For '03 Toyota introduces an all-new 4Runner that is larger, roomier, and more powerful. Under the hood can be found either a new, all-aluminum 4.0L V-6 that produces 245 hp and 283 lb-ft of torque or the familiar 4.7L V-8 that produces 235 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque. A new five-speed automatic transmission is available with the V-8 and a new Multi-Mode 4WD system is available with both engines. It uses a Torsen limited-slip center differential that can send power front to rear depending upon road conditions. Other advance features like Downhill Assist Control and Hill-start Assist Control find their way onto the 4Runner. The new body also includes a much roomier and more spacious interior.
What we liked
The new 4Runner was a very strong performer. Ours came to us with the 4.7L V-8, and its 235 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque was more than adequate to move the 'Runner along smartly. It was the hot rod of the group.
The 4Runner's brakes are extremely powerful and produced the shortest stopping distance of all the vehicles tested. Another plus was that the brake pedal is very linear, offering great feel and making the brakes easy to use.
The 4Runner's ability to carve through twisty mountain roads is also impressive. Standard on our Sport model is the diagonal-linked suspension system called X-REAS, developed by Yamaha. In this system, the compression chamber of each shock is cross-linked to its diagonal mate, and when a unit deflects, fluid is transferred from shock to shock. This reduces body roll and pitch. It was noticeable, as the 'Runner can be pushed through the corners extremely hard with a ton of confidence. Coupling this with a smooth highway ride made the 4Runner great on the pavement.
On the trail the 4Runner also did surprisingly well. Its suspension gobbled up bumps with ease and it could creep slowly in low range when needed. The power of the V-8 propelled it to the top of most dunes with ease--as long as the Vehicle Skid Control system was turned off. Leave it on, and the 4Runner instantly bogged.
What we didn't like
While the 4Runner did well on the trail, we wished it were a bit higher. Another minor gripe was that the traction-control system required too much wheelspin to engage.
Other gripes revolved around the 4Runner's interior. While the new layout is roomier and more comfortable than that of the previous generation, most of our judges did not like the new instrument cluster, which is difficult to see. Other judges did not like the HVAC controls, and some commented that there was just too much plastic.
Check It Out If:
You're in the mood for a killer ride that will do it all at a moderate price.
Avoid It If:
You're a traditionalist who doesn't trust electronic traction control.
The Short Version:
Terrific drivetrain. Who did that dash? Relies on wheelspin, instead of eliminating same. Hoodscoop is for decoration only. Weirdest heater controls in the bunch.
The Final Verdict
The 4Runner is a strong performer on the highway or trail with an excellent mechanical foundation. Only a few gripes about the interior kept it from finishing better.