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2010 Four Wheeler Of The Year - 2010 Toyota 4Runner

Posted in Vehicle Reviews on April 1, 2010
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Photographers: Ken Brubaker

Entering its fifth generation with a redesign for 2010, the 4Runner has been a Toyota staple ever since its introduction way back in 1984. Since then, 1.5 million of the popular SUVs have been sold. Part of the popularity of the 4Runner is due to the rugged body-on-frame construction, which it continues despite an industry trend toward more car-like vehicles. With truck-based toughness and car-like comfort, the latest 4Runner remains true to what a 4Runner should be.

Fifth-generation styling gets decidedly more aggressive, with a more upright windshield and a sportier interior. The new model is slightly larger and has a bigger interior, but still retains the previous model's 109.8-inch wheelbase. For 2010, the 4Runner is available in three trim levels: SR5, Limited, and the dedicated Trail model for enthusiasts. The V-8 option has been dropped, but 4x4s get the familiar 4.0L DOHC V-6, which has been upgraded and now puts out 270hp and 278 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed automatic transmission is