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2010 Toyota 4Runner Rubicon Trail First Drive

Posted in Vehicle Reviews on December 1, 2009 Comment (0)
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2010 Toyota 4Runner Rubicon Trail First Drive

When Toyota offered to let us tag along on a 2010 4Runner durability test on the Rubicon Trail, we immediately accepted the invitation. Not only were we anxious to see the new, fifth-generation 4Runner, we wanted to see how it handled the granddaddy of all trails.

So that's how we found ourselves standing next to a pair of camouflaged, prototype 2010 4Runners at the Loon Lake entrance to the Rubicon Trail. This was no high-falutin', luxo-trip. Each rig was stuffed with camping gear, and the plan was to travel the Rubicon from west to east over the course of three days. In addition to the two 4Runners, our group of vehicles included a well-traveled stock FJ Cruiser and our trail guide's classic '77 FJ-40. (All Toyota, all the time.) In addition to our bubbly personality, Toyota had 10 souls on our run. The vast majority of the folks were technicians, but there was also an engineer and a manager. Our group also consisted of a product planning administrator, a product communications specialist, and even the 4Runner Chief Engineer Akio Nishimura, who traveled from Japan to be a part of the test.

Loon Lake was our starting point, and it was where we aired down the mud-terrain tires. Of the two 4Runners on our trip, the rig in the foreground most resembled what the production 4Runner Trail will look like (camouflage not included). The heavily camouflaged rig looked like a Transformer that had become stuck halfway through its transformation, with bugged-out taillights and recessed headlamps. It was lovable nonetheless. Loon Lake was our starting point, and it was where we aired down the mud-terrain tires. Of the two 4Runners on our trip, the rig in the foreground most resembled what the production 4Runner Trail will look like (camouflage not included). The heavily camouflaged rig looked like a Transformer that had become stuck halfway through its transformation, with bugged-out taillights and recessed headlamps. It was lovable nonetheless.

Inviting Four Wheeler to an internal event that is designed to test the durability of the 4Runner's drivetrain, control systems, and body structure seemed like a risk to us. After all, by inviting us Toyota would be ensuring that the good, and the bad, would be documented in all its glory. Or gore. With the exception of homemade rocker protection and mud-terrain tires, the 4Runners were completely bone-stock.

Now before we go any further, we have to set this up by giving you some basic information on the 2010 4Runner. Off-highway fans will be pleased to know that for 2010, the approach angle has been improved to 33 degrees from the 2009 4Runner's 30 degrees, the departure angle has improved to 26 degrees from 24 degrees (both measurements include the trailer hitch), and ground clearance improves to 9.6 inches from 9.1 inches. Two engines are available: a 2.7L I-4 and a 4.0L V-6. The 4.7L V-8 engine has been discontinued in the 4Runner, but the V-6 makes 10 more horsepower and gains an EPA estimated three mpg in the city and five mpg on the highway as compared to the V-8. But that's not all. Thanks to friction-reducing technology, the V-6 in the 4Runner makes an impressive 34 more horsepower and 12 lb-ft of torque than last year's V-6, even though it's exactly the same displacement. The four-cylinder model gets a four-speed ECT automatic transmission, while the six-cylinder engine is bolted to a five-speed ECT automatic. When equipped with four-wheel drive, the 4Runner is equipped with a two-speed manual-shift transfer case that contains a 2.566:1 low range.

We had only been on a trail a few minutes when the Rubicon scored its first points at "Gatekeeper." The rear tires of this 'Runner lost traction on a dirt-covered boulder, allowing the SUV to slide into a rock that was taller than the rocker protection, resulting in a crunched passenger door. Even with the damage, the door remained functional. We had only been on a trail a few minutes when the Rubicon scored its first points at "Gatekeeper." The rear tires of this 'Runner lost traction on a dirt-covered boulder, allowing the SUV to slide into a rock that was taller than the rocker protection, resulting in a crunched passenger door. Even with the damage, the door remained functional.

The two 4Runners on this trip were equipped with the "Trail" package. This option package will fit the 4Runner with the V-6 engine and will include a variety of off-highway-centric features and styling cues that set it apart from the SR5 and Limited models. The list includes, but is not limited to, a hood scoop, utility roof rack, a variety of black exterior components, water-resistant seating material, Crawl Control, Multi-Terrain Select, Active Traction Control (A-TRAC), a locking rear differential, and special 17-inch alloy wheels.

