Stick Shift: 2016 Toyota 4Runner

The Toyota 4Runner has become something of an endangered species over the years. While the popularity of the body-on-frame vehicle has been slowly replaced with car-based crossovers, more fit for smooth roads than craggy trails, the 4Runner is one of the few remaining true SUV’s holding tight to its truck roots.

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2016 Toyota 4Runner. Image by Toyota.

From the outside it must have been Toyota’s mission to make sure their was absolutely no mistaking the bold 4Runner for a mild mannered crossover. It has a high belt-line with ground clearance aplenty. The lines bend and curve over strong quarters and bulging proportions. Rear pillars slope downward sharply like models of the past. With a sporty hood scoop, masculine 17″ alloy wheels and modern projection headlamps with LED taillights, Tough doesn’t even begin to describe the 4Runners muscular features.

Climb inside, with some difficulty according to my three year old, and the blocky design continuous through. It’s simple and rugged. Controls are laid out in an easy, uncluttered way. Knobs and dials are big and chunky like most everything else. Where my description might not paint the prettiest picture, with the 4Runner, no other design direction would make sense. You won’t find high grade wood finishes or glossy chrome trim here, but instead a straight forward, rugged interior, only yielding slightly to modern comforts. It perfectly compliments both the exterior and overall personality of Toyotas toughest SUV.

Speaking of modern comforts, the standard five-person seating includes a 40/20/40-split folding second-row. My model came with an optional third row, a popular choice for car poolers and big families with vertically challenged little ones for the very back. With every seat full though cargo space is reduced to almost nothing. However, with all the rear seats folded down you can expand storage to nearly 90 cubic feet. Enough to produce echoes and furniture shop for half your house in one shot.

Powering our newest 4Runner is the familiar 4.0L V6, making 270hp and 278 lb-ft of torque. It accelerates with sufficient vigor to overtake slower traffic with ease and has enough low end grunt to claw its way up impossibly sharp inclines.

Given its true body-on-frame SUV DNA, it’s no surprise that the 2016 Toyota 4Runner shines brightest when the going gets tough. With a locking rear differential, crawl control, hill-start assist, and modes for a multitude of different terrain types, it comes equipped with all the right stuff to be sturdy and capable no matter how bad the trail conditions.

Unfortunately, the inevitable trade-off is that it can’t quite match modern crossovers in terms of room, ride smoothness and overall refinement under daily driving conditions. Its chunky tires and rugged, off-road suspension make certain that plenty of bumps find their way into the cabin. During normal driving the steering can feel too light, a character trait more suited for off-road conditions and engineered intentionally to save your wrists when the steering wheel snaps and bucks on especially choppy trails.

With the exception of much better smart phone integration and slightly increased towing capacity, not much has changed in the 4Runner for 2016. It remains a great choice if you’re in the market for a competent off-roading machine, set firm in a category that continues to dwindle over time. Though not as comfortable and smooth as the oh-so popular crossover on pavement, it still drives better than its rugged appearance would suggest. With a powerful V6, amazing off-road capabilities, enough seating to bring the kids and their friends, and all for an extremely reasonable price; it’d be a challenge finding something that does a better job juggling so much so well.

By: Brandon Randall

Price as tested: $41,345.00  

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