2010 Toyota 4Runner
2010 Toyota 4Runner. Click image to enlarge

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Review and photos by Chris Chase

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2010 Toyota 4Runner

If you’re not familiar with the 4Runner, you might question why Toyota has two mid-sized SUVs – this one and the Highlander – in its line-up. The difference is in their dirty bits: the Highlander is a car-based model with an automatic all-wheel drive system that works in front-drive until those wheels slip, and only then sends drive to the rear wheels; it’s only meant to get you through a snowy commute or down a muddy cottage trail.

The 4Runner, on the other hand, is a full-on four-wheel drive truck with driver-selectable low-range gearing and enough ground clearance to get it through situations that would leave the Highlander stranded axle-deep in muck.

2010 Toyota 4Runner
2010 Toyota 4Runner
2010 Toyota 4Runner. Click image to enlarge

The 4Runner was, in fact, Toyota’s first SUV when it was introduced in 1984 as not much more than a pickup truck with a covered back seat and cargo area. Since then, it’s grown significantly both in size and refinement; this restyled 2010 model is the fifth generation. Other than its intimidating looks, noteworthy newness includes a more powerful V6 engine and the deletion of a V8 engine option. This truck shares much of its platform and mechanicals with the smaller FJ Cruiser.

Like any four-wheeler, the 4Runner has to combine its 4×4 capabilities with at least some on-road comfort, and it succeeds at this. The soft suspension feels like it was designed to coddle on-road, but it’s actually a by-product of its off-road prowess: soft springs allow better suspension articulation (in simple terms, up-and-down movement), which keeps more wheels in contact with something solid, even when one is on top of a large rock or down in a deep rut or pothole. So while the ride is very comfortable on paved roads, the 4Runner’s responses to sudden steering movements or hard braking are awkward. The body leans heavily in quick corners and the nose dives when the driver stands on the brakes. The brake pedal is a little spongy, but stopping power is good, and the light steering makes it easy to manoeuvre the 4Runner in tight spots. Oddly enough, the most satisfying thing about how the 4Runner drives might be the throttle’s gentle tip-in, which allows for easy, smooth acceleration from a stop. This is another artifact of this truck’s off-road heritage: a relaxed throttle is a necessity when traversing rough terrain, as an abrupt, unexpected goosing of the gas pedal can upset the vehicle.

2010 Toyota 4Runner
2010 Toyota 4Runner
2010 Toyota 4Runner
2010 Toyota 4Runner. Click image to enlarge

The 4Runner stands tall, so visibility out the back window is dodgy. A child, or even a well-placed (or badly-placed?) small car might be invisible to a driver looking over their shoulder to back up. A rear-view camera is included in an upgrade package in the base model, but really should be standard. In trucks without navigation, the image is displayed in the rear view mirror. Opt for navi, and the picture is beamed to that system’s dash-mounted screen.

The previous-generation 4Runner offered the option of either six- or eight-cylinder power; this year, the V8 is gone, leaving a 4.0-litre V6 as the only engine. Its 270 horsepower is 10 more than last year’s V8, though its 278 lb-ft of torque is a deficit of nearly 30; those are good numbers, but this truck’s 2,111 kg (4,655 lb) (that’s up from 2,066 kg/4,555 lb in last year’s V8 model) curb weight puts the engine to the test in hard acceleration. By contrast, the Highlander uses a 3.5-litre V6, also with 270 horses (but less torque, at 248 lb-ft) and is much quicker, thanks to its lighter 1,895 kg (4,178 lb) curb weight. A five-speed automatic transmission is the only one used in the 4Runner. It works fine, but its shifts can be less than smooth, especially from first to second.

Despite losing its V8 option, the 2010 4Runner can tow the same 2,268 kg (5,000 lb) as the previous-generation V8 version was rated for.

Four-wheel drive is selected via a manual, and purely mechanical, transfer case shifter ahead of that for the transmission. Choices are the standard ones: 2High for pavement, 4High for high-speed running where extra traction is needed, and 4Low for crawling over rocks and fallen trees. This eliminates reliability problems that can plague electronic four-wheel drive selectors, but it’s a clunky lever that seems like a step backward when the previous 4Runner had an electronic selector.

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