Only limited by its interior
People looking for a vehicle to transport their family and gear comfortably across whatever obstacles the terrain may throw at them have been turning to the Toyota 4Runner for years, and the 2008 Toyota 4Runner carries on that heritage. The 2008 Toyota 4Runner still offers near-luxury comfort but gives up nothing in the areas of performance or capability. With a 260 horsepower 4.7-liter V-8 cranking out 306 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,400 rpm, the 2008 Toyota 4Runner isn't the most powerful SUV in its class, but the 4Runner is still a tried and true friend that owners will be able to rely on again and again in the toughest of situations.
While there are more powerful SUVs in the running, and even some for less money, the Toyota 4Runner has built a name for itself, and for many that alone is enough to justify the hefty price tag. But the 4Runner is aging, and reputation alone won't keep the 4Runner in the hunt for long. The competition has caught up in performance and value, and the current rendition of the 4Runner struggles to compete.
Toyota began offering a V-8 in the 4Runner at the peak of the power wars when every manufacturer was one-upping the competition with bigger and more powerful engines. Once gas prices flirted with the $5 per gallon mark, the power the public was clamoring for became an albatross around the normally miserly mpg-minded builder. Still, some people do need that extra power for hauling trailers and carrying large loads of cargo. So, despite the current cost of go-juice, until they figure a way to increase the tow rating of a Prius, the V-8 Toyota 4Runner is still relevant to many people.
We loaded up the 4Runner with enough camping gear for a Cub Scout overnight campout and headed up to the San Bernardino Mountains. The 4.7-liter V-8 pulled the 4Runner plus occupants and gear up the hill effortlessly, but never screamed Toyota class-leading engineering. There seemed to be some reluctance in providing that kind of power, as if Toyota's hesitation to enter the power foray was engineered right into the engine. Yet, we were able to wind our way up the mountain and make good use of the passing lanes whenever we came across slower traffic. The five-speed automatic transmission never hunted and handled shifting duties smoothly.
Twisty mountain roads tend to be a hindrance for most SUVs, but the 2008 Toyota 4Runner straightened out the curves with ease without compromising ride comfort. We're not saying you'll mistake it for a Lexus, but for a body-on-frame vehicle, the 4Runner provides one of the better rides out there. Where the tradeoff does come into play is the vague steering. In softening up the ride, Toyota has eliminated most of the 4Runner's road feel.
Coming down the long winding road from Big Bear, the brakes held up well with no noticeable fade. Evasive maneuvers are performed without any scream-inducing side effects and the brakes bring everything to a stop quickly and in a straight line. Thanks to the kind gentleman on the Harley who pulled out of a turnout right in front of us allowing us to test these maneuvers.
Off the pavement, the 2008 Toyota 4Runner performs just as well as on. The 4Runner has a reputation among the four-wheel-drive community as a capable trail vehicle, and Toyota is in no danger of losing that reputation here. The 4Runner suspension absorbs ruts and boulders with only moderate tossing of the vehicle from side to side. We did find it easier to lift a wheel off the ground than the Nissan Pathfinder, but the traction control kicked in keeping the 4Runner moving forward whenever a wheel broke free.
Combating clutter is a never ending battle in my house. A new picture, the latest souvenir, some tchotchke passed down from a relative, all compete for cramped real estate atop the few shelves and table tops scattered throughout our house. Eventually, we come to our senses and clear everything away to start over. The dash of the 2008 Toyota 4Runner is in the same state of readiness -- it desperately needs to cleaned off and rebuilt from scratch.
The climate controls are an odd collection of buttons arranged in a knob-like configuration. The trip computer is wedged in just above the climate controls so it is mistaken as part of the HVAC panel instead of a stand alone component. The navigation system is definitely not the latest and greatest Toyota has to offer. Luckily a refresh is just around the corner.
Front row seating is comfortable, but the armrests could use a little more height to be useful. Rear seats are comfortable as well, and the door mounted armrests are positioned at a better height than the front, but they are sparing in the leg room department and the fold down armrest is too low to be used by virtually anyone. All three seating positions have headrests, but the center seat has a shorter cushion, the armrest makes the seatback to stiff and leg room is even more hindered than the outer positions. Unless it's a short trip, consider the 2008 Toyota 4Runner a four-seater.
Fitting cargo in the back is a breeze and organizing it with the optional shelf unit makes accessing it a snap. We were disappointed with the 66-lb. weight limit on the shelf though, and wish it could either handle more or be configured to allow larger items to be stored underneath. Fold down the rear seats and you'll get tired of loading cargo before you run out of room. Our one gripe with loading gear in the back was the over-strutted rear hatch which sprung open if we weren't fast enough to reposition our hands for the final closing maneuver. Even when we could beat the hatch to the punch, it still had enough fight in it to guarantee we wouldn't get a clean close on our own and so we had to rely on the electronic latching mechanism to finish the job for us.
The 2008 Toyota 4Runner is roughly the same vehicle introduced in 2003 and other than some grille, bumper and taillight treatments, has not changed much in that time. As the 4Runner continues to age, the competition has managed to gain ground on the Toyota staple. The Nissan Pathfinder offers many of the same features, but has a more responsive V-8 and the Kia Borrego brings a lot of bang for considerably less money. But even five-year old Toyota technology is still hard to beat when you consider the automakers reputation for performance and reliability. The 2008 Toyota 4Runner still does everything you'd want it to... and more.
By Vernon Heywood Photo credit: Oliver Bentley