I recently spent a week behind the wheel of a 2013 Toyota 4Runner , and while it missed Toyota’s 2014 mild refresh , it still had the guts of a true off-roader and honest-to-goodness sports utility vehicle. My 4Runner was decked out with the Trail package that included part-time four-wheel-drive, a locking differential and Toyota ’s KDSS suspension system with Multi-Terrain Select. With all the right option boxes checked, this 4Runner was set to live up to its name.
It was 1984 when the 4Runner began making its name known to Americans as the SUV adaptation of Toyota’s popular pickup. In fact, the 4Runner was basically a Toyota pickup, or Hilux as its known outside the U.S., with a removable fiberglass camper shell over the bed and a removable rear seat installed inside. It competed directly against the Ford Bronco and Chevrolet Blazer and won a loyal following with its nimble size and bulletproof powertrain.
Over the years, the 4Runner has undergone many changes and became its own vehicle apart from the pickup. But that body-on-frame construction, four-wheel-drive, and nimbler size still lives on. Even in a time when the traditional SUV is becoming an endangered species, the 4Runner hasn’t lost its rugged appeal. The crossover crowd has the Highlander , and that’s just fine, as it leaves the 4Runner to cater to a more adventurous crowd who still use low range and the trailer hitch.
Click past the jump to continue reading our review of the 2013 Toyota 4Runner
The 4Runner’s looks help define its personality. Its upright stance, blocky design and high ground clearance set the tone. Additionally, the Trail Edition
The unique front and rear bumpers on the Trail Edition give the 4Runner extra clearance on approach and departure of taller off-road objects.
comes with blacked-out bumpers and fender flairs, a hood scoop, and tough-looking 17-inch wheels separating it from the base SR5 and the leather-bound Limited model. And though it makes up the smallest percentage of 4Runner sales, the Trail Edition looks the best.
My tester came complete with the Premium package, which among many other things, added the moonroof. Sliding that back and dropping all the windows turned the Toyota into a perfect fair-weather cruiser. Even the rear window drops down completely inside the liftgate, giving all the incoming air a place to escape without stirring up the cabin too much. It’s odd how more SUVs don’t incorporate such a feature as it easily topped by list of favorite amenities. Simple, but effective and I loved it.
The unique front and rear bumpers on the Trail Edition give the 4Runner extra clearance on approach and departure of taller off-road objects. While I never used anywhere near the 33 degrees up front and 26 degrees out back, the added clearance was confidence inspiring while trekking down some mild dirt paths and over sandy hills.
Besides the moonroof, the Premium package also added the 6.1-inch Entune audio and navigation system complete with Toyota’s App Suite, SiriusXM, HD
Even with the Entune touch screen, the dash has a certain ruggedness to it with its large knobs, big buttons, and plastic surfaces
Radio, hands-free phone integration, Bluetooth, a USB/AUX input, and backup camera. I found the audio quality to be rather good for a non-branded audio system and both the dash-mounted and steering wheel controls were easy enough to use. The system even includes a “Party Mode” button that sends extra wattage to the liftgate speakers; perfect for tailgating.
The overall design of the interior is utilitarian. Even with the Entune touch screen, the dash has a certain ruggedness to it with its large knobs, big buttons, and plastic surfaces. That’s not to say the materials aren’t mostly soft-touch or premium in feel, but rather easily cleanable. Fit and finish is pretty good and on par with Toyota’s other offerings. The instrument cluster features three large cylinders for housing all the gauges and displays. It looks fine and works well, but is replaced with a more premium unit with the 2014 refresh.
Passenger comfort is good all around, but is rather surprising in the second row. With 32.9 inches of legroom, a reclining seatback, and folding center armrest, the rear passengers are treated to a nice ride. Like all Trail Edition models, my tester lacked the 50/50 folding third row bench. In its place, however, was a nifty cargo floor that rolled back and forth for easy loading of heavy objects. With the 60/40-second row folded flat, the 4Runner will easily swallow 88.8 cubic feet of gear. A 120-volt AC and conventional 12-volt power outlet made handy additions to the rear cargo area.
The 4Runner is powered by Toyota’s venerable 4.0-liter V-6. It’s been around for a while and can sometimes feel coarse, but for the most part, moved the
An electronic locking rear differential provides extra traction when in low range and Toyota’s Active-TRAC system assists with smooth starts on slippery surfaces.