As our entourage began the mighty Rubicon Trail, we couldn't help but wonder what the next few days had in store for the 4Runners and the Toyota team. Well, three days later, the stock 4Runners emerged from the Rubicon with only nicks and scrapes and no driveline damage whatsoever (see "Bottom Line" sidebar). The Toyota team accomplished what they set out to do, testing the drivetrain, control systems, and body structure in extreme conditions, and they earned some notable trail cred in the process. So what did Toyota do after they finished the Rubicon? Well, they drove the 4Runners 700 miles to the Toyota Arizona Proving Grounds, that's what.

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What is Crawl Control?
One of the most interesting features on the 4Runner Trail is the standard Crawl Control system, which debuted on the fullsize Land Cruiser for 2008. We could blab for pages about Crawl Control (which is controlled by the rotary switch on the left in this photo, shown here in prototype phase), but here's the condensed version. This system, which took over two years to develop, allows the vehicle to hold a target speed, both descending and ascending, with no intervention from the driver while utilizing traction control. In other words, you simply activate the system and select a speed using the rotary switch, ignore the brake and accelerator pedals, and steer. It does the rest, using a variety of sensors to keep the vehicle at one of five selected speeds (up to 3.1 mph). We heard someone at Toyota call it "cruise control for the rocks," and that's a great description. It didn't take long for us to become amazed by this new Toyota-exclusive feature. The only thing Crawl Control doesn't know how to do is predict when a "bump" is needed to climb an obstacle, but the system is designed to allow manual inputs of the throttle to compensate. In this photo, you can see how Toyota grouped the Crawl Control switch with the most commonly used off-highway controls in the overhead console. It includes the switchgear for the A-TRAC, rear differential locker, Vehicle Stability Control, and the new Multi-terrain System.

By mid-afternoon on the first day, we arrived at "Walker Rock." The new 4Runner is slightly wider and taller than its predecessor, but we completed the obstacle without damage. By mid-afternoon on the first day, we arrived at "Walker Rock." The new 4Runner is slightly wider and taller than its predecessor, but we completed the obstacle without damage.

Bottom Line
If you want to run the Rubicon, you can expect damage. It's a given and we all know it. Heck, we saw a number of broken rigs on this trip, and we've damaged our modified project rigs and personal vehicles on the Rubicon. Interestingly, the stock 4Runners fared very well. At no time did they suffer driveline damage or systems failure. Body damage was very light. We inspected the rigs and found what we expected: toasted mud flaps, wrinkled skidplates, and dented mufflers. This was all predictable, especially considering these rigs were stock height. Yep, we were impressed by the new 4Runner Trail.

Specs
Vehicle/model: 2010 Toyota 4Runner Trail
Base price: N/A
Engine: 4.0L V-6
Max hp & torque (lb-ft): 270/278
Transmission(s): 5-speed ECT automatic
Transfer case(s): 2-speed
Low-range ratio: 2.566:1
Frame type: Ladder
Suspension, f/r: Independent double-wishbone with stabilizer bar/4-link rigid-type with coil springs
Max crawl ratio: 33.7:1
Steering: Power-assisted and variable gear rack-and-pinion
Brakes, f/r (in): 13.3, vented/12.28, vented
Wheels (tested): 17x7.5 alloy
Tires (tested): P265/70R17
Wheelbase (in): 109.8
Length (in): 189.2
Height (in): 71.5
Base curb weight (lb): 4,750
Max approach/departure angles (deg): 33/26
Minimum ground clearance (in): 9.6
GVWR (lb): 6,300
Max cargo volume (cu. ft.): 89.7
Max towing capacity (lb): 5,000
EPA mileage figures, city/hwy (mpg): 17/22
Fuel capacity (gal): 24.0

View Slideshow

More Info On The 2010 4Runner To Come
We're scheduled to have the new 4Runner in our 2010 Four Wheeler of the Year test, so we'll have lots more info on it and its features like Crawl Control and the Multi-terrain System in an upcoming issue of Four Wheeler.

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