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The Toyota 4Runner is a thoroughly modern but traditional sport utility. It excels at off-road capability. If your weekend involves driving over rugged terrain, this is an excellent choice. Yet it's smooth and quiet and highly sophisticated in terms of technology and features.
The 2005 Toyota 4Runner models offer more responsive performance than last year's models, whether you get the standard V6 or optional V8. The V8 benefits from a more sophisticated variable-valve setup with drive-by-wire, boosting its output to 270 horsepower, substantially more than last year's 235. Last year, the only good reason to opt for the V8 was to pull a trailer, but this year's V8 is a much more compelling upgrade, delivering strong, responsive acceleration performance out on the highway. With its 330 pound-feet of torque 4Runner 4x4 V8 is rated to tow up to 7,000 pounds.
The V6 gets enhanced response from a five-speed automatic transmission that replaces last year's four-speed automatic. (The V8 continues to come with the five-speed automatic as well.) More gears means better response for any given situation. Last year's model performed very well with the V6 and four-speed automatic, and it was our preference, but the new five-speed is a better match and offers smooth shifting and sophisticated features, including Artificial Intelligence.
The 4Runner is the real deal, ready to tackle truly rugged terrain. This is no car-based crossover station wagon deal. It's built on a rugged ladder frame with a solid rear axle. While some consider this design dated when compared to the latest SUVs with unibody construction and independent rear suspensions, Toyota believes the traditional package offers better recreational capability and long-term durability in working-truck conditions. Still, it doesn't ride like a buckboard wagon. Toyota engineers went to great pains to prove that this durable, adventurous configuration need not compromise everyday comfort and convenience. The 4Runner is quite comfortable around town and on the highway with a nice ride quality. But hit the dirt, and it's loaded with the latest off-road electronic technology, including Hill Start Assist and Downhill Assist Control. An optional linked shock-absorber system improves handling on the highway. Completely redesigned for 2003, the 4Runner represents Toyota's best effort at delivering outstanding off-road capability with high levels of comfort and convenience for everyday use.
Inside it's roomy and comfortable. An optional third-row seat expands the passenger capacity to seven, but the seat can be folded over or removed for cargo space. The 4Runner comes standard with running boards and more upscale body-colored bumpers and lower body cladding. The optional GPS navigation system includes a rear-mounted video camera, useful for checking behind the vehicle before backing up.
While the 4Runner may seem old school to people who want an all-weather sport touring vehicle, it's the hot ticket for outdoor enthusiasts for its ability to deal with primitive roads, beat-up two-tracks or serious mud or sand. Yet it won't punish its owner in everyday use.
The Toyota 4Runner handles very well for a truck with a live rear axle. We drove all the models over twisting back roads along the Oregon coast and found it easy to drive at a quick clip, and we drove a 2005 4Runner Limited 4x4 with the new V8 around Los Angeles. The suspension damping is excellent. When the road got bumpy we could tell it had a solid rear axle rather than an independent rear suspension, but the 4Runner handles more confidently than, say, a Chevy TrailBlazer, which also uses a live rear axle. Rack-and-pinion steering gives the 4Runner quick steering response and good steering feel.
The 4Runner has a nice, smooth ride on unpaved roads, too. That's important when venturing afield because you often end up driving over washboard surfaces and rough roads. The 4Runner's well-tuned damping and progressive-rate spring bumpers are to thank here. Where the 4Runner really comes into its own, however, is when the terrain gets truly gnarly. There's lots of suspension articulation for climbing over boulders and gullies, and a host of technology for handling steep, slippery grades.
The standard V6 engine is so good that, until the 2005 models were introduced, we couldn't see a reason to get the V8 unless its strong low-rpm torque was needed for frequent towing. Toyota's 4.0-liter V6 is responsive and we never felt short-changed. It was brand-new in 2003, and it's packed with the latest technology, including fully variable valve timing, a new linkless electronic throttle control system and lightweight all-aluminum construction. The V6 is rated at 245 horsepower and 282 pound-feet of torque. Fuel economy has been improved and the V6 4x4 model gets a credible 17/21 mpg city/highway, according to the EPA (18/21 for 2WD models). The V6 is paired with the new five-speed automatic transmission.
For 2005, the optional 4.7-liter V8 features variable valve timing with intelligence (VVT-i) and an electronic throttle control system with intelligence (ETCS-i), which increases the output to 270 horsepower at 5400 rpm and 330 pound-feet of torque at 3400 rpm. The V8 models weigh about 125 pounds more than V6 4Runners, and the V8 delivers 16/20 mpg in 4x2s, and 15/19 in 4x4s.
Both engines feature a cranking system that keeps the starter engaged until complete combustion is achieved, freeing the driver from holding the key until the engine turns over. This is a feature usually associated with expensive luxury sedans.
We found the two-wheel-drive 4Runner impressively capable off road; indeed, it's more capable than some so-called SUVs equipped with all-wheel-drive. Yet ultimate traction comes from the four-wheel-drive models. It seems to us, that if you don't need four-wheel drive, then perhaps you should be looking at a different vehicle. The 4WD 4Runners are equipped with a two-speed transfer case, giving the driver a set of low-range gears for creeping over rugged terrain.
V6 4WD 4Runners are equipped with Toyota's Multi-Mode shift-on-the-fly system with a Torsen-type limited-slip center differential. The driver can shift between 2WD, 4WD High, and 4WD Low. The Torsen center differential is open in 2WD mode. It applies a rear bias in 4WD High, splitting torque 40/60 front-to-rear in normal driving conditions, providing the driver with a traditional feel and better stability when accelerating. The 4WD mode may be used in all types of driving conditions on all types of roads, from dry pavement to wet or snow-covered roads. The system gives the 4Runner a sure-footed feel because power is applied to all four wheels, improving traction. When the front wheels slip, up to 70 percent of the power goes to the rear wheels. When the rear wheels slip, up to 53 percent of the power goes to the front wheels.
The five-speed automatic transmission enhances the responsiveness and efficiency of the engine. The transmission is equipped with Artificial Intelligence Shift control, which changes gear-sh
The 2005 Toyota 4Runner is a highly capable trail vehicle. It will get you over the rocks and through the muck, but it won't make you regret its durable construction when you're cruising the Interstate. It's smooth and quiet on the road and there's plenty of room for family and friends. The V6 is a great choice, but the V8 delivers excellent response. If you want serious recreational capability with Toyota quality, and the company's reputation for durability and reliability, the 4Runner is an excellent choice. Nonetheless, if you rarely venture onto unimproved trails, then you'll find the Toyota Highlander and other unibody, independently suspended SUVs smoother and more comfortable.
New Car Test Drive editor Mitch McCullough reports from Southern California.