the second row, the wide, flat seat allows a booster seat to fit well, while firm seat belt receptacles make buckling easy for little hands. The smooth leather seats make it easy to clean up spills. The Latch connectors aren’t visible, but they’re reachable without much digging. The legroom in the back will let grown-ups sit comfortably or a rear-facing child-safety seat fit without forcing the person in the front to move their seat forward. An armrest folds down to provide two cupholders for backseat occupants, and there’s a bottleholder in each rear door. There are two seatback pockets for containing books and more, and vents in the rear of the center console keep everyone comfy.
My test vehicle didn’t have the optional third row ($1,015). Instead, I had a weird sliding luggage shelf in the cargo area that I still don’t see the value in. It doesn’t make it any easier to get to luggage or groceries since you still have to reach across it; it also takes up a significant amount of cargo space. What especially annoyed me about it is my kids thought it was an amusement park ride and couldn’t leave it alone.
IT’S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Galore
The 2010 4Runner isn’t just stuffed with tech and muscle, it’s stuffed full of safety features, too. It has an electronic stability system, traction control and antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist. It also has eight airbags, with front-, side-impact and knee airbags in the front row as well as side curtain airbags for all rows, including the third one if you opt for it.
A backup camera, which I think is necessary in this SUV, is standard on higher level trims. In models without it, there are standard rear parking sensors that alert you if an obstacle is detected.
New to the 4Runner is Toyota’s Safety Connect system, a subscription-based telematics system that’s similar to GM’s OnStar. You push a button and get an operator for 24-hour roadside assistance. In an accident, there’s an automatic response feature, and if the 4Runner is stolen, the system can locate it. Nice.
In Diapers: Latch connectors aren’t hard to reach, but lifting a baby into the 4Runner might be.
In School: Little legs will struggle with the climb into the cabin, but older kids should be able to manage it without any problems.
Teens: It’s got a lot of safety features and it offers a good view of the road.