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2015 Toyota 4Runner: New Car Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Autotrader October 2014

Although traditional SUVs are increasingly going the way of the dodo, the 2015 Toyota 4Runner keeps it real. Closely related to the newly departed FJ Cruiser, the 4Runner sports trail-busting features such as a rear-wheel-drive layout, a body-on-frame platform, available dual-range four-wheel drive and ample ground clearance. It's an SUV for those 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-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 a well-rounded vehicle. In addition to its off-road ability, 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, because it's pretty good at being civilized, too.

What's New for 2015?

After a major facelift for 2014, the 4Runner is largely unchanged for 2015 -- with the exception of a new off-road-oriented TRD Pro model.

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, not enough high-tech features

How Much?

$34,000-$44,200

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 in the city and 22 miles per gallon on the highway, while opting for 4-wheel-drive drops gas mileage to 17 mpg city/21 mpg hwy.

Standard Features & Options

The 2015 Toyota 4Runner is offered in SR5, Trail, TRD Pro or Limited trims.

Even the SR5 isn't cheap -- with a starting price of more than $34,000 -- but 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, Toyota's Entune infotainment system, power lumbar support for the driver, and the classic 4Runner power back window.

The Trail ($37,000) comes standard with a 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 you're traversing. Optional on Trail models is the Land Cruiser's Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System, which can disconnect the stabilizer bars to increase axle travel over tough terrain.

New for 2015 is a TRD Pro model ($41,000), which adds even more off-roading features than you'll get with the Trail model. In addition to standard 4-wheel drive, it boasts off-road suspension, larger tires and a host of styling upgrades that will remind you of its status as a no-compromises off-roader.

The high-end Limited ($42,200) 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 and TRD Pro.

Safety

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

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 out of five stars overall, including four stars for front-impact, five stars for side-impact and three stars for rollover resistance. The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the 4Runner its top rating (Good) in every category except the small-overlap front test, where the rating was Marginal.

Behind the Wheel

The 4Runner is 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, like the slow-ratio steering and tough-as-nails truck suspension, make the 4Runner a bit of a handful on paved roads. The Limited model's X-REAS underpinnings noticeably tighten up the 4Runner's handling in civilization, but 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.

During our interior evaluation, we found that while the 4Runner's front seats provide little in the way of lateral support, they're mounted high, so you get a commanding view of your surroundings. The standard power lumbar support is also a nice touch at this price. The second-row seat bottom is rather low, however, so taller passengers 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 pretty standard, but other trims get crisp Optitron gauges that take a page out of Lexus's playbook. We're less enthused about the 4Runner's chunky hard-plastic dashboard, which should age well but looks and feels a bit 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 Grand Cherokee is a formidable foe for the 4Runner. It has more equipment and 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.

Nissan Xterra -- Although the Xterra is less expensive -- and a little smaller -- than the 4Runner, it offers a lot of the same traits, including body-on-frame construction and a focus on off-road abilities. Unfortunately, it doesn't offer third-row seating.

AutoTrader's Advice

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

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2015 Toyota 4Runner: New Car Review - Autotrader