2003 Toyota 4Runner
This 2003 review is representative of model years 2003 to 2009.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
A Toyota 4Runner that's refined? Yes, it exists as of the 2003 model year.
Redesigned and re-engineered for the 2003 model year, Toyota's long-running 4Runner is still a capable off-road sport-utility vehicle with rugged body-on-frame construction.
This new fourth-generation 4Runner is bigger than its predecessor, offers a first-ever V8, adds a number of new features including electronic control for steep downhill descents off-road and optional curtain and side airbags and provides an improved, bit of refined ride.
Pricing is changed, too. While the starting manufacturer's suggested retail price is around $27,000 now, a 4Runner with new V8, four-wheel drive and a host of options can actually carry a lofty price tag of more than $42,000.
This is a far cry from the pricing and amenities offered on the truckish, rather barebones SUV that the 4Runner started out as in the mid to late 1980s.
Styling is updated
They generally didn't realize that changes go beyond looks.
Indeed, the new 4Runner rides on a new platform it shares with the Lexus GX 470.
The new 4Runner is 4.5 inches longer in wheelbase, 5.7 inches longer overall, some 3 inches wider and a bit taller than its predecessor.
This means head room and shoulder room are improved all around. Front legroom goes from 39.3 inches to 41.7 inches, too.
Rear seat legroom of 34.7 inches is a tad shade less than the 34.9 inches of last year's 4Runner. And the 4Runner's maximum cargo capacity is down to 75.1 cubic feet from last year's reported 79.8.
Two new engines, old 4-cylinder dropped
The 2003 base engine is a new, 4.0-liter V6 capable of 245 horsepower and 282 lb-ft of torque at 5200 rpm.
Power here is pleasant and not overly brutish, even if torque is not strong enough to snap your head back.
Both performance numbers top those of the Nissan Pathfinder's V6 and the inline 6 in the Jeep Grand Cherokee. In fact, the 4Runner V6's 245 horses even top the 235 horsepower provided in the vehicle's up-level V8.
The pulling power, or torque, is highest with the 4.7-liter double overhead cam i-Force V8. It's a full 320 lb-ft at 3400 rpm.
This compares with 326 lb-ft at 3600 rpm in the Grand Cherokee's High-Output V8.
In the test 4Runner with V8, the vehicle felt like it had plentiful power, no matter if I was climbing hills off road or passing vehicles on the highway.
I needed to only depress the accelerator pedal slightly and the power would come on. If I slammed down hard on the accelerator at startup, there was strong power that pushed my head back against the head restraint.
Shifts were smooth from the 5-speed automatic, which is a first 5-gear automatic in a Toyota truck. The 4Runner V6 comes with a 4-speed automatic, though.
For both engines, Toyota recommends 91-octane gasoline.
Note the towing capacity for the 4Runner remains at 5,000 pounds, the same as last year's model.
Odds and ends
Seats felt ritzier than they have in previous 4Runners. There was a soft, cushioned feel in the leather-covered seats in the top-level Limited model.
The seating position is familiar as my legs extended out in front of me as they did in previous 4Runners and not downward as they do in other vehicles with more upright seating.
It took a bit time to get accustomed to the new dashboard controls for the 4Runner ventilation system. Blinkers sound old-style with a clickity-clack noise. Daytime running lights also were on the test 4Runner.
I liked how the bright red speedometer needle sort of cast a red beam to the farthest reaches of the speedometer gauge, helping a driver quickly see what speed the vehicle was traveling.
I appreciated how the optional navigation system had a display that could be tilted to three positions to help a driver better see the screen, even when the 4Runner's sunroof is open.
The dead pedal—place for bracing my left leg and foot—was well-placed in the new 4Runner.
I appreciate the upgraded safety equipment, which includes standard stability control and traction control on every model of 4Runner.
I just wish that a reverse park assist system was available from the factory, too, to help drivers back up this tall vehicle safely.
Fit and finish on the test 4Runner was excellent, inside and out, and every passenger has a head restraint and a three-point safety belt.
Note, though, that despite its longer length this year, the 4Runner continues with only two rows of seats, for a maximum of five passengers.
Some midsize competitors such as the Honda Pilot and Chevrolet TrailBlazer are available with three rows of seats.
Still some bounce in the ride
Much of the time that I rode in the 4Runner tester, I felt subtle vibrations and jiggles over road bumps, but none was harsh.
The vehicle uses a front independent suspension with control arms and a solid rear axle. Toyota engineers have worked to mute the truckish ride qualities somewhat and it's fair to say this is the best-riding 4Runner so far.
Keep in mind, too, that this comes even as Toyota fits the 2003 4Runner with the largest wheels and tires ever—17-inchers.
Riders all get good views out the front and sides of this tall-riding SUV. In the driver seat, I saw easily over cars and some other trucks and SUVs.
Brakes worked strongly in the test vehicle. Note that anti-lock brakes, electronic brake force distribution and brake assist are all standard on all 4Runners.