Innovation is to be applauded in the automotive industry, but there are times when it makes more sense to evolve a traditional approach rather than abandon it for the latest and greatest design. The 2014 Toyota 4Runner is the perfect example of this way of thinking, a four-wheel drive sport-utility vehicle that balances the need to deliver daily-driver comfort with a range of off-road strengths inherent in its body-on-frame chassis.
It might seem strange that Toyota would continue to avoid going the same unibody, car-based crossover route with the 4Runner that so many of its competitors have employed with their own mid-size SUVs - especially with the Toyota FJ Cruiser still in the lineup - but the Japanese brand understands better than most the fact that it's not just technology that sells an automobile, but also image. Perception is key when it comes to 4Runner customers, and scratching away its veneer of civility reveals a very rugged vehicle that speaks to the heart of sport-utility shoppers.
Retaining Its Core Strengths
In many ways, the 2014 Toyota 4Runner holds true to the same basic formula that has made it popular with SUV shoppers for more than 25 years. The 4Runner continues to offer a pair of four-wheel drive systems (either a part-time unit with low-range gearing, or a full-time design that features a locking center differential), a dedicated off-road model (the Trail trim) that comes with crawl control, Multi-Terrain Select tuning for the vehicle's traction control system, and the option of a more hardcore suspension package.
Rear-wheel drive models remain available, too, and the 2014 Toyota 4Runner soldiers forward with a familiar engine under its hood: a 4.0-liter V-6 that generates 270 horsepower and 278 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed automatic transmission is standard with the SUV, and towing checks in at 5,000 lbs. Fuel mileage for the 4Runner is listed at 17-mpg in stop and go driving and 23-mpg on the highway.
Standing out as new is the 2014 Toyota 4Runner's more aggressive styling treatment, which is dominated by a more angled front fascia that houses a large grille bisected by an equally dominant bumper. Square almost all of the way back, the 4Runner avoids the softer curves of many of its competitors and conveys its off-road strength through its collection of right-angle hard steel. It's a pleasing path for the SUV's styling to take, especially considering less noticeable designs from years past.
The 4Runner's interior has also been updated in order to improve the quality of materials used throughout the cabin. In the Limited model I piloted, I was impressed by the restraint employed when it came to plastics, with the vehicle's perforated leather seats, Display Audio entertainment interface (now standard across all trim levels) and ergonomically-pleasing controls dominating the experience. The vehicle's second row of seating is somewhat tight but still usable by adults, but it would be a mistake to think the same of the 4Runner's optional third row of accommodations.
Compliant And Effective Both On and Off-Road
One of the nicest aspects of driving the 2014 Toyota 4Runner Limited is the vehicle's trick rear suspension system. Dubbed 'X-REAS,' it makes use of a special set of shock absorbers on the rear axles to help absorb some of the instability inherent in running a body-on-frame vehicle over rough pavement - and it works, with the Limited displaying remarkable composure over speed bumps and potholes. This ride quality is matched by acceleration that is adequate, although somewhat lazy, a fact that I attributed more to the vehicle's somewhat dated five-speed automatic than any weakness of its V-6 will. A brief sandy hill climb and a brisk trip down a rutted, grassy trail quickly confirmed that the Toyota 4Runner was conceived for much rougher conditions, and while I didn’t have the chance to face anything more challenging during my time with the SUV I was happy with how the Limited's standard full-time four-wheel drive handled itself.
Almost No Compromises
Almost No Compromises
The 2014 Toyota 4Runner can stand tall beside its crossover competitors, safe in the knowledge that when it comes to handling, comfort, and utility it gives up almost nothing to sedan-based designs. Although the 4Runner might not over-deliver in the fuel mileage department, and while it might require the Limited trim's X-REAS suspension to step in where its body-on-frame bones let it down, Toyota has been able to keep sight of the SUV's original, off-road-friendly mission without impacting its day-to-day practicality. Few other sport-utility vehicles can make the same claim.