Auto Review: All-terrain tamer
By Bill Heald - ReminderNews
Feature Article - posted Thu., Nov. 10, 2011
In the automotive world, it’s a challenge to keep up with all the engineering changes taking place. This includes everything from the structure of the chassis to the myriad of electronics that control almost every system imaginable. This week we have a rare mix of old-school heavy-duty truck hardware mated with ultra-sophisticated software, all designed to keep you on your way, no matter what the road or trail throws in your path.
The vehicle is the Toyota 4Runner 4X4 Trail, and given the weather we’ve already endured the last few months (and the fact that winter’s about to strike), the idea of a true go-anywhere vehicle loaded with advanced traction wizardry makes perfect sense. This latest version of venerable ‘Runner (that started life years ago as a modified Toyota pickup and is now a close relative to the Land Cruiser) was not only a workhorse in testing; it even delivered decent fuel economy for such a rugged SUV.
Built on a traditional boxed frame, the 2011 edition comes in three trim levels (SR5, Trail and Limited) and the Trail is the stoutest in terms of off-road-prowess. The engine is a 4-liter V6 with 270 horsepower, and all models come with a five-speed automatic transmission. 2WD can be had in both SR5 and Limited grades, while Trail is 4X4 only with a part-time transfer case and a slew of traction and off-road-focused electronic aids. Chief among these is an overhead console with Multi-terrain Select, Active Traction Control (A-TRAC), and Crawl Control switches that allow the vehicle to creep along over all kinds of nasty bogs and boulders while you focus exclusively on steering.
Suspension articulation is augmented in extreme conditions by an optional Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System, which works by “dynamically disconnecting stabilizer bars to allow for more axle travel, and better suspension articulation in slow, difficult terrain.” This is another way do saying the 4Runnner is very adept at keeping the wheels on the ground even during the most challenging off-road conditions. An electronic locking differential button is yet another tool to get through the mud and to your destination. While there is a lot of nose dive under extreme braking, stopping distances are short and control is good.
The 4Runner’s boxy profile isn’t the best in the world for aerodynamics, but it does enhance interior room, especially when you need to haul a lot of cargo. The Trail comes with well-contoured seats sheathed in water-resistant fabric, and support is outstanding. Controls are logical and easy to master, with radio and ventilation knobs that are comfortable to use even when wearing heavy gloves. The rear seats offer 40/20/40 split versatility, and there’s 46 cubic feet of cargo space behind the seats with a sliding rear cargo deck to make loading and unloading heavy items easier.
The 2011 Toyota 4Runner 4X4 Trail is EPA-rated 17 MPG city/22 highway and we averaged 20 MPG during our week with the vehicle. With options, our sticker came to $41,139. www.toyota.com.