Toyota’s start in off-roaders was with a small contract for providing the US Army with vehicles, during the Korean War. From that, the BJ was spawned. This Jeep-like vehicle evolved into the 20 Series and then into the iconic 40 Series Land Cruiser in the 1960s.So yes, Toyota knows its way around the trails. While the Land Cruiser, deservedly, gets all the attention thanks to its impressive longevity, we’re partial to the 4Runner, which is a far more affordable entry that serves as Toyota’s challenger to the Jeep Grand Cherokee. For 2014, Toyota issued a light refresh of the fifth-generation 4Runner, which originally arrived back in 2009. You’ll recall that we already have a test of the off-road-oriented Trail trim level, thanks to our man Michael Harley. For this test, we’re driving the top-of-the-line Limited model. The 4Runner is not a pretty car. It’s not even an okay-looking car.
Some might go so far as to call it ugly. It’s got a snout. But it sort of charms you with its unattractiveness, like a mud-covered mutt. That blunt face, with its large, dominating stack of grilles, wears a pair of chrome strips, the bottom of which runs nearly the width of the vehicle. The headlights are narrow, angrily canted towards the center of the body, giving the impression that the Toyota always disapproves of whatever it casts its gaze on. This is a slab-sided brute, with its biggest bit of flair running along the wheel arches and side sills. The C-pillar angles forward rather aggressively behind the quarter windows, while a rather substantial rear spoiler pokes out from the roof. The rear of the 4Runner is perhaps the most under-styled aspect, with nothing more than some glitzy, rectangular taillights and eye-catching “4Runner” badging. It’s quite simple, in contrast to the front.
If you’ve looked at the images we’ve posted of the Trail model, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the 4Runner’s cabin is a simple, plain place. In the top-end Limited trim, the high-quality leather of our tester’s Sand Beige seats contrasts nicely with strips of (faux) wood and bright, painted plastics. Despite the artificiality of some of the materials, the cabin feels like a very solid, durable environment. The dash is largely plastic, with a soft-touch upper and a harder, more solid lower section.As this is a family hauler at its core, space in the second row and in the cargo area needs to be ample, and it is. Kind of. The back seat has plenty of legroom, although for your six-foot, one-inch author, headroom was far too limited.Considering that, the second row will work in a pinch for adults, but is far better suited to children or those of a shorter stature. Headroom may be in short supply, but cargo space isn’t, with 46.3 cubic feet on offer in our two-row tester. That’s ten cubic feet more than the 4Runner’s main competitor, the Grand Cherokee. A foldable third-row is optional, although with the extra pair of seats up, cargo capacity diminishes to just nine cubic feet. Braking, meanwhile, is handled by vented discs at each corner, with 13.2-inch rotors in front and 12.3-inches in back. We had little issue with the brakes, although the pedal wasn’t particularly easy to modulate smoothly, with a rather hard initial bite. This sharpness is less noticeable at lower speeds. From behind the wheel, the 4Runner is a decent companion. The seats are wide and comfortable for the long haul, while there’s enough lateral support that the driver feels pretty nicely cossetted. The tilt-telescopic steering and eight-way power seats provide a solid degree of adjustability, although those that don’t enjoy a higher seating position might not be too fond of the 4Runner. Most everything seems to be in easy reach, aside from the very furthest knob on the infotainment system, which is a minor stretch.This all seems rather dour, we’ll admit. The 4Runner is an aging vehicle to be sure, but we’re growing to accept that trait in most true SUVs. It seems like these vehicles either go the way of the dinosaurs, transform into crossovers like the Nissan Pathfinder or end up finding that rare middle ground that allows them to flourish without compromise, like the Grand Cherokee. The 4Runner’s single-minded focus on off-road ability, at the expense of everyday livability, will appeal to consumers that can appreciate its simple assets in spite if its modern-day flaws. -autoblog