Review and photos by Justin Mastine-Frost
When Toyota launched the first-generation 4Runner back in 1984, the agenda was simple: build a truck-based utilitarian SUV capable of keeping up with the likes of the Chevy Blazer, Ford Bronco, and Nissan Pathfinder. It didn’t have to be pretty, but it definitely needed to be rough-and-tumble enough to hang with the big boys when it wandered off the beaten path. Fast forward 29 years and the operating criteria for the mid-sized SUV segment is completely different. Off-road prowess has now become a bonus feature at best, whereas interior space and creature comforts have become the name of the game.
My testing of the Nissan Pathfinder was the ultimate proof of this, as it made an excellent people mover with loads of storage, but in the process it lost all of its Tonka-truck charm. As the 4Runner rolled its way into the testing schedule in Limited trim and packing all the bells and whistles, I couldn’t help but wonder if it would be the one to stay true to its original purpose.
If nothing else, Toyota has most definitely stayed true to its roots with the design of the new 4Runner. It may have gained some Hulk-like proportions over the years, but that burly woodsman styling is still alive and well. With so many manufacturers retooling their exterior styling to improve aerodynamics for the sake of fuel economy, there’s something oddly refreshing about seeing the 4Runner’s boxy frame and somewhat upright windshield.
Along with this tough-guy exterior comes a healthy 244 mm (9.6 in.) of ground clearance, full-time four-wheel drive, and a locking centre differential, among other bits of off-road gadgetry, so needless to say spending my week puttering around Vancouver’s urban jungle is out of the question. Just enough snow has melted off the mountains so after a week of playing commuter the new 4Runner is due for a proper workout.
2013 Toyota 4Runner Limited. Click image to enlarge
Once I’ve managed to heave myself up and into the passenger cabin I’m noticing that things in here are oddly familiar. The configuration is completely different, but the bulky control knobs remind me quite a bit of the Honda Ridgeline I tested back in November. This isn’t a bad thing, because my biggest gripe with the Ridgeline was the out of date user interface, which isn’t an issue with the 4Runner. It’s still not quite as up to date as the setup in the Pathfinder, but all in all the centre stack controls and multimedia interface work just as they should.
The eight-way power adjustable driver’s seat is comfortable and well bolstered, and although it came in my “favourite” shade of beige, they did a reasonable job of keeping it from looking like something out of the La-Z-Boy catalogue. As with many testers I’ve driven of late, the passenger seat adjustment is limited to four-way adjustment, which I still can’t quite wrap my head around. In a vehicle of this size it’s pretty easy to expect the front passenger seat to be used regularly, and shouldn’t necessarily be the place to cut build costs.