Longer, taller, wider and more powerful, the 2010 Toyota 4Runner would have been a smashing success in 1999, but now, a decade later, its feels dated and completely underwhelming.
For 26 years, the 4Runner has run the roads of America — carrying families to and fro, hauling boats and all of those toys people must have.
But today, the redesigned 4Runner comes across as bloated and tired. It’s the hangover of our own excesses and a symbol of times gone by. Crossovers have replaced SUVs as stylish family haulers in almost every imaginable way. And most carmakers intend to reinvent their remaining SUVs as some sort of unibody crossover/SUV hybrid that offers trucky toughness but car-like efficiencies.
While the overall changes have created a very capable vehicle, the 4Runner still has the hallmarks of an SUV through and through. It’s enough for people to glare at you on the open road as they sit back and smugly accuse you of turning the Earth into Dante’s Inferno. “That way a good soul never passes,” their judging eyes say in the parking lot, as they pull their children tightly against their hips, safely away from evil.
Really, the 4Runner is far from evil. Its new powertrains provide more power and better gas mileage. The 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine in the base model cranks out 157 horsepower and 178 meaty pound-feet of torque. For most daily drivers, that should be plenty.
And the 4-liter V-6 comes with lots of high-tech bells and whistles, such as dual independent variable valve timing with intelligence (VVT-i) to belt out 270 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque. Those numbers top the 4Runner’s previous generation’s V-8 by 10 horses.
But the base 4Runner still uses a four-speed transmission and hits 18 miles per gallon in the city and 23 mpg on the highway. The V-6, with a five-speed automatic, nearly matches the four-banger, reaching 17 mpg in the city, 23 mpg on the highway. (The 4×4 model gets 17 mpg city, 22 mpg highway.) With only a minor difference in gas mileage, why would anyone buy the four-cylinder version?
All of those numbers are on par with other midsize SUVs, but that’s like tying for first in a race no one wants to watch. When you look at crossovers, which may lack the off-road abilities of a 4×4 SUV, the mileage numbers are just not very good.
Worse yet, crossovers just ride better for the same price.
4Runner best off road
The 4Runner ride feels like the FJ Cruiser frame it rode in on.
On the highway, the body floats, and around town it leans heavily into corners. Perhaps the best place for the 4Runner is off road, where the independent suspension will glide over bumps and bruises. But on paved surfaces, the 4Runner can feel punishing. Also, that’s where the full time 4×4 with locking center differential would come in the most handy.
There is also a new crawl feature on the 4Runner that allows the driver to set one of five speeds. Then the 4Runner keeps that speed across a terrain by maintaining the engine speed and braking to prevent the driver from overworking any part of it.
The Trail grade 4Runner adds a Multi-Terrain feature, which is similar to Land Rover’s system that adjusts a number of functions on the vehicle to better handle the surface the vehicle is on. It will allow more wheel slippage if you’re in snow or mud and less if you’re on pavement.
Both of these features are fantastic additions to the 4Runner and like most 4Runner owners, I hardly used either of them.
The steering, which is power-assisted and variable gear rack and pinion, feels loose at highway speeds and numb around town. You expect heavier feedback but the 4Runner never delivers it.
Interior is disappointing
The interior also falls flat.
It has all of the right parts, nice gauges and dual climate controls for high-end Limited models. But the plastic dash looks cheaper than other SUVs, such as the Ford Explorer, and the seats are not nearly as comfortable as those on just about any big crossover.
There is plenty of space in the first row, with 39.3 inches of legroom. But things cramp up from there. The second row only offers 32.9 inches and the third row is optional because no one in his or her right mind would opt for it.
For the most part, the interior feels like Toyota was just never that into this vehicle. It has all the right parts but there’s no life to them. There’s no emotion.
The optional JBL audio system, complete with 15 speakers, includes a “Party Mode” that equates to simply turning up the volume. (Technically, Party Mode is for when the vehicle is parked and you want to play music for people outside of the vehicle; it uses the speakers in the back of the 4Runner.)
There is also the hands-free cell phone operation through Bluetooth and USB port to connect to a personal music device. A cargo deck in the back slides out to make it easier to load and unload big heavy objects.
But still the sum of all these parts don’t seem to equal the total.
Exterior more rugged looking
Even the new look of the 4Runner seems to push itself out of the mainstream and into a niche group served now by the FJ Cruiser. Toyota made the 4Runner more rugged looking, squaring off its edges and shoring up its bumpers and making it look more aggressive in the front and back.
There are some special exterior cues for each trim level, such as the hood scoop on the Trail grade model or the turn signal indicators in the exterior mirrors on the SR5 and Limited models.
From an aesthetic standpoint, the 4Runner has never looked bigger or bolder. It makes a statement like never before.
The 4Runner may still collect its fair share of nostalgic looks at the showroom but few are ever going to make it to a driveway. There are just too many other vehicles that offer much better gas mileage, more versatility and don’t have the social stigma SUVs tow behind them.
It’s a good-off road vehicle but nothing special on pavement. And nobody wants strangers tsk, tsking them on the highway.
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2010 Toyota 4Runner
Type: Five- or eight-passenger SUV
Transmission: Four- or five-speed automatic transmission Power:
2.7-liter: 157 horsepower;
178 pound-feet torque
4-liter: 270 horsepower;
278 pound-feet torque
EPA gas mileage:
2.7-liter (4×2): 18 mpg city / 23 mpg highway; 4-liter (4×4): 17 mpg city / 22 mpg highway
Exterior: Fair. It’s big and rugged-looking and has all of the exterior trappings of an SUV. Hood scoop on Trail grade model is silly.
Interior: Fair. Lots of space but overall cheap feel to the interior. The third row is an option few should choose.
Performance: Good. Excellent off-road abilities but only fair on-road prowess; load ride has lots of body roll.
Pros: If you live in the woods and need a spacious hill climber, the 4Runner would serve you well.
Cons: If you live in a city or suburbs, this SUV is too big and feels even bigger on the road.
**** Excellent *** Good ** Fair * Poor