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By Michael Clark
Winnipeg, Manitoba – This should be a no-brainer: the minute that another differential comes into traction play, the easier one should sneer at everything from slick road dustings to full-out blizzards. That confidence can quickly dissipate, right around the time that your ‘ute hits the ditch.
While the usual culprit is driving beyond a vehicle’s limitations for said conditions, a contributing factor is how well the various traction aids work together to keep one on the straight and narrow. This week, our lucky winter driving contestant is a 2006 Toyota 4Runner V6 Limited. I give a tip of the hat to Toyota for outfitting this press vehicle with Bridgestone Blizzak winter grips.
It’s been a while since a V6 4Runner graced these parts, with the majority of press vehicles equipped with the 4.7 iForce V8. The 4.0- litre six is good for 236 horses, though with such features as Variable Valve Timing with Intelligence, you’d swear there was more on tap. It works well with the Super ECT 5-speed automatic, however, delicate throttle adjustments will have to be learned to keep the tranny from flipping between 4th and 5th gears for highway cruising. (Cruise control use is best avoided during the winter months to help speed up reaction time to slippery conditions.)
Most ‘ute recruits wouldn’t know a differential lock from their tube sock, so let’s stick to shift-on-the-fly. A flip of the switch engages the four-wheel high mode, with nary a driveline shock or shudder. A noteworthy attribute is the ease of steering in cramped corners, even in four-wheel mode, without that feeling that you’re about to shatter the transfer case or tear a front wheel off its moorings.
The big surprise is the lowly two-wheel mode. In simulated panic lane change tests, the correction brought on by the Vehicle Stability Control and the Active Traction Control System was almost identical to that in four-wheel mode. The traction control is so good, you’ll probably only flip to 4-HI when the next 30 centimetre dump arrives.
There is the odd clunk ‘n whirr from underfoot when the TC kicks in, which doesn’t have the sound of voided warranty of less refined systems. The flashing dash light is accompanied by an audible beeping, which usually won’t be heard until emergency manoeuvres occur, or when taking stupid chances. The truck-spec Blizzaks have plenty of grip, definitely worth negotiating into your purchase/lease arrangement.
HVAC is the usual dual-zone with auto temperature set. Full manual control, for those needing the assurance of fan blare, is easily actuated, and recommended for quick defrost. Heat is ample, and quickly delivered to the cabin, with the added plus of rear heat ducts. Limited means leather, which also means 5-step front heated seats. Rear defrost works as expected, however the rear wiper/washer seems a little clunky as it leaves the window to its “park” position. Wiper jams are non-existent, though windshield scraping isn’t the easiest, even when you’re working from the included running boards. All ‘utes, cute or brute, should consider an optional electric-heated windscreen as part of a cold weather package.
Your dependency on creature comforts will cost you, an additional $9,990 for the Limited V6 package, on top of the $39,960 MSRP. The best part is that all of those wonderful traction-action systems are included at the base MSRP level, including Hill Start Assist and Downhill Assist Control, plus transfer case and fuel tank skid plates.
That means when winter finally winds up, you’re all set for back country exploring. Unless you need to tow more than 5000 pounds, the V6 is all the 4Runner you’re ever going to need. Most Toyota dealers are quite diligent with their offers of snow tire and rim packages for easy seasonal changeover. Check with your local dealer.