Traditional SUVs are increasingly going the way of the dodo, but the 2014 Toyota 4Runner keeps it real. Closely related to the go-anywhere FJ Cruiser, the 4Runner brings trail-busting bona fides such as a rear-wheel-drive platform, available dual-range 4-wheel drive and ample ground clearance. It's an SUV for purists who just can't bear to buy a car-based crossover. 

Meanwhile, the 4Runner's former rivals have largely given up the ghost. Remember the Nissan Pathfinder? It's a soft-roader at best these days, having switched to a front-wheel-drive car platform for 2013. The Ford Explorer made the same switch a few years ago. With a few exceptions, automakers simply aren't making SUVs like the 4Runner anymore. 

That's a shame, because the 4Runner is actually a well-rounded vehicle. In addition to its off-road chops, it boasts an available third-row seat and a decent array of technology features. You don't have to be a hardcore adventurer to appreciate the 4Runner's appeal; it's pretty good at being civilized, too. 

If you're a 4Runner fan, you'll certainly notice some changes for 2014. Styling is a big one, as the latest 4Runner boasts updated front and rear fascias. There's also some new technology, including Toyota's Entune system, which is now standard on all models. But the updates don't hide that the 4Runner recalls a different era. In this case, however, that's hardly a bad thing. 

What's New for 2014? 

The 4Runner is face-lifted for 2014. In addition to stylistic updates such as new front and rear fascias, the 4Runner now boasts standard Entune smartphone integration. Other new updates are far less extensive, from an overhead console on Trail models to an updated gauge cluster. 

What We Like 

Exceptional off-road performance; optional third-row seat; newly standard Entune mobile-app interface

What We Don't

Subpar fuel economy; so-so handling on paved roads; plasticky interior

How Much?

$33,500-$44,100

Fuel Economy

The 4Runner offers just one engine: a 4.0-liter V6 that makes 270 horsepower and 278 lb-ft of torque. The only transmission is a 5-speed automatic. In rear-wheel-drive guise, the 4Runner returns 17 miles per gallon city/22 mpg hwy, while opting for 4-wheel drive drops gas mileage to 17 mpg city/21 mpg hwy.

Standard Features & Options

The 2014 Toyota 4Runner is offered in SR5, Trail or Limited trims.

Even the SR5 isn't cheap, with a starting price of more than $33,000. Fortunately, it comes nicely equipped, featuring 17-inch alloy wheels, skid plates for off-road protection, an 8-speaker stereo with iPod/USB and Bluetooth connectivity, power lumbar support for the driver and the classic 4Runner power back window. For 2014, the SR5 adds Toyota's Entune infotainment system as standard equipment. 

The Trail ($36,500) comes standard with the sunroof and boasts a number of performance upgrades, including a part-time 4-wheel-drive system (optional on SR5), higher ground clearance, an off-roader's version of cruise control called Crawl Control and the Multi-Terrain Select system, which lets you customize the traction-control settings to match the terrain. Optional on Trail models is the Land Cruiser's KDSS suspension, which can disconnect the stabilizer bars to increase axle travel over tough terrain. 

The high-end Limited ($42,100) adds the handling-enhancing X-REAS suspension, 20-in alloy wheels, keyless entry, Entune with navigation, power front seats, leather upholstery and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Automatic running boards are an extra-cost option. 

Notable options on all 4Runner models include a power sunroof, a navigation system and a third-row seat. Four-wheel drive is optional on SR5 and Limited models, though it's included as standard equipment on the 4Runner Trail. 

Safety 

The 4Runner comes standard with stability control and eight airbags, including front, side and knee bags for front passengers, and full-length side-curtain airbags. The driver and front passenger also get active head restraints. Rear parking sensors are standard, and a rearview camera is standard on Trail/Limited and optional on SR5.

Buyers can additionally specify the Safety Connect telematics system, which adds automatic collision notification, a stolen-vehicle locator, an SOS button and roadside assistance. A 1-year subscription is included.

In government crash tests, the 4Runner scored four stars out of five overall, including four stars for front impacts, five stars for side impacts and three stars for rollover resistance. The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the 4Runner its top rating of Good in every category except roof strength, where the rating was Acceptable. 

Behind the Wheel

The 4Runner comes up aces off-road, no doubt about it. It's in the running with the Jeep Grand Cherokee for the "most capable midsize SUV" award. However, the same features that are a boon in the bushes, such as the slow-ratio steering and tough-as-nails truck suspension, make the 4Runner a handful on paved roads. The Limited model's X-REAS underpinnings noticeably tighten up the 4Runner's handling in civilization. Even so, you'll never forget that this is a tall, narrow SUV. We do think Toyota has done a nice job tuning the ride, however, as there's little of the trucklike jitteriness that plagued previous 4Runners. 

In our interior evaluation, we found that while the 4Runner's front seats provide little lateral support, they're mounted high, so you get a commanding view of your surroundings. The standard power lumbar support is a nice touch at this price. The second-row seat bottom is rather low, however, so taller riders may feel as though they're sitting on the floor. Although the optional third-row seat is inhospitable to adults, kids will clamber back there without complaint, so the 4Runner is a viable 3-row family vehicle. 

The 4Runner SR5's gauges are standard, but the Trail and Limited models get crisp Optitron gauges that take a page out of the Lexus playbook. We're less enthused about the 4Runner's chunky hard-plastic dashboard, which should age well but looks and feels cheap for a $30,000-$40,000 vehicle. Ergonomics are good, thanks to big knobs and clearly labeled buttons, but the dashboard's flat, upright design puts some controls at an uncomfortable reach for the driver. 

Other Cars to Consider 

Dodge Durango -- The 3-row Durango feels bulkier than the 4Runner, but it looks great and offers a powerful HEMI V8. 

Jeep Grand Cherokee -- Sharing many of its underpinnings with the Durango, the smaller "JGC" is a formidable foe for the 4Runner. It arguably has a more pleasant on-road demeanor, and the Durango's HEMI V8 is available here, too. You can't get a third-row seat, however. 

Toyota FJ Cruiser -- If you're drawn to the FJ's distinctive styling, check it out, as it's basically a 2-row 4Runner wearing different duds. 

AutoTrader's Advice 

Try the SR5, now standard with Entune, which should keep you around $35,000. Yes, the Limited has desirable luxury and performance features, but it'll run you well over $40,000 when all's said and done. At that price, it's a whole new ballgame.

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