And now for something a little different than coffee and watches... One question my wife and I get asked quite often is how we like our (her) Toyota 4Runner. For such a ubiquitous SUV, we get asked by tons of people how we like it. After two and half years of ownership, I can tell you that we like it quite well. It is far from the perfect vehicle, and there are a number of things I would change if I could, but at the end of the day, it's a great truck.
As with previous Ownership Reports, I'm not necessarily trying to provide a review as much as my (our) takeaways, revelations, and feedback from everyday usage. There are far more qualified sources for vehicle reviews, and this one from Car and Driver is pretty accurate. This particular post is in reference to the 2014 SR5 4x4 model, which is essentially the base 4x4 model. The only options on the vehicle are the enTune navigation/stereo console, which was pretty standard on every vehicle on the lot, and some upgraded floor mats. So, suffice to say, this is pretty bare bones.
We went with the SR5 trim level because at the time the limited model was the next step up, and the only thing that provided you with was more climate control options, power adjust passenger seat, some vanity accents, and the option for leather. We had considered leather, but the downfall was that to get leather and really some vanity upgrades, it was over $4000 in price jump. And for a car that kind of suits not having leather, that just didn't seem justified. Now, I will say maybe the upgraded cabin might have had some nice conveniences, like the type of turn signal indicator that automatically flashes three times with a bump for lane changing, but the overall look and feel wasn't much improved, so the "value" for $5k just wasn't there.
Continuing on the inside, the seats are comfortable and supportive; I personally find the driver's seat does start to get to me (butt gets sore) on trips over 3.5 hours though. Visibility is pretty good, the standard backup camera is nice, but don't expect too much out of the voice activated navigation and stereo. Although it is capable of quite a bit, getting it to work the way you want, can be tricky, especially in the days of having a phone that does it so well. Apple Car Play would be much welcomed in this department. I also found the steering wheel controls for the stereo, menu, and volume to not be very intuitively placed, particularly the low placed volume control. Maybe it's because I'm personally used to driving European cars, but nothing is where I think it should be.
Moving behind the driver's seat, the 4Runner does deliver in one of the departments we wanted it for - it's very versatile and holds a ton. The rear seats are easy to fold down and you can really cram a lot of stuff in there. Weekend camping is easier than ever when everything fits with ease and has its place. One nitpick for everyday living is that even with the supplied cargo net, there isn't a typical place to hook it for holding down groceries. I know this isn't supposed to be a grocery getter, but you gotta get food sometime, and that food is going to slide around that wide trunk.
In redemption of the grocery comments, I'll move on to what the vehicle is built for, going off road. And it does that very well. Forest road travel is an expected breeze, but what is most impressive is how good the 4Runner is deliberately seeking out some off-roading when it's bone stock. I've thrown some steep ups and downs and plenty of desert rocks at it, and it has taken hits, slopes, mud, water, you name it with ease. A few particularly large rock laden trails had me wishing for a little more tire and maybe some rock sliders, but even when it had to be set down in some tough spots, it hasn't backed down. The on-board systems are easy to use, and hill descent assist is pretty cool.
If I could change any one thing on the car, it would definitely be the transmission. The long running, tried and tested 5-speed standard works, and it certainly has the track record to prove it, but it's just out of date. This vehicle could be capable of such better gas mileage and interstate/highway driving with an updated transmission and more modern gearing, or at least a gear or two oriented to highway driving. On long trips to the mountains, our friends that have a 2015 V6 Dodge Ram get similar gas mileage while pulling a full camper. That truck has an 8 speed transmission and is just far more economical when cruising at highway speeds.
Heading to the mountains, the 4Runner does seem to be searching for some in between gears quite often on some of the steeper mountain grades, leading to jerky, noisy, and high-rev driving. The truck is certainly built and capable of this, but it just seems out of touch, like Toyota could easily keep the essence and beauty of the well honored veteran 5-speed and refresh it a touch. On 4-6% grades I often find myself having to switch to the manual or "sport" transmission mode so I can have more control over what gear it's in. Between the lack of gear selection and mediocre gas mileage, an updated or refreshed transmission, keeping in the spirit of the veteran 5-speed, would be very much welcomed.
The 4Runner has been a great vehicle for us. And we love the ability to throw the dog in the back to get around town, or load it up for another weekend in the mountains. If you're looking for more luxury and refinement than sport-utility, this may not be the vehicle for you, but if you're looking to get it dirty every now and then and want something reliable and versatile, keeping it simple has its merits.