There are not many weak links in Toyota’s long chain of high-quality cars.
From the least expensive $10,000 Tercel to the $60,000 Lexus LS 400 luxury sedan, Toyota consistently makes the most user-friendly and best-built vehicles in the world.
But when it comes to sport-utility vehicles, trucks and vans, Toyotas almost always seem to have lacked something. To wit:
The great-looking four-cylinder Previa minivan is doggedly slow and very expensive.
The full-size T100 truck doesn’t come with a V-8 and lacks power and performance.
The full-size Land Cruiser off-road vehicle, another nicely styled machine, handles like an old dump truck compared with the Chevy Blazer, Ford Explorer and Jeep Grand Cherokee.
This week’s test vehicle, the four-wheel drive, four-door 4Runner V-6, has a price that puts it in the upper end of the compact sport-utility market, dominated by the Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited, Land Rover Discovery and Ford Explorer Limited. But the Toyota comes up short in terms of equipment, performance and safety features when compared with the competition.
Perhaps offsetting that is the 4Runner’s enviable quality. According to Consumer Reports, theV-6 4Runner has one of the best records for reliability. The 1993 model had few reported problems – a record not many other vehicles can match.
With just 150 horsepower on tap, the 4Runner ranks as one of the least powerful sport-utilities you can buy with a six-cylinder engine.
Chevrolet’s Blazer, Oldsmobile’s Bravada and GMC’s Jimmy offer V-6-powered sport-utilities with engines that make 210 horsepower. The Jeep Cherokee and Grand Cherokee come with in-line six-cylinder engines that make 190 horsepower. The Ford Explorer’s V-6 has 160 horses.
The 4Runner’s sedate V-6 coupled with more than 2 tons of weight makes for slow going. Passing slower traffic on a two-lane highway is a difficult and potentially stressful maneuver. You have to look far ahead to make sure there are no other vehicles in the vicinity, because there is no way the 4Runner can quickly overtake traffic at speeds between 40 and 55 mph.
Our test 4Runner came with a computer-controlled four-speed automatic. A button on the console allows the driver to switch from economy to power modes. The power setting delays the transmission’s shifts and lets the engine rev higher, but this does little to improve performance.
In any case, the 4Runner’s 3-liter engine runs smoothly, quietly and somewhat frugally compared with the competition. On a 910-mile trip to Atlanta and back, the 4Runner used a gallon of fuel every 19 miles.
The 4Runner offers a smooth, quiet, carlike ride.
Despite the vehicle’s rather hefty weight, the steering and brakes are easy to operate. In fact, the 4Runner feels very nimble.
I particularly like the way it handles bumps and potholes. The fat, 15-inch tires and the fi nely tuned suspension system dulls the impact when you drive over rough terrain.
The 4Runner has independent front suspension with torsion bars and gas-charged shocks and a live axle with coil springs in the rear. This makes it a comfortable and civilized sport-utility vehicle.
I didn’t subject the test vehicle to any strenuous off-road activities because I felt the weakling engine wasn’t up to the task. Several excursions over bumpy dirt roads demonstrated to me that if the 4Runner had a more powerful engine, it could probably be taken into sandy areas without worrying the driver quite so much.
Our test vehicle steered and handled well over bad roads, and small hills proved no obstacle. But unlike a Jeep Grand Cherokee, I didn’t have a lot of confidence in the 4Runner’s ability to slog through the tough stuff.
In any case, the 4Runneris excellent for long highway cruises. Once you reach 65 mph and turn on the cruise control, the 4Runner rolls over the paveme t smoothly and quietly and is not bothered much by high winds.
FIT AND FINISH
Our well-equipped test vehicle had nearly every accessory Toyota offers. The front bucket seats were soft and comfortable on long drives. The headrests move up and down as well as back and forth.
Rear seat passengers have plenty of room. The rear seats fold forward to allow large items, such as bicycles, to be stored inside.
The lack of safety items was disappointing in such an expensive vehicle. Most sport-utility vehicles these days offer at least one air bag. The 4Runner has none. The anti-lock brakes work only on the rear wheels; many sport-utility vehicles have four-wheel anti-lock brakes.
The boxy dash and the analog speedometer and tachometer and the other gauges have a dated look.
Only the window switch for the driver is lighted. The rest you fumble for in the darkness.
Yet the electric sunroof and rear tailgate window are two nice touches. A button on the console allows the driver to raise or lower the rear window. Also, you can operate the window from the outside of the vehicle by inserting and turning the key in the lock on the tailgate.
Running boards make getting in and out of the 4Runner fairly easy. The air conditioner and radio were top-notch accessories.
The interior is outfitted with numerous places to stow small items such as key chains, wallets and small parcels.
If fast performance, off-road driving and safety equipment are not major priorities, you may want to take a look at 4Runner.
Truett’s tip: Toyota’s 4Runner sport-utility vehicle is a well-built machine, but compared with the competition it is sluggish, expensive and lacking in safety equipment.