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2016 Toyota 4Runner: New Car Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Autotrader September 2015

Although traditional SUVs are increasingly going the way of the dodo, the 2016 Toyota 4Runner stays steady against the competition. Closely related to the recently discontinued FJ Cruiser, the 4Runner brings trail-busting bona fides like a rear-wheel-drive layout, a body-on-frame platform, available dual-range 4-wheel drive (4WD) 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-drive car platform for 2013. The Ford Explorer made the same switch a few years ago. And the last Nissan Xterra recently rolled off the production line. 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.

What's New for 2016?

The 4Runner is largely unchanged for 2016, save for one new standard feature: a more expansive version of Toyota's Entune infotainment system, dubbed Entune Audio Plus.

What We Like

Exceptional off-road performance; optional third-row seat; 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?

$36,300 - $44,900

Fuel Economy

The 4Runner offers just one engine: a 4.0-liter V6 that produces 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 mpg on the highway; opting for 4-wheel drive drops gas mileage to 17 mpg city/21 mpg hwy.

Standard Features & Options

The 2016 Toyota 4Runner is offered in SR5, Trail, TRD Pro or Limited trims.

With a starting price of more than $36,000, even the SR5 isn't cheap. 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 Audio Plus infotainment system, power lumbar support for the driver and the classic 4Runner power back window.

The Trail ($37,400) comes standard with the sunroof and boasts a number of performance upgrades, including a part-time 4WD 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 KDSS suspension, which can disconnect the stabilizer bars to increase axle travel over tough terrain.

Off-roaders will like the TRD Pro model ($42,500), which adds even more off-roading features than you'll get on the Trail. In addition to standard 4WD, the TRD Pro boasts off-road suspension, larger tires and a host of styling upgrades that remind you of its status as a no-compromises off-roader.

The high-end Limited ($44,900) adds the X-REAS suspension for handling enhancement, 20-in alloy wheels, keyless entry, power front seats, leather upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and Entune with navigation. 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 get active head restraints. Rear parking sensors are standard, while a backup camera is optional.

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 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration 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 nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the 4Runner its top rating of Good in every category except the small-overlap front test, where the rating was Marginal.

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 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 truck-like jitteriness that plagued previous 4Runners.

In 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 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 climb 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

2015 Dodge Durango -- The 3-row Durango feels bulkier than the 4Runner, but it looks great and offers a powerful Hemi V8.

2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee -- Sharing many of its underpinnings with the Durango, the smaller Grand Cherokee is a formidable competitor for the 4Runner. It has more equipment and a more pleasant on-road demeanor -- and the Durango's Hemi V8 is available here, too. However, you can't get a third-row seat.

2015 Nissan Xterra -- Although the Xterra is cheaper and a little smaller than the 4Runner, it offers many of the same traits, including body-on-frame construction and a focus on off-road abilities. Unfortunately, it doesn't offer third-row seating -- and you'll be stuck with leftover models, as Nissan announced the Xterra won't make it to the 2016 model year.

Used Toyota Land Cruiser -- If you're interested in a family-friendly off-roader, the Land Cruiser is a great choice, as it features all the capabilities of the 4Runner, and more luxury. Prices are high, though, so you'll probably want to consider a used model.

Autotrader's Advice

We'd go for the SR5, which should keep you around $35,000. Yes, the Limited has some desirable luxury and performance features, but it'll run you well over $40,000 when all's said and done. At that price point, it's a whole new ballgame.

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2016 Toyota 4Runner: New Car Review - Autotrader