It’s a Tonka Toy…ota! We Drive Tonka’s Toyota 4Runner

2015 Tonka Toyota 4Runner

With few exceptions, we tend to focus on new cars here at Car and Driver, mostly OEM automobiles. We also tend to stay away from anything that seems overtly promotional. But we’re happily making an exception for this very-not-stock, very-overtly promotional new Tonka Toyota 4Runner. Because, well, we love Tonka (who doesn’t?) and its new 4Runner is pretty damn great. Even better, they let us drive it!

In person as in photos, the mods are a little over the top—which seems entirely appropriate for Tonka. The 4Runner’s body is wrapped in matte-black-and-yellow Tonka graphics and has gained serious elevation thanks to a 10-inch lift kit. It’s protected on all sides by Bulletproof-designed welded bumpers, roof racks, side steps, and ladders, while perched on the roof is a folding tent. The rolling stock includes a set of Mickey Thompson 38 x 15-inch tires wrapped around 20-inch Ultra Motorsports Type 250 Colossus wheels that are a full foot wide. The space between those fat knobby tires and the wheel arches affords prime viewing of the King 8 x 2.5-inch and 10 x 2.5-inch coil-overs and shocks, as well as various beefy Bulletproof suspension pieces. A constellation of Rigid Industries LED lights provides enough illumination to be seen from space. The dang thing even has LED lights over each tire.

Our short drive took place inside the Big Sky Movie Ranch in Simi Valley, California, where we found that the 4Runner’s largely untouched 3.5-liter V-6 engine couldn’t exactly press us too hard into the custom reupholstered seats. Then again, when we pushed around our Tonka toys in the sandbox at five years old, we never imagined them going very fast. Rather, we projected upon them a sense of indomitability, and that’s exactly what the 4Runner delivers. The giant tires giving us confidence to just steamroll everything we could find, we got the feeling that the 4Runner could simply trounce everything in its way. The only thing our five-year-old selves didn’t predict was how comfortable we’d be in the custom leather seats. And our childhood sandbox never came with air conditioning.

2015 Tonka Toyota 4Runner

So what’s the point? Brand-building, or brand re-building, as the case may be. “The brand isn’t going away,” said Kathy Hawk, vice president of marketing for Funrise Toys, which licenses Tonka from Hasbro, and who gets to drive this vehicle, the Ford F-250–based Tonka T-Rex, and the Tonka Tundra fire truck on a regular basis to marketing “activations” around the country. “I just think people forgot about it because there wasn’t any marketing going on, so we’ve wanted to get the brand in front of people’s faces, and I think we’ve done that with these trucks.

“As Funrise Toys, we are ‘basic play,’ ” she continued. “We create toys, so our biggest competition is iPads and video games and so forth. I think that we’re aligned with parents in wanting to get their kids outside. Going outside and getting dirty: that’s what we’re about.” Words to live by right there.

Want to see more of the Tonka 4Runner and its even bigger pickup siblings? Tonka’s upcoming activations are currently centered around the Lucas Oil Off-Road Racing Series, where Tonka enters vehicles in several of the racing classes. Or, if you happen to see one of them on the street—you can’t miss them—go ahead and flag them down. “We have handouts and stickers and bracelets in each truck,” Hawk said. “So if we see a bunch of kids and they’re ooh-ing and ahh-ing, we’ll pull over and let them take a look and create this experience for them. It’s just a great time.”

2015 Tonka Toyota 4Runner

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