The Toyota 4Runner is one of the stalwarts of the SUV community. While many have traded in some of their sport-utility-ness for greater refinement in urban and family environs, the 4Runner has stayed true to its roots.

The 2011 Toyota 4Runner is an SUV that knows what it is and what it's best at — off-road driving.

The 4Runner's rugged confidence is not without some creature comforts, though. While I wouldn't say this is the most family-friendly car on the road, it's certainly a reasonable choice for smaller families who spend as much time in the great outdoors as they do in the great indoors. The 4Runner offers a plethora of rear cargo space that is ideal for families, the seating and interior room is plentiful, and the price is reasonable. Furthermore, even though the engine sometimes exerts a melodramatic groan when cruising around city streets (as if to remind you that it's meant for so much more), the ride is relatively smooth, particularly for an SUV that's really built for traversing rocks, mud and mountainous terrain.

The 4Runner was redesigned last year. The only change in the 2011 model is the four-cylinder engine is now obsolete, which probably won't come as a disappointment to anyone. The standard V-6 engine delivers the power needed for this SUV.

The 4Runner has a starting MSRP of $30,305. My test car, a SR5 4x4, had a starting price is $32,045. A midlevel Trail trim and top-of-the-line Limited trim are also available. The final price of my test car was $36,634, thanks to the addition of a few extras like a backup camera and upgraded stereo system as well as the Convenience and Premium packages that add features such as a power moonroof and leather-trimmed heated seats.

EXTERIOR


We've established that the 4Runner is built more for traversing treacherous terrain than for toting tots around town. However, don't mistake this car's inherent desire to be off-road for an inherent negligence of style. The 2011 4Runner looks great and might even get you a few extra looks in the carpool lane. There are standard 17-inch alloy wheels and few outstanding standards such as roof rails, turn-signal indicators on the side mirrors and a power window on the rear liftgate.

Thanks to its 2010 redesign, the 4Runner is more angular than before, giving it a more refined facade. Despite the redesign, the 4Runner's looks haven't been altered dramatically over the years, but like the car's adherence to its SUV purpose, I also admire its adherence to its own looks.

The doors and liftgate are pleasantly light, though the liftgate would have served me better had it been a power liftgate. Perhaps you think this is a whiny thing to write, but if you had three children younger than 5, you'd want automatic everything, too. Every little bit helps.

The 4Runner's step-in height was a challenge for my little people and even presented me with some trouble when I was in an unflappable skirt. My 4-year-old was able to get himself into the car with a great degree of struggle, which was followed by a great degree of self-congratulation. For me and my other little ones, it was a simple game of hoist and hurl into the car. My guess is if your kids are a little older and bigger than a 4-year-old, they'll be able to get in on their own.

The 4Runner's engine is a robust 4.0-liter V-6 that delivers 270 horsepower with a five-speed automatic transmission. It uses regular gas and gets an EPA-estimated 17/22 mpg city/highway.

SENSE AND STYLE


Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Great
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Good Times

INTERIOR


The 4Runner's spacious cabin is refreshing with its simple design and easy-to-operate center stack. Everything is trimmed in metallic-looking plastic that looks neither too chintzy nor too luxurious.

There are oversized knobs and buttons in the center stack that are accompanied by oversized lettering. It was particularly fun for my son, who is learning to read and would sit in the second row sounding out each of the large-lettered labels. Even those with poor eyesight would be easily able to find the volume, tune and A/C knobs in the 4Runner.

The frilly stuff of many family haulers like a rear entertainment system are absent on the 4Runner and aren't even available as options, but in truth that absence is quite enjoyable. With the stereo (AM/FM/satellite and USB port) and the sound of our own voices to play good old-fashioned car games, my family and I cruised through town and up to the mountains during our week with this car.

I've mentioned my three children under the age 5, right? I need two convertibles and one rear-facing infant-safety seat installed in any car I plan on driving with all three of them onboard. After a little blood, sweat and tears, my husband and I were able to fit all three of the children's car seats into the 4Runner, but it was nothing short of a miracle. Things were cozy back there. Despite some extreme sibling antagonizing, everyone survived. The optional third row might have worked better for us, but my test car didn't have it.

The rear cargo area is cavernous and can hold a lot. When I say a lot, I mean a lot. I packed the 4Runner for my family's Memorial Day weekend trip to Vail, Colo., and it easily fit all of our luggage, a double bike trailer/stroller and four-days worth of groceries. We also put our bikes on a rack off the SUV's rear. The 4Runner handled all this beautifully. The second row folds flat to really maximize cargo space. My test car did come with the optional sliding rear cargo deck that can act as a table or seating area should you find yourself tailgating or picnicking on the fly. It can hold up to 440 pounds of stuff.

Speaking of your tailgate partying, the 4Runner's stereo has a party mode that pumps more sound into the rear speakers, so you can really groove when you're tailgating. Well, that or just hanging out with the kids in your own driveway and having an impromptu dance party. Your neighbors will think you're extra cool when this happens, trust me.

IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT


Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Galore

SAFETY


The 2011 Toyota 4Runner received the top score of Good in frontal-offset, side-impact and rear crash tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. In roof-strength tests, the 4Runner was given the second highest score of Acceptable. The 4Runner received three stars out of five in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's rollover crash test. It hasn't undergone the agency's frontal and side crash tests.

The 4Runner comes equipped with standard antilock brakes with electronic brake distribution, rear-wheel drive, an electronic stability system, traction control and eight airbags, including driver and front passenger knee bags as well as rollover-sensing side curtains for all rows. It also has standard hill start assist and hill descent control, and it can tow 5,000 pounds when properly equipped.

My test SUV came with optional all-wheel drive and a backup camera. The camera's image appears in the rearview mirror. I wouldn't say it's profoundly helpful since the image is no greater than 2 inches square, but it's better to have a small image than no image at all.

The 4Runner's two sets of Latch anchors are nestled perfectly in well-marked slits in the rear seats' upholstery. The anchors are easy to access and use. There was plenty of room for my children's rear- and forward-facing car seats.

Get more safety information about the 2011 Toyota 4Runner here.