The Toyota 4Runner is a legend. It was the first import brand SUV to give Detroit four-by-fours a serious run for their customers. Since 1984, the 4Runner has delivered rugged and reliable performance, and developed a legion of faithful in the process. But today, most utility buyers have traded prowess for comfort in the form of crossovers. Still, the all-new fifth generation 4Runner continues to play its familiar tune. But, are buyers still listening?

For starters, the 2010 Toyota 4Runner fits the visual bill of a capable SUV perfectly. The two-box lines are no-nonsense, from its gaping, blacked-out grille and big, angular headlights perched high atop the blunt front end, to the stout spoiler-topped liftgate, with taillights pushed to the corners.

The 4Runner we wrung out was the new off-road-oriented “Trail” variant, which splits the difference between the entry-level SR5 and ornamented Luxury, and gives the front fascia an even greater stylistic dose of utility. Bulging fenders add to the muscular character, housing the Trail’s stout 265/70 tires on 17-inch rims.

On rear-wheel drive 4Runners, standard power now comes from the Tacoma’s 2.7-liter, twin-cam four, generating an underwhelming 157 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque.

In a further nod to economy, a thoroughly reworked 4.0-liter V6 replaces last year’s 4.7 V8 as the top engine. Rated at 270 horsepower and 278 foot-pounds of torque, it outclassed the old V8 in horsepower if not in torque.

Still, we found the V6 to be plenty capable: zero to 60 in 7.8 seconds. Plus, it never left us stranded, even in record-breaking snow storms, and it was impressively smooth. Off-road purists will be disappointed that, once again, there is no manual transmission. The V6 mates to a five-speed automatic, while the four gets by with only four.

Government Fuel Economy ratings for the base four-cylinder 4X2 are 18 City/23 Highway. But the V6 4x2 is almost the same. And even our V6 4X4 rates close at 17 City/ 22 Highway. Our test loop was spot on at 19.8 miles per gallon of regular gas. Still, our V6 4Runner earns a fairly thirsty Energy Impact Score of 18 barrels of oil consumed annually, and a yearly Carbon Footprint of 9.6 tons of CO2.

For 2010, the 4Runner continues to share its heavily-reinforced, fully-boxed, ladder-type frame with the FJ Cruiser. Our Trail 4x4 came equipped with the optional Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System, which can disengage front and rear anti-roll bars at speeds up to 40 mph, ensuring as much tread contact as possible over rough, uneven terrain.

Four-wheel drive SR5 and Trail models feature an off-road capable part-time, two-speed four-wheel drive system with a rear locker and low-range Crawl Control, while Limited models are full-time four-wheel drivers with a locking center differential. All 4x4s use Toyota’s A-TRAC power distribution system, which routes power to whichever wheel needs it the most.

On the flip side, our Trail grade 4Runner’s Multi-Terrain Select allows some wheel-slip when more traction won’t solve the problem. All 4Runners come with Hill Start Assist, and 4x4s add Hill Descent Control.

Coil springs and gas shocks work in conjunction with a double-wishbone, fully-independent front suspension and four-link solid-axle rear setup. With the V6 and trailer hitch, the 4Runner is tow-rated for 5,000 pounds.

With no meaningful change in exterior size, the interior also delivers about the same total space as before. Yet, it seems roomier thanks to a design treatment that has a lot in common with the Lexus GX460, especially the upright, truck-like dash with tall center stack and beefy controls.

Gauges, however, have a decidedly sporty flare with a triple pod format. The shrouds really reduce glare, and there’s even a trendy “Eco” indicator.

Front seats are wide and well padded, with our Trail’s standard cloth covered cushions including power lumbar for the driver. Trail trim includes a useful backup camera display in the rear view mirror, which moves to the center stack if you order our 4Runner’s $2,400 voice-activated navigation system.

4Runners come standard as two-row five-seaters. The second row split bench handles three adults well. A third-row split bench is optional. The 4Runner also handles cargo well. All seats down deliver a competitive 90 cubic feet. Our tester’s trick 440-pound capacity slide deck makes loading and unloading a cinch. 

Sounds like a lot of SUV-and it is, but with prices to match. The base SR5 4X2 sits at $28,300 to start; the V6 is still under thirty grand. But our Trail 4X4 jumps to $36,500. And the top drawer Limited begins at $38,565.

The market for traditional SUVs continues to shrink. And, when the Ford Explorer moves to a car-like chassis next year, the body-on-frame 4Runner will have few high volume rivals. Maybe that’s why Toyota left the 4Runner heritage intact. In a world of utilities gone soft, the better-than-ever 4Runner remains a standard for the true SUV.



  • Engine: 4.0-Liter V6
  • Horsepower: 279
  • Torque: 278 Lb Feet
  • 0-60 MPH: 7.8 Seconds
  • EPA: 17 MPG City/ 22 MPG Highway
  • Mixed Loop: 19.8 MPG
  • Energy Impact: 18.0 Barrels Oil/Yr
  • CO2 Emissions: 9.6 Tons/Yr