Autobytel experts have no trouble recommending the 2016 Toyota 4Runner as the best choice in its class, and for this very compelling reason: It’s the only choice in its class. The 4Runner is the only midsize body-on-frame SUV currently on the market from one of the mainstream automotive brands. The 4-door Jeep Wrangler Unlimited is six inches shorter in length than the 4Runner, and a lot less civilized, too, while larger three-row SUVs start some 10 inches longer. This Toyota impresses with its rugged capability, surprising levels of refinement, and relative affordability, all detailed in this Autobytel review of the 2016 Toyota 4Runner Trail.
2016 Toyota 4Runner Road Test and Review
A good way to look at pricing for the 2016 Toyota 4Runner Trail is to compare it to the cost of a similarly sized crossover, such as the Toyota Highlander: The former starts at $36,915, and a Highlander at a corresponding LE PLus trim level is $34,395. It’s a difference of a bit more than $2500, but that buys extra standard hardware on the 4Runner like a robust 4-wheel-drive system. Further, the 4Runner for that price also has a touchscreen-based infotainment system with app-based navigation, along with premium cues such as a standard leather-wrapped steering wheel, As far as the 4Runner’s SUV competition goes, remember that an entry-level Chevy Tahoe—the Bowtie brand’s least-expensive body-on-frame choice—starts at $47,000.
Power, Performance and Fuel Efficiency
Though the 2016 Toyota 4Runner Trail has its share of modern conveniences, the vehicle’s old-school powertrain isn’t one of them. The heart of the matter here is a 4.0-liter V6 engine that produces 270 horsepower and 278 lb.-ft. of torque. With that output routed through a standard 5-speed automatic transmission, the 4Runner can tow up to 5000 lb.
The Trail model has a standard part-time 4WD system with the automaker’s Active Traction Control (A-TRAC) technology, an electronically controlled locking rear differential, crawl control, and a multi-terrain drive-mode system. With all that on board, there’s not much that can stop the 4Runner Trail—although it does burn a lot of gas. The EPA ratings of 17 MPG city/21 MPG highway/18 MPG combined are not impressive.
Photo Credit: Toyota
Exterior Design and Lighting
The 2016 Toyota 4Runner Trail stretches about 190 inches in length, so it’s right on par with a traditional midsize sedan. The styling is all modern-day SUV, however, with 9.6 inches of ground clearance, blocky sculpting, visible front and back skid plates, and a particularly bold and complex front-end treatment. Here, dramatic foglight pockets, a thick grille bar and a prominent hood scoop all come into play. At the back, a color-keyed rear roof spoiler—with LED high-mounted stoplight—is a nice touch, as are the Trail model’s standard 17-inch alloy wheels. Naturally, the 4Runner features standard roof rails, with silver-painted rails and black endcaps.
Photo Credit: Toyota
Interior Design and Capacities
To be clear, some 4Runner trim levels do offer a third row of seating, but our 2016 Toyota 4Runner Trail is a two-row model with a whopping 47.2 cubic feet of standard storage. Fold down the 4Runner’s rear row and that cargo hold expands to handle up to 89.7 cubic feet. In contrast, the much larger Chevy Tahoe holds only 5 cubic feet more. There’s also a wide range of convenient storage solutions scattered throughout the 4Runner cabin, including a large, deep central bin with multiple interior niches for coins, sunglasses, etc.
In holding people, the 4Runner Trail does it well, with a fair amount of comfort. The driver, for example, enjoys an eight-way power-adjustable seat with power lumbar support.
Audio and Infotainment
The 2016 Toyota 4Runner Trail has Entune Audio Plus infotainment system with a high-value advantage: the Scout GPS Link App. With this technology, owners can leverage their compatible smartphones for navigation functionality—without the need to pay extra for an integrated nav system. A 6.1-inch touchscreen and advanced voice-recognition support that feature and also provide control for the 4Runner’s 8-speaker audio system. Which, it should be noted, comes with an auxiliary audio jack, a USB 2.0 port, and HD Radio, Weather and Traffic Service (the latter in select metro areas). Also making life easier for owners are a three-month SiriusXM All Access subscription, standard Bluetooth for hands-free calling/audio streaming, Siri Eyes Free (for compatible iPhones), and a variety of other apps.
Safety Technology and Ratings
Despite not being a Top Safety Pick of the IIHS, nor earning a 5-Star Overall Safety Score from NHTSA, the 2016 Toyota 4Runner Trail does carry a wide assortment of occupant-protection measures. For instance, that previously mentioned touchscreen also serves as the display for the 4Runner’s standard rearview camera, and like all Toyota vehicles, the “Star Safety System” is standard. This bundle of technologies integrates vehicle stability control, anti-lock brakes, electronic brakeforce distribution, brake assistance, and a brake override, together with the 4Runner’s highly capable A-TRAC 4WD setup. An additional exclusive is a complimentary ToyotaCare subscription. This furnishes two years of 24/7 roadside assistance that covers jump-starting batteries, lockout protection, tire service, towing, winching emergency and emergency fuel delivery, all without a mileage limit, plus two years of no-cost routine maintenance.
Photo Credit: Toyota
Customers who prefer a serious luxury presence may opt for the range-topping 4Runner Limited, but the 2016 Toyota 4Runner Trail does offer a Premium package of its own. That has a price of $2680, raising the vehicle’s MSRP to $39,595 and bringing enhancements including heated front seats that are trimmed in Toyota’s “SofTex” material for added comfort. The Premium package upgrades the infotainment with a standard, subscription-free Entune App Suite with Destination Search, Facebook Places, Pandora, Yelp, and more. It also fine tunes the 4Runner’s exterior with a powered moonroof and turn-signal indicators built into the vehicle’s exterior mirror housings.
Separately, all two-row 4Runner models can be optioned with a sliding rear cargo deck that hides a roomy underfloor storage compartment.
Other Important Info
Remember: The 2016 Toyota 4Runner Trail is offered only in a two-row configuration. But for some customers, a three-row 4Runner is a key part of that vehicle's appeal. While that rear seat drastically reduces the standard cargo space to 9 cubic feet with all seats in use, plenty of people will appreciate the ability to fit seven passengers into a vehicle with the same basic footprint as a Toyota Camry.
Meanwhile, for hardcore enthusiasts who appreciate the 4Runner’s trail-tackling capabilities, Toyota has announced that the 2017 model year will see the debut of TRD Off-Road and Off-Road Premium models. Each will showcase performance and appearance updates from Toyota Racing Development, allowing them “to stand out anywhere a 4Runner can travel.”
Photo Credit: Toyota
The 2016 Toyota 4Runner Trail is the “just right” SUV that’s not too big and not too small, and that description also applies to the vehicle’s MSRP. As a result, this Toyota should appeal to drivers who need the true-truck capabilities of a body-on-frame SUV, but don’t necessarily need three rows of seating. The 4Runner shows its old-school roots with its poor fuel-efficiency and safety ratings, yet it does meet all federal safety standards and it’s more than ready to school today’s crossovers on dirt. On the other hand, customers who won’t be rolling on the rough stuff may be better served by one of those crossovers, since those entries will deliver a distinctly more car-like driving experience.