In its fourth generation, the Toyota 4Runner continues to ford streams, climb hills and haul groceries in style. The 2006 Toyota 4Runner Sport 4x4 V8 carries a $33,630 list price ($36,691 as tested), 3 year/36,000 mile basic warranty and 5 year/60,000 mile powertrain warranty, and an EPA estimate of 16 mpg city/19 mpg highway. A very capable off-roader, the 2006 Toyota 4Runner is also quite accomplished and smooth on the pavement with near-luxury features. Could this be the best of both worlds?
The Toyota 4Runner debuted in 1984, and has been through three subsequent generations since then, evolving from a close relative to the Toyota pickup truck to its own unique SUV. Through the years, the 4Runner has developed a reputation as a dependable, do-it-all SUV that works well out of the box and responds well to modifications for off-road duty. My daily driver is "Moose," a 1994 second-generation 4Runner Limited 4x4 V6 with nearly 140,000 miles on the odometer. I love Moose. He's one of those stolid, strong types, requiring little other than gas and oil to stay on the road. The 2006 edition of 4Runner is bigger, more powerful and feature-filled than Moose, but still retains some of his basic flavor.
The 4Runner's body bulges to emphasize ruggedness and muscularity. A scoop at the center of the hood hints that the engine can't be contained; flared wheel wells leave plenty of room for wheel travel. Rounded corners at the front are wrapped with headlights, leaving a smooth, aerodynamic look that seems unlikely to get tangled in the brush. The squared-off back end has little overhang beyond the rear wheels. My favorite feature is a sliding rear window, a more useful feature than the usual hinged window on most mid-sized SUVs.
In the Driver's Seat
Rectangles and circles dominate the 4Runner's dash, a very clear, useful collection of gauges and controls.photo © Jason Fogelson
4Runner is available in three levels of trim. SR5 is the base; Limited is the most luxurious. My test vehicle was a mid-level "Sport Edition," which comes with cloth seats, power front seat adjustment, tilt and telescope adjustable steering wheel with audio controls and cargo area backup mirrors.
A symphony in grey and black, the 4Runner's interior is tasteful and modern. The cloth seat upholstery is rugged yet soft, with dark charcoal sides and light grey inserts. Good side bolstering and firm padding makes the driver's seat a comfortable perch, and good quality plastics keep the interior looking upscale. Rectangles and circles dominate the dashboard, with clear, round gauges clustered above the steering wheel, round climate control knobs at the bottom of the center stack, and rectangular air vents accenting the layout. Everything's where it should be, easily within reach and vision. The center console lid flips open to reveal a skid proof platform that would be the perfect place to set a cellphone or mp3 player.
The back seat is roomy enough for three mid-sized adults to ride in relative comfort. A 50/50 third row seat is available as part of option packages on the SR5 and Limited models -- for kids only, looking at the space.
On the Road
If I have one complaint with Moose, it's that his V6 is a little underpowered. I had no such complaint with the V8-powered 4Runner. Packing 260 hp and 306 lb-ft of torque, the 4200+ lb SUV gets up and goes. The torque will be especially useful in off-road situations. The V8 also has a 7000 lb towing capacity, so you can bring a healthy load of toys along on your trip. Standard down-hill and hill-start assist controls, along with full time four-wheel drive, a locking center differential and a full set of skid plates help ensure that your off-road adventures doesn't become nightmares.
If your 4Runner is like mine, it will spend most (if not all) of its life on paved roads. That's nothing to be embarrassed about. Four-wheel disc brakes, front and rear stabilizer bars, variable gear rack and pinion steering and enhanced suspension combine to deliver a quiet, smooth ride with well-controlled body roll and great stability. 4Runner is one of the easiest mid-sized SUVs to parallel park -- a tight turning radius combined with short rear overhang make squeezing in to the curb a breeze.
Get acquainted with the filler flap on the 23.0 gallon fuel tank -- at 16 mpg city/19 mpg highway, you're going to be feeding your 4Runner regularly.
The squared-off back end has little overhang beyond the rear wheels. A favorite feature is a sliding rear window, a more useful feature than the usual hinged window on most mid-sized SUVs.photo © Jason Fogelson
There's a reason that Toyota's 4Runner has survived over 22 years and four generations -- it just plain works. Toyota has an extensive lineup of SUVs, though -- you might find another one there that works even better for you. Take a look at the smaller Highlander
, two car-based SUVs with room for four and mild off-road abilities. On the big side, there's the Sequoia
, which sacrifices some off-road chops for mammoth space. At the high end is the venerable Land Cruiser, the prototypical Japanese off-roader. You might also want to consider the V6-equipped 4Runner, which gives up some towing and hauling capability for better fuel economy (18 city/22 highway for the 2WD version).
The marketplace is crowded with mid-size SUVs. The Chevrolet Trailblazer, Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ford Explorer are all extremely capable vehicles from US manufacturers. The Nissan Pathfinder will do the job, and the Nissan Xterra is a cool, aggressively styled SUV with off-road pretensions and on-road acumen. Don't overlook the Mitsubishi Montero as you traverse the SUV landscape.
As for me, I think I'll just wait around for a good used 2006 Toyota 4Runner to turn up in five or six years. I've promised Moose a brother when he turns over 250,000 miles.