4,750-pound SUV with authority. Dual independent variable valve timing help the V-6 make 270 horsepower and 278 pound feet of torque. Those ponies are routed to the rear wheels through a five-speed automatic transmission. The front wheels get power though the manually operated transfer case with shift-on-the-fly capabilities. An electronic locking rear differential provides extra traction when in low range and Toyota’s Active-TRAC system assists with smooth starts on slippery surfaces.
Also a part of the Trail Edition’s arsenal of off-road tech is the Multi-Terrain Select system. Like that first seen in the Land Rover LR3, the driver spins a rotary dial to one of five setting for the appropriate terrain. The settings include mud and sand, loose rock, mogul, and rock. Once in the desired setting, the system interacts with Toyota’s Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System to free up the sway bars and provide the 4Runner with additional suspension flex. It’s a hydraulically controlled system that even works on the road. Hydraulic lines connect the front and rear sway bars with expansion tanks mounted in between to help decrease body roll during hard cornering. The system costs an extra $1,750, but proved its worth all week.
The 4Runner’s biggest downfall is its transmission. With only five speeds, it left the 4.0-liter V-6 to work overtime, especially around town and at highway speeds. Shifts were relatively smooth, but a couple extra gears would greatly help the 4Runner’s drinking problem. I averaged 18.4 mpg over the nearly 500 miles I had the SUV. Not terrible for a body-on-frame, four-wheel-drive SUV weighing almost 5,000, but certainly not great. The EPA rates it at 17/21/18 city/highway/combined.
With the KDSS suspension system and speed-sensing power steering, the 4Runner handled very well
With the KDSS suspension system and speed-sensing power steering, the 4Runner handled very well for what it is. I tackled interstate cloverleaf on-ramps with confidence and curvy back roads were a breeze. Around town, the 4Runner was slightly hindered by its five-speed auto, but would still be comfortable as a daily driver. On the highway, the 4Runner never felt floaty or unstable, even at higher speeds. The steering was nicely weighted with a good amount of on-center feel. Visibility was quite good with its high roof and large windows. Rough and broken pavement didn’t transmit any harsh vibrations or noise into the cabin and washboard dirt roads were noticeable but not intrusive.
Overall the 4Runner proved to be a good every day errand-runner and weekend off-road champ.
My Trail Edition tester came loaded with plenty of options. Simply checking the Trail Edition box gets you all the off-road goodies plus the upgraded 17-inch alloy wheels, a roof rack, trailer hitch, unique stain-resistant fabric seats, Homelink, and the power moonroof. Two other option boxes were checked; the Entune audio/navigation package costing $995 and the KDSS suspension system costing another $1,750. A $189 cargo cover and $399 carpeted floor mats were two dealer-added options. The total damage came to $41,403 and included a $915 destination charge.
The Jeep Grand Cherokee is about as legendary as they come. Its four-wheel-drive systems and powerful lineup of engines make it the gentleman’s off-roader. The Jeep is offered in several different trims, but none quite compete directly with the 4Runner’s rough-and-tumble attitude. The Grand Cherokee starts at $28,795 and shoots up past the $50,000 mark with all the options selected.
Gallery Jeep Grand Cherokee
Like the Jeep Grand Cherokee, the Ford Explorer caters toward the daily driver duties rather than the weekend toy hauler feel the 4Runner exudes. Still a capable off-roader, the Explorer utilizes a selectable suspension system that puts the SUV in the best possible mode for tackling the terrain at hand. The Explorer does suffer from a lack of ground clearance and poor approach and departure angles, but will still hold its own on 90 percent of what the average person would traverse. The Explorer starts at $30,495 and jumps to nearly $40,000 for the top-trim limited.
Gallery Ford Explorer Sport
The 4Runner proved itself to be a very capable off-roader, daily-driver, and kid-mover with nary a complaint from any passengers. Front seat comfort and ergonomics were good, rear seat legroom was superb, and the folding rear seats proved to be a valuable asset when moving office furniture. Its macho looks and high ground clearance made it exciting to drive while its suspension showed itself to be well-versed in on-road manners. With a lever pulled and a few buttons depressed, the 4Runner changed its demeanor into a fun weekend toy with the means to go almost anywhere.
- Masculine looks
- Doesn’t bluff on its Trail Edition name
- A comfortable daily driver
- Five-speed Auto needs more gears
- V-6 can feel underpowered at times
- Fuel economy isn’t the best