The Toyota 4Runner is a guilty pleasure for me. I'm not a huge fan of SUVs but I've always liked the 4Runner for some reason. I talked my stepfather into buying one in 1997, and he piled up more than 350,000 miles on that white SR5 model before he had to junk it because of an unfortunate accident. The drivetrain was still strong at the end, but the body and suspension damage made repairing it not worth it. That was three years ago. If not for that accident, I have no doubt that it would still be running strong.
Now in its fifth generation, which debuted for the 2010 model year, the 4Runner is still a body-on-frame vehicle, which is rare nowadays for SUVs. Styling was updated some, as was the interior. It wasn't a drastic change, which is a good thing for a nameplate such as the 4Runner. Toyota dropped the V8 engine option that I don't really miss; I always thought the V6 was more than sufficient.
After spending more than a week in our 2011 Toyota 4Runner SR5 tester, my appreciation for it remains strong. I piled on a good number of miles running errands, heading to family functions and moving a bunch of stuff and people around. I never tired of its trucklike ride quality, which for a full-frame vehicle is quite comfortable. Sure, it's rougher than the unibody SUVs on the market, but the ride fits the character of the 4Runner.
And one has to remember that the 4Runner is well respected in off-roading circles. There are the meaty tires, plenty of ground clearance and a 4WD system that's been around for quite some time. The most extreme driving I did was plow through some big puddles of water and pound down some badly rutted dirt roads. A small part of me even hoped for some snow, but that never came during my time. Either way, the 4Runner has serious off-road credibility, and a rougher on-road ride quality is acceptable.
The 4.0-liter V6 with 270 hp got the near 4,700 pounds of 4Runner moving along fine for merging and passing. It's a smooth engine connected to an equally smooth five-speed automatic transmission. Steering is responsive for a truck shod with tires more off-road-oriented, but the brakes took getting used to with an aggressive bite point.
The optional premium package provided the creature comforts such as leather-trimmed seats, heated front seats and a decent-sounding eight-speaker sound system with the tailgate function that I activated when I helped swap on a set of winter tires and rims at a friend's house. And the satellite radio was a bonus.
I also appreciated the sliding rear cargo floor that made loading and unloading those tires easy. Instead of having to lean in, you just need to slide the entire floor out.
As I said, SUVs such as the 4Runner are rare now. I guess you can consider it a rugged, old-school SUV from a time when fuel economy didn't matter all that much. Ah, those were the days. I still love the 4Runner, though. I wonder whether my stepfather is looking to replace his Honda Pilot anytime soon.
SENIOR ART DIRECTOR CHERYL L. BLAHNIK: I liked this 2011 Toyota 4Runner SR5 a lot. It's a perfect outdoor-activity vehicle with lots of cargo room, comfy seats and off-road capability to get to a campsite or ski resort up in the mountains.
As Wong said, it's a real truck, and that can't be said about many of the car-based crossovers flooding the market nowadays. Most of those vehicles have become too fluffy in an effort to appeal to a broader audience, which is understandable.
As for the 4Runner, the interior is still comfortable with plenty of room, heated leather seats and a nice sound system. On the outside it has a simple, retro feel with its flared wheel wells and chunky taillights. It looks rugged, and it's nice to know that it has the capabilities to back up its appearance.