Looking past the 2018 Toyota 4Runner's choppy ride, mediocre handling, poor fuel economy, and minimal safety features, you'll find that behind its rugged style lurks exceptional off-road prowess, sophisticated suspension options, and slick touches like a power rear window and an available sliding rear cargo deck.

Best Value

2018 Toyota 4Runner starts at $35,400 for a rear-wheel-drive SR5 (which you don't want) and climbs to over $48,000 for an all-wheel-drive Limited equipped with a third row and optional paint. A single engine/transmission is offered, while rear-wheel-drive is standard on SR5 and Limited models. SR5 4x4 models feature a part-time four-wheel-drive system with active traction control, while a locking rear differential and multi-terrain select and crawl control are added to TRD models. TRD Pro models receive an off-road capable Bilstein-developed system, while the Limited rounds out the offerings with full-time four-wheel drive, active traction control, and a lockable Torsen limited-slip center differential.

The usual power features are present, along with seventeen-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry, leather-trimmed steering wheel, power liftgate window, Bluetooth, satellite radio, Toyota's app suite with navigation, and a rear view camera. But unlike most Toyotas, advanced safety systems like blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control, and lane departure warning are not offered.

With the 4Runner's off-road prowess in mind, we'd skip the SR5 trim and head for the TRD Off-Road model that adds the upgraded 4WD system along with unique seventeen-inch alloy wheels and all-terrain tires, color-keyed bumpers and exterior trim bits, heated outside mirrors, fog lights, and overfenders. It also allows access to the 4Runner's Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System that uses hydraulics to adjust the front and rear sway bars – loosening them for extended wheel travel in off-road conditions and tightening them for better control on-road.

Here's how we'd build it

  • Model: 2018 Toyota 4Runner TRD Off-Road
  • Engine: 4.0-liter V6
  • Output: 270 hp / 278 lb-ft
  • Transmission: Five-speed automatic
  • Drivetrain: Four-wheel-drive
  • MPG: 17 City / 21 Hwy
  • Options: Kinetic Dynamic Suspension system ($1,750)
  • Base Price:$38,030 (including a $995 destination charge)
  • Best Value Price:$39,780

Performance

Toyota 4Runner

The real deal with a 5,000-pound towing capacity, 9.6 inches of ground clearance, 33-degree approach, and 26-degree departure angles; a two-speed transfer case allows the 4Runner to handle challenging terrain, while the TRD Off-Road and Pro's Crawl Control automatically applies the brakes at each corner, helping it creep over obstacles. The V6 provides decent – if unexceptional – acceleration, while the five-speed automatic is quick to respond to driver input, even on steep grades with a full load of passengers and cargo.

But the goodness ends when the pavement begins as the soft ride – courtesy of tall tires – can turn raucous over rolling pavement, advanced driver safety assists aren't offered, and the steering is numb, with light on-center feel and very little feedback to the driver. Adding to the jam pile are mediocre handling and a V6 that sounds rough when pressed, and in tandem with the four-wheel-drive system and antiquated five-speed auto, only manages an EPA-estimated 17 miles per gallon in the city, 20 on the highway, and 18 combined.

Style

Aggressive sheetmetal punctuated by an underbite-inspired front fascia is wrapped around an interior with comfortable first and second row seats and an above average 47.2 cu ft of cargo room. Controls and knobs are well laid out and intuitive, an optional pull-out sliding rear cargo floor makes loading items a breeze, while a 70's-era station wagon-style power rear window aids loading and natural cabin ventilation – it's very fun to drive down the road with the back window down.

But the tall ride height means getting in and out is more difficult – especially for children - making the optional running boards almost a necessity (they also compromise ground clearance off road), while the optional third row is only suitable for small children. The shallow dash – a boon for off-road visibility – makes the interior feel claustrophobic, while the 4Runner also lacks a power tailgate option.

The Best and Worst Things

The 4Runner's rugged style matches its off-road capability and solid feel. We only wish it offered more advanced safety features and better fuel economy.

Right For? Wrong For?

Toyota 4Runner

The 4Runner is a great choice for weekend warriors looking for a more refined off-roader than the Jeep Wrangler.

A high ride height, limited safety features, and poor fuel economy spell doom for families looking for an around-town commuter.

The Bottom Line

Despite limited safety features and poor fuel economy, the 4Runner is a solid, capable, true off-roader, and a worthwhile choice for the family that's outgrown a Jeep Wrangler but isn't willing to lose that go-anywhere character or elemental driving experience.