2005 Toyota 4Runner

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2003 Toyota 4Runner

This 2003 review is representative of model years 2003 to 2009.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Rating: 7

Bottom Line:

Toyota gives its midsize sport-utility a much-needed redesign.
Pros:
  • Roomy
  • Fast
  • Adroit handling with optional suspension
Cons:
  • High step-in
  • Low fuel economy
  • No third-row seat

The Toyota 4Runner has become increasingly marginal in the competitive midsize sport-utility vehicle market for the past few years, but the significantly redesigned version brings this Toyota up to speed again.

The 4Runner has a familiar name, having been introduced in 1985 with sales of more than 1.2 million units. But the 2002 version was saddled with a 6-year-old design that had to compete with a large number of new sport-utes unveiled in the past few years.

All is well, now, though, because the 2003 model is larger, roomier, stronger and more powerful. There are new features, a better chassis, bigger wheels and the first 4Runner V8.

The new body-on-frame chassis design with full-length boxed section frame rails makes the 4Runner feel very solid, especially during off-road use. Toyota's tamer midsize Highlander sport ute is car-based and not meant for off-road running.

Why the odd name? Toyota says combine "4-wheel drive" and "off-road Runner" and you have "4Runner."

First V8
Most 4Runner buyers are expected to buy the standard new aluminum 4-liter 245-horsepower V6. That engine produces more power than the 4.7-liter 235-horsepower V8. That V8 is used in other Toyota models, but is the first 4Runner V8. It has more torque than the V6 to make it easier to do such things as hauling items including big boats.

The V6 delivers good acceleration for most needs and is hooked to a 4-speed automatic transmission. The V8 works with a more responsive 5-speed automatic and allows quick starts off the line and good 65-75 mph passing times. It loafs at 1900 rpm at 65 mph.

Fuel Thirsty
Both engines are fuel thirsty, partly because the 4Runner weighs from 4,025 to 4,450 pounds. Estimated economy with the V6 is 17-18 mpg in the city and 20-21 on highways. Figures with the V8 are 15-16 in the city and 19-20 on the highway. Higher numbers are with rear-drive, while 4-wheel-drive trims deliver the lower figures.

The engines have a new cranking hold system that keeps the starter engaged from the time the ignition switch is turned on until the engine fires up. That helps prevent "starter overrun" and frees a driver from holding the ignition key in the start position until the engine comes to life.

The 4Runner is offered in SR5, new Sport and top-line Limited trims. Even the SR5 is well-equipped, so there is no inexpensive base trim.

The V8 base prices range from $28,005 to $34,205 for rear-drive and from $30,280 to $36,480 for 4-wheel-drive versions. The V6 versions aren't on sale as of this writing, but are due early next year. Toyota says their base prices will average about $700 to $1,100 less than that of V8s.

Overwrought Styling?
No matter what engine, the 4Runner has significantly new styling. Some may feel it's overwrought, with body cladding, running boards and a nonfunctional-but-prominent hood scoop. Others might feel it looks "muscular."

Styling aside, the 4Runner is considerably different than its predecessors. It's 5.7 inches longer with a wheelbase stretched 4.5 inches. It's also several inches wider and higher. A wider stance improves handling.

The 4-wheel drive system with the V6 can be left engaged on dry pavement, while the V8 version has full-time 4-wheel drive. The rugged 4Runner is designed to be comfortable during off-road driving, so both systems have low-range gearing. They also have a Downhill Assist Control system that improves directional control during descent on slippery or steep surfaces.

Lots of Driver Assists
The 4Runner is loaded with driver assists. One is its Hill-start Assist Control system, which should be especially appreciated by those living in hilly areas. The system comes on all 2- and 4-wheel-drive versions and is a "first" for a sport ute.

By controlling the brakes, Hill-start increases stability for improved control on steep upgrades and stopping and starting on slippery surfaces. It helps prevent the 4Runner from rolling backward or slipping sideways during transition from a stopped position to climbing an upgrade.

Electronic traction control and anti-skid systems also are standard.

Desirable Handling Option
Thanks to such features, handling is decent for such a tall, heavy sport-ute. But the best agility is with the new Yamaha-developed diagonal-linked relative absorber sport enhanced suspension system. That's a mouthful, so Toyota says you can just call it X-REAS. This special shock absorber setup improves on-road handling and cuts down on body pitch and lean in corners.

The X-REAS system is standard for the Sport and optional for the Limited. It stiffens the ride a little, but should be standard for all 4Runners, especially since many buyers of larger sport utilities are concerned about possible roll-over situations.

Safety Features
Safety features include an option that has front side airbags working with front and rear curtain-shield airbags.

The 4Runner has a generally smooth ride, but it isn't as smooth as rides from car-based sport-utility vehicles—or those with an independent rear suspension.

The variable-assist power rack-and-pinion steering is suitably fast. Standard anti-lock brakes are easily modulated despite a rather soft pedal and have brake assist and electronic brake-force-distribution features.

Extra effort is needed to get in and out of the tall 4Runner, and its narrow running boards are more of a hindrance than a help for those with large shoes. At least the windshield posts have large grab handles to assist entry and exit—especially for elderly folks.

No Third-Row Seat
The quiet interior contains room for four tall adults, but no third-row seat is offered although it's all the rage for midsize sport utes. The nicely designed dashboard has easily read gauges and large controls for the sound and climate control systems.

Front seats are especially supportive, and there's a tilt/telescoping steering wheel. The ignition switch is easy to find on the dashboard, but power window controls are a little too low on the driver's door.

The front of the console has large cupholders, and all doors have storage pockets. Rear windows roll down all the way, and the back doors have bottle holders. Occupants sit high but rear-seat cushions are rather low.

Large Cargo Area
The standard power tailgate window can often come in handy if owners do lots of shopping. And the cargo area is large, despite wheelwell housings that eat into some of its space. The entire split rear seat—not just seatbacks—folds forward to greatly enlarge the cargo area.

There is no large, unsightly engine cover, and the hood swings up smoothly on struts. Fluid filler areas are within easy reach, and six powerful windshield washer jets show good attention to detail.

Toyota has been introducing a larger number of light truck models, and its redesigned 4Runner should give it a much stronger presence in the midsize sport-utility market.

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BB03 - 7/26/2014 12:33:17 PM