2016 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro Review - Take Two!

Kamil Kaluski
by Kamil Kaluski
Fast Facts

2016 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro

4.0-liter DOHC V6, port injection (270 horsepower @ 5,600 rpm; 278 lbs-ft @ 4,400 rpm)
Five-speed automatic
17 city/21 highway/18 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
17.7 (Observed, MPG)
Base Price (SR5): $34,615*
As Tested: $43,160*
* Prices include $960 destination charge.

Since the introduction of its fifth generation, the Toyota 4Runner has been sold in three flavors: the base SR5, the loaded Limited, and the off-road focused Trail. But Toyota has a history of making small batches of special edition models and, for 2015, the carmaker showed off the Trail-based TRD Pro.

The TRD Pro featured unique suspension with remote reservoir Bilstein shocks and taller springs, black TRD wheels wrapped in Nitto Terra Grappler A/T tires, unique skid-plates, grille, badges, interior trim, and one special red color.

For 2016, the TRD Pro is back, and this time it’s in everyone’s favorite color: Brown Quicksand!

In recent months, I’ve read numerous reviews of Toyota’s body-on-frame sport utility vehicles and I couldn’t help but notice the similar themes. Reviewers (as they call themselves) say the SUV drives poorly, it’s old school, too thirsty, doesn’t tow enough and is generally underpowered. Those are the same people who complain that modern CUVs are just tall wagons with no real off-road abilities.

Ugh.

The 4Runner can be thought of a modern interpretation of an industrial Land Cruiser before it went all glam-glam. It’s a body-on-frame vehicle with a live rear axle designed with simplicity and off-road ability in mind. It does not handle like a sport sedan. It won’t win any drag races. It won’t tow a house due to its soft suspension, which is required for proper axle articulation when the road stops being a road. Those compromises go over the heads of those who attempt to understand what the 4Runner is by looking at a spec sheet versus its car-on-stilts competitors.

The simplicity is evident everywhere in the 4Runner, from its squared-off, two-box body and proven powertrain, to its soft suspension setup and its dashboard adorned with big knobs and buttons. The engine is designed to run on third-world gas with wet spark plugs and infrequent oil changes for many hundreds of thousands of miles. It’s a vehicle that can be driven to Chile and back without a hiccup, where so called state-of-the-art engines would be firing its engine lights more than its cylinders by the time it got you across the Panama Canal. And, good or evil, Toyota trucks own the Middle East. If that isn’t the biggest testament for their durability, I don’t know what is.

Those who are looking for more power, improved ride, handling, and increased towing capacity should look at the Lexus GX 460 or the Toyota Sequoia. Both are body-on-frame SUVs with V-8 engines and third-row seating. The GX and the 4Runner are very similar, but the GX has all the typical Lexus luxury features and an air suspension setup that allows for a 6,500 pound towing capacity. The Sequoia is just a bigger vehicle overall, designed more for on-road use, with a towing capacity of 7,400 pounds.

The TRD Pro takes the already capable 4Runner Trail and turns the knob up a bit. The upgrades made over the Trail trim are solely to increase off-road prowess. It sits more than an inch higher than other 4Runners, which allows for more wheel articulation, and its great looking black TRD 17×7 wheels give it a wider stance, despite being half an inch narrower. Part-time 4WD system (the same as on the Trail model) is fortified by an electronic-locking rear differential, Crawl Control, and Toyota’s Multi-Terrain Select system that adjusts wheel slip via the stability control system.

Yet, the biggest change is the simplest of all: the TRD Pro ditches the 4Runner’s typical highway tires in favor of Nitto Terra Grappler G2 all-terrain rubber. Automakers don’t typically fit off-road tires on vehicles from the factory as they are pricier and tend to be significantly louder than on-road units, potentially discouraging buyers during their five-minute dealer test drives. However, they made a world of difference when I got caught in a snowstorm; they gripped like winters, a vast improvement compared to the provided highway tires. When in 4WD High, the TRD Pro had no issues on New Hampshire’s unplowed, hilly roads. Yet, I couldn’t help but think the 4Runner’s braking performance would be improved with BFGoodrich A/Ts in place of the Nittos.

Foul-weather traction aside, the TRD Pro’s on-road matters are pretty much identical to any other 4Runner, stock or slightly modified. It rolls over road irregularities with authority and exhibits body dive during braking, which takes some getting used to. The biggest — if not the only — difference I noticed was in traversing a very uneven dirt road; where my own SR5 kind of bounced up, the TRD Pro absorbed it with aplomb. However, it would take a challenging off-road course to notice the extra capabilities offered up by the TRD Pro’s extra suspension travel and improved approach and departure angles.

The TRD Pro is available with very few factory options. The seats are covered in something called SofTex, which looks like leather but isn’t, that’s supposedly more durable and easier to clean. The dash features Toyota’s Entune infotainment with a rather low-resolution navigation screen and a multitude of audio input sources. Notably absent for 2016 is a sunroof, which is both good and bad. It’s good because tall drivers gain some much needed headroom, which also helps with visibility, but it’s bad because motoring in the summer months with the sunroof open and the tailgate window down provides an airy, quiet breeze unique to the 4Runner.

Many modern SUV buyers are asking for three-row seating. That’s available on the SR5 and Limited 4Runners, but not on the Trail and the TRD Pro. That lack of seating, however, increases cargo capacity aft of the second row. Even more space is just a folded seat away as the 40/20/40 split-folding second row drops flush with the floor, but those seats don’t slide or recline. Other drawbacks: weak headlights and a car-like seating position with driver’s legs straight out thanks to the 4Runner’s full frame eating into legroom.

Being an enthusiast of expedition-style off-roading, as opposed to rock-crawling or muddin’, I found the TRD Pro to be a perfect package. At the same time, it left me wondering: Why didn’t Toyota simply replace the Trail model with the TRD Pro? The Trail is suppose to be the off-roader of the group.

The 2016 4Runner TRD Pro starts at $43,160. For sake of comparison, a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon varies between $37,000 and $46,000, depending on options. A comparably equipped Jeep Grand Cherokee varies between $39,000 and $45,000.

For those who desire one of the most capable off-road vehicles on the U.S. market, and like the idea of a factory stock vehicle with a warranty, the TRD Pro is easily one of the best and worth putting on your shopping list.

Kamil Kaluski is the East Coast Editor for Hooniverse.com. His ramblings on Eastern European cars, $500 racers, and other miscellaneous automotive stuff can be found there. The gray 4Runner in pictures is his. It is modified with a slight suspension lift, which is why the two 4Runners appears to be the same height despite the TRD Pro being higher from the factory, wheel spacers, which is why the wheels look wider, and rock sliders/steps.

Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. provided the vehicle for the purpose of this review.

Kamil Kaluski
Kamil Kaluski

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  • Kmars2009 Kmars2009 on Feb 07, 2016

    EPA requirements will become more stringent in the near future, for cars AND trucks. Why do you think Ford has switched to aluminum, and GM will be too. The new mileage requirements are going across the board. Trucks included. Also, smaller engines with direct injection and turbocharging, as well as plug in hybrids, are the future. Not just Volvo, but ALL auto manufacturers. Just because gas is cheap now, does not mean mileage can remain poor. The pollution larger engines make, can no longer be acceptable. The world is changing, and the auto manufacturers must adapt world-wide.

    • See 4 previous
    • Mcs Mcs on Feb 08, 2016

      @Hummer >> Similarly we cannot continue to create superfund sites to build batteries Cleaner manufacturing processes are being implemented. I don't see where any of the newer processes are creating anything resembling a super-fund site. In fact, there's a pilot plant located right in heavily populated Cambridge MA on Brookline St. and you'd never know it was manufacturing batteries. There are houses right next to it.

  • Kmars2009 Kmars2009 on Feb 07, 2016

    Vehicles with TURBO 4's...besides Volvo. FORD has several alternatives to V8 power...including turbo 6's. Soon a turbodiesel. Chevy Malibu is now Turbo. Honda Civic is now turbo, Mercedes has many gas and Diesel turbo's. Even the S Class has downsized, still V8 but turbo STANDARD. BMW turbo 4s and hybrid offered. VW Jetta now turbo 4 standard. Hasn't anybody read other auto publications, or gone to the NAIAS? Smaller powertrains with turbo are going to be the standard, with plugin hybrid offered. Eventually, one day you will choose your vehicle, then choose smaller turbo, plugin hybrid, or all electric. That's the way it WILL be eventually. The 4Runner is a great SUV. I really do like them, but I don't see much future for them unless powertrains are changed and mileage is improved. Otherwise I'm sure there will be penalties for poor mileage. Sorry! It's just the truth. BTW...I live in the Phoenix Metropolitan Area where smog still exists daily. CAFE requirements are demanding higher mileage by 2025. The smog is probably part of the reason. Also, do you think Ford went aluminum on the F150 and now the F250 HD for fun? I think not.

    • Lou_BC Lou_BC on Feb 07, 2016

      "Also, do you think Ford went aluminum on the F150 and now the F250 HD for fun? I think not." Paging Big Al ;)

  • Doug brockman hardly. Their goals remain to punish us by mandating unsafe unreliable unaffordable battery powered cars
  • Lorenzo It looks like the curves are out and the boxy look is back. There's an upright windscreen, a decided lack of view obstructing swoop in the rear side panels, and you can even see out of the back window. Is Lexus borrowing from the G-Class Mercedes, or the Range Rover?
  • Lorenzo Didn't those guys actually test drive cars? I was told that one drove like an old lady, another like a maniac, and the third like a nervous middle aged commuter who needs to get to work on time and can't afford big repair bills, and they got together to pass judgement within their individual expertise. No?
  • Lorenzo Aw, I don't care what they call the models, as long as they don't use those dots over the O's.
  • The Oracle GM just seems hapless lately
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