Et tu 4Runner? So many historically famous cars are back with “good old days” styling but added overweight dimensions to the party. It’s sort of like Fat Elvis, on four wheels. That said, “Moody Blue” is a pretty catchy song. And there’s nothing especially wrong with the 2010 Toyota 4Runner. Elvis rocked the rhinestones with passion and the 4Runner combines it’s rugged past with urban sheetmetal and a host of electronic cocktails for pleasure and enjoyment. Which gives the impression that happy days are here again, even if polypharmacy did lead to the death of the King of Rock ‘N Roll.
The new 4Runner takes everything enjoyable from the original model and adds a shot of steroids. The styling is proof: oversized fenders, blocky A-pillars and surprisingly short (and efficient) bumper overhangs. The angry headlight eyebrows are an improvement from the outgoing model, but lack the classic Toyota truck virtue of honest workhorse design. Tough for toughness sake, perhaps? Clock that small-ish greenhouse, but note the surprisingly decent visibility. While the 4Runner is a politically correct HUMMER H2, the menacing hood bulge looks truck-tastic behind the wheel.
Maybe the 4Runner is a poor man’s Land Rover: the dashboard was cribbed from something suitable for a weekend in the UK countryside. Never mind Toyota’s (now expected) rubbish plastics and a lack of charming British oak, there’s liquid-smooth buttonage, vents, and knobs. Even the fake aluminum looks nicer than any paint job has a right to. But the Limited-grade 4Runner’s leather trim feels and smells like a new rubber hose. And again, there’s simply too much hard plastic on the dash and door panels to keep the GM references at bay: the line between these two automakers is thinner and more blurred.
Toyota’s well-documented slip in quality is no shocker, but the seats escaped the brunt of the cost cutting: all three rows are comfortable enough for the 4Runner’s mission, though the third row is for kids only. Add the intuitive touch screen navigation with a fifteen speaker JBL Audio system and two top-notch traveling companions come for the ride. With the subwoofer thumping and the (aforementioned) hood bulge cutting an aggressive path toward the horizon, there’s little doubt the 4Runner is a cooler, tougher way to haul the kids around town. CUV’s don’t stand a chance.
Then again, maybe those new age station wagons don’t care. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The new 4Runner drives like a crossover utility: numb steering, vague handling responses, a thoroughly torque-less motor, roly-poly suspension and electronic throttle responses befitting a Camry. While the SUVs from the good old days were no track Gods, you couldn’t resist cracking a smile when their chassis hugged a twisty road with surprising speed and grace.
When you combine a motor with a torque peak at 4400 revs, a drive-by-wire system with more red tape than Medicare and five-cog automatic with downshifts slow enough to earn a free pizza delivery, the result is a vehicle torn between doing what the driver wants and what the CUV-segment demands. The available four-cylinder motor can only make matters worse, as the enlarged 4Runner should have kept the once optional V8 instead.
And the buzz kill runs like a negative undercurrent behind the 4Runner’s overpromising sheetmetal. Because turning is more of the same: less. With Camry levels of body lean, the driver is discouraged from extra steering input or faster than geriatric mid-corner exit velocities. Perhaps the legacy of SUV rollover terror lives on, so drive the 4Runner as its former self and prepare to clean the puke from your kid’s booster seats.
SUV thrills are a thing of the past, but the real shocker is the ride. Road noise levels were unacceptable, but a velvety ride from a 4400lb vehicle was expected. At highway speeds, the 20” wheels bang on pavement joints like the drummer in a suburban high school jazz band: cross a lane and you’ll feel every Bott’s Dot on the pavement. Live-axle critics point to the antiquated rear suspension, but you’ll rarely notice the shortcomings: a back-to-back drive with a modern Ford Explorer is the only way to feel the advantages of an independent rear axle. Even then, the difference is modest at best: the Toyota’s overall suspension tuning is the main culprit.
And such compromise at the $40,655 asking price? On the plus side, bang for the buck of a used 4Runner is officially realized: more inspired performance and an optional V8 for those who take towing seriously. So the new 4Runner is another wrong move from a company seemingly destined to steal defeat from the hands of victory. Would-be buyers are better off filling the garage with a fully depreciated 4Runner to remember the good old days, plus a new Camry for today’s harsh realities.