If Marty McFly ever gets stuck in 2015 again, he should forget about finding the DeLorean and get himself a Toyota 4Runner.
In 2015, the Toyota 4Runner is the old throwback to the early days of sport-utility vehicles and the path these vehicles took from trucks, to weekend getaway vehicles, to suburban family haulers.
Today, it’s tall cars masquerading as trucks that are the people movers. The 4Runner, meanwhile, sticks to its roots and is out of touch with the common folk.
Or is it? Because vehicles like the Jeep Wrangler and the on-hiatus Ford F-150 Raptor are both off-road marvels and on-road style statements. And they’re the darlings of outdoorsy types and fixtures along beaches where surfers congregate. The 4Runner is a staple of the California coast, and it definitely fits in.
The 4Runner TRD Pro seen here is Toyota‘s off-road icon, and about the silliest vehicle Toyota makes right now. But is that enough to give it a place in modern time?
Built for workouts
The theme is old-meets-new everywhere you look on the 4Runner TRD.
McFly’s truck he finds in the garage at the end of Back to the Future would’ve had a similar front end. I love the retro T-O-Y-O-T-A font up front, the black wheels and the largeness of the white one I tested looks diplomatic in a way. The blocky windows all the way around are things no streamlined crossover carries. And as a plus point, they make lane changes far easier than in your swoopy “off-road-coupe.”
Yes, the front light treatment makes it look like the 4Runner is crying inconsolably. People have picked on that enough and it’s not like you see it while you’re driving anyway.
Inside, it’s a similar mix. Toyota’s Entune infotainment system almost looks too nice for what’s a utilitarian-looking interior. Most of the controls are solid and even the door panels are nicely padded and perfectly shaped for that bro-resting-arm-on-window style of driving.
But the plastics in this $42,000 car go from Lexus-grade to Lada-like very quickly. The climate control knobs are not in fact chunky, but Playskool-sized.
The most silly thing might have to be the low range lever, which is manual and rugged outdoors-men might appreciate that instead of an electronic control. But under even modest acceleration, it rocks back and forth. It’s perhaps amusing in stop-and-go traffic, but I haven’t seen anything like it since I last sat in an Isuzu Rodeo.
Another fun component is simply getting in and out of the 4Runner. A high floor and low roof mean you need running starts to hoist yourself up if you’re short. Everything about this car requires more effort than you might be used to in a crossover, such as folding up the rear seats or even closing the tailgate. The Toyota is like a built-in gym membership.
Ah, but that tailgate houses the best throwback feature of the 4Runner: the roll-down rear window. Yes, I drove everywhere with it at least partially opened. I just wish I had a surfboard to stick out of it.
A laugh, powered by gasoline
One thing is very clear here: the 4Runner TRD Pro is basically unstoppable off the pavement. Use the wobbly lever to activate the four-wheel drive and the various knobs and switches for help going up or down inclines and you could probably invade a medium-sized country with this thing. The jacked-up suspension and meaty off-road tires also help, but they also interfere with the driving experience all the time.
It’s on pavement where things are comically bad. On even smooth roads, the 4Runner has a bouncy ride. Put your right foot down and the front of the rig points upwards. Hit the brake pedal and the front plummets back to Earth.
The brakes don’t stop the car as much as they stop your heart when you aren’t slowing down as much as you expected to. The tires must play a role in this issue as well, but you get the impression on pavement that the 4Runner is basically suspended by four pudding cups. Just like an old-school off-roader, then?
The powertrain is pretty old-school Toyota, too, but this is a good thing. While the 4.0-liter V6 doesn’t ooze power, it pulls the 4Runner around well enough. Better yet, it is pretty smooth in its delivery and serves as a reminder that five gears for an automatic transmission is completely sufficient.
I thought the fuel economy would be pitiful, as I struggled to get more than 300 miles out of one tank of regular. Really, 17 MPG is capable in mixed driving, 20 on a long highway run – basically spot-on with what the EPA got. It’s the 18.5 gallon fuel tank that seems a bit stingy here.
But the 4Runner does need more grunt to make the driving experience truly comical, like the old Raptor was. That now-discontinued TRD supercharger would come in handy here.
Back to the present
At almost $42,000 as tested, there are better ways of moving people and things about on a daily basis than the 4Runner. The week I had this thing, I couldn’t understand why I passed so many of them on LA freeways. I’d rather ride a pogo stick on the 405.
But then the 4Runner costs about what a similarly equipped Jeep Wrangler Unlimited costs, and the Toyota is probably the more well-rounded of the two beach icons. On the other hand, the Jeep is an open air icon and truly embraces its lunacy.
A more worrying comparison for Toyota is the Jeep Grand Cherokee. I know a Limited V6 4×4 will get noticeably better fuel economy than the 4Runner, while providing a far more civilized on-road experience. It’ll cost more money than the Toyota to get the Grand Cherokee close to the same off-road specification, but I also think it would stop noticeably better on pavement, too.
But I get the appeal of this TRD Pro model. You look like a badass driving this thing, not the Grand Cherokee. John Kerry should’ve driven one during the Iran negotiations because it’s like automotive diplomacy. It’s fun to drive because SUVs just aren’t like this anymore.
The 4Runner isn’t sanitized, it’s uncensored and it’s a middle finger to social norms. Toyota just doesn’t do that.
Better still, it’s a reminder of what 2015 might have looked like if no one decided to turn a Camry into an SUV.
Photos: Zac Estrada/Carscoops.com