Why should Jeep have all the nostalgic off-road fun? …
Jeep has been mining the retro vein of off-roading SUVs for decades, so why shouldn’t Toyota?
This Y-chromosome packed market imagines itself crushing boulders and slopping through mud that’s butt deep for fun on weekends. Never mind that the family might like a comfortable ride to the grocery store, or hockey practice.
Toyota knows its market and knows they’ve got a good thing going, so there’s no overwhelming need to vastly update its Land Cruiser and 4Runner models. The Cruiser is the full-size off-roader (2021 Toyota Land Cruiser Heritage Edition | Savage On Wheels) while the 4Runner is a mid-size muck marauder that hasn’t been remade in 12 years. Oh, there are refinements each model year, but under the skin is a model hasn’t changed much, nor needed too.
Standard still is Toyota’s solid but boat-anchor heavy 4.0-liter V6 with seemingly ancient 5-speed automatic. Most SUVs now feature 8- or 10-speed automatics aimed at saving fuel. Many also now have turbocharged engines to increase power and also cut fuel use.
Not to dwell on the negative, but the EPA rates the tested new 4Runner TRD Sport at 16 mpg city and 19 highway. Somehow I managed 18.8 mpg in about 70% highway driving. But let’s be honest, if you’re wanting an off-road capable truck gas mileage isn’t likely your main concern.
Things like ground clearance, which is 9+ inches here, are vital. So is 4WD and hill descent control. Both come on this TRD Sport and Toyota even ditches the big 4WD shifter lever on the console for a dial for high and low range. The hill descent button and another to adjust for off-road conditions are on the overhead control panel.
Watch Mark’s video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7q4OO9c6OgE
But Toyota says this new TRD (Toyota Racing Development) Sport model is actually more tuned for on-road driving, which seems sort of counter-intuitive with that big air scoop on the hood, the unique 20-inch wheels and knobby tires and the Softex (leather like) seats that are easy to clean.
Yet the X-REAS Sport Enhancement Suspension is standard on the Sport model and its goal is to adjust quickly to road conditions and provide a more sporty and pleasant on-road ride. The ride here though remains trucky, and this IS a body-on-frame beast, with plenty of bounce and jiggle. Better rides usually come with unibody construction found in most crossovers and cars.
Handling is truck vague too, but fortunately the steering effort is light, which makes it easy to control on the highway. Power is strong as indicated by the V6. Horsepower is 270 and torque is 278. The 4Runner is rated to tow 5,000 pounds.
Despite the power though, the engine makes a good bit of noise under heavy acceleration and the truck’s overall feel is heavy as it grinds its way up to highway speeds. There’s noticeable tire hum at freeway speeds too, although better than in the Land Cruiser.
But I really like the simple interior and this one added automatic running boards to help us vertically challenged folks climb into the high-rider. There’s a button on the dash’s far left to turn that off, but unless you’re caking your 4Runner in mud you’ll likely want this feature engaged full-time.
Toyota added an 8-inch touchscreen a couple years ago and that is easy to use and see. Some SUVs now pack anywhere from 10- to 14-inch screens, the later bordering on overkill. An 8-incher is fine.
The Lunar Rock (light gray) test vehicle featured a black leather-like interior with textured black plastic dash trimmed in satin silver plastic. That trim needs upgrading to reflect the pricing here, but looks OK.
Everything is easy to see and use with big climate control knobs too, a 360-view backup camera, push-button start, plus solid safety features like blind-spot warning, smart cruise control, lane departure and automatic high beams.
Missing though are heated seats and a heated steering wheel, plus there was no sunroof at all, while most big and mid-size SUVs now tout panoramic roofs. A little disappointing too is the lack of a wireless phone charger and the lack of an automatic climate control system.
What you do get is comfy, supportive seats in a roomy interior with oodles of head and legroom in back along with generous cargo capacity that grows to a monster 88.7 cubic feet when the rear seats are lowered. This 4Runner added the snazzy sliding rear cargo deck ($350) that helps short folks, and others, retrieve cargo from deep in the hatch area. I like this feature, and one other, the power rear hatch window. There are buttons on the hatch’s face to lower it from outside if you just need to drop some cargo in the back. Another button is located on the console inside. Not many SUVs offer a power rear window.
There is, however, no power hatch here.
The test vehicle added a bevy of small trim and interior upgrade options, plus a $1,585 premium audio package with that 8-inch screen and a navigation system, plus eight speakers and WiFi connectivity. Toyota’s Connected Services safety system is included too. That’s like OnStar in most other vehicles. If you have an accident or need help it’s just a button push away.
As the photos here attest, the TRD Sport also upgrades its exterior cladding with all the trim being body colored (gray) to give the exterior a unified look. Naturally the roof rack and window trim is black for a bit of an accent. There’s also a nose spoiler and TRD floor mats and TRD embroidered letters on the front seat headrests.
Amazingly there now are eight 4Runner trim levels, so something for nearly any upscale budget.
A base SR5 model with 2-wheel-drive lists at $38,520 including delivery, but most folks likely will go for the 4WD model at $40,355 with delivery.
The TRD Sport is near that lower end, starting at $41,325 for 2WD and the tester at $43,200 with 4WD. With all its options this one reached $48,297.
But if you’ve got that kind of money to spend consider a Limited with 4WD for $50,100 or go all the way up to the TRD Pro (primarily aimed at off-roading) for $53,295.
For comparison’s sake you may want to check out the Jeep Cherokee or Wrangler Unlimited or maybe one of Ford’s new Bronco models, Ford’s Explorer or Honda’s Passport. If you prefer more on-road comfort there also is the Subaru Ascent or the more wagon-like Subaru Outback. For more luxury, but still with off-road capability consider Jeep’s Grand Cherokee, just to name a few.
The SUV market is so full of capable off-roaders that this market may be overstocked at the moment.
FAST STATS: 2022 Toyota 4Runner TRD Sport
Hits: Macho styling, big roomy SUV that’ll haul and tow and do serious off-roading. Strong engine, good safety equipment, power running boards, power rear window, big cargo area with pull-out tray, easy-to-use screen and 4WD engagement knob.
Misses: Poor fuel economy, feels heavy, vague steering, noisy engine and tires on highway. No heated seats or wheel. No sunroof, wireless charger or automatic climate controls.
Made in: Japan
Engine: 4.0-liter V6, 270 hp
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
Weight: 4,750 lbs.
Wheelbase: 109.8 in.
Length: 191.3 in.
Cargo: 47-88.7 cu.ft.
Tow: 5,000 lbs.
MPG: 18.8 (tested)
Base Price: $43,200 (includes delivery)
Premium audio, 8-inch touchscreen, dynamic nav, 8 speakers, Connected Services safety system, Wi-Fi connect, $1,585
Sliding rear cargo deck, $350
Automatic running boards, $1,500
Technology package, $1,310
Black exhaust tip, $100
Roof rack crossbars, $185
Cargo cover, $179
All-weather floor liners, $169
Cargo tray, $100
Door edge guards, $79
Test vehicle: $48,297
Sources: Toyota, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage