The 2014 Toyota 4Runner continues to define the original meaning of a sport utility vehicle. It’s a long-established favorite among off-road SUV enthusiasts. Unlike crossovers largely best suited for road use, the 4Runner is more versatile.

With a redesign that features a rugged new exterior and increased comfort and convenience interior upgrades, the 4Runner is fine on the road. But it’s equally comfortable on off-road treks.

Versatility, in fact, is the 4Runner’s strongest attribute.

2014 Toyota 4Runner is rugged and nearly drives itself.
2014 Toyota 4Runner is rugged and nearly drives itself.

New model year owners have choices: a rear wheel 4×2, part-time 4×4 or a full-time multi-mode 4×4 with a locking center differential. All models are equipped with a 4.0-liter, 270-horsepower V6 teamed to a five-speed ECT-i automatic transmission.

The Weekly Driver Test Drive

Previewed in a mid-August manufacturer’s media presentation in Cle Elum, Wa., the fifth generation 4Runner is available in three grades: a value-driven SR5; top-of-the-line Limited, and a Trail grade for maximum off-road capability. With the optional third-row seat in the SR5 and Limited editions, the 4Runner seats as many seven occupants.

I drove the Limited 4X4 trim and other models in Washington for a few hours and I then test drove the Limited 4X4 again for a week in Northern California.

The refreshed 4Runner exterior gives the SUV more aggressive front fascia with a muscular front grille and edgier smoked headlamps. The SR5 and Limited grades feature a color-keyed grille insert and front bumper surrounded by fog lamps set in sharply cut inlays that extend from the headlamps to the bumper.

The Trail grade features new color-keyed bumpers and overfenders, and is distinguished by a hood scoop and silver painted front and rear bumper accents. All grades are now standard with a roof rack.

The SR5 and Trail grades include 17-inch alloy wheels with a new wheel-design for both. The Limited continues to ride on 20-inch alloy wheels, now painted black prior to machining to add contrast.

The 4Runner SR5 and Trail 4×4 models have a two-speed, part-time four-wheel-drive system with neutral position, maximizing fuel efficiency when a 4×4 configuration isn’t needed. The 4Runner Limited is equipped with a full-time, four-wheel-drive system with a locking center differential and a three-mode, center console-mounted switch.

All models come standard with Hill-start Assist Control (HAC), which provides additional control for off-road driving by helping to hold the vehicle stationary before starting on a steep incline or slippery surface.

All 4Runner 4×4 models feature standard Downhill Assist Control (DAC). This feature augments the low-speed ascending ability of low-range by helping to hold the vehicle, allowing time for the driver to a target speed with no driver intervention.

Fold-flat second-row seats provide a level load floor, and it is not necessary to remove headrests to fold the seats flat. The available third-row seat is split 50/50 and folds flat. The seats can be folded from the side or at the rear, using separate one-touch levers. With this arrangement, more cargo space is available without removing seats, and longer items can be conveniently carried.

Driving the 4Runner is an exercise is power. The seats are high and I felt in command of the road. The engine growled. The 20-inch wheels boosted the masculine feel of the SUV. A little bravado doesn’t hurt, right?

Facts & Figures: 2014 Toyota 4Runner

Warranty: Bumper to bumper, 3 years/36,000 miles; Powertrain, 5 years/60,000 miles; Corrosion, 5 years/60,000 miles; Roadside assistance, 2 years/25,000 miles.
Horsepower: 270.
MSRP: $43,400.00.
Price As Driven: $47,520.00.
Gas Mileage: 17 mpg (city), 21 mpg (highway), 18 mpg (combined), 5-speed automatic transmission.
Manufacturer website: www.toyota.com.

What Others Say:

“For 2014, Toyota has refreshed the fifth generation that was originally launched in 2010. While the 4Runner has stayed true to its roots, most competitors have moved on.” — Motor Trend.

“If you like your SUVs slightly old-school, it’s easy to recommend the 2014 4Runner, a comfortable, viceless, off-roadable, and, if history is properly suggestive, dependable vehicle. Winston Churchill might have driven one, even if it didn’t have his nose.” — Car and Driver.

“Some might argue that the 4Runner is a relic of the past. They’re right: It is. But it has been carefully updated and refined to provide nearly all of the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited’s off road capability with an added dose of refinement and a generally lower price tag. It’ll never topple the Highlander on Toyota’s sales charts, but we’re glad to see that enough 4Runner buyers keep lining up to give this long-lived nameplate a viable future.” — Left Lane News.

The Weekly Driver’s Final Words:

“The 2014 Toyota 4Runner has its loyal fans, and I get it. Tradition is cool in cars. But at nearly $48,000, there’s something to be said for breaking tradition, too.

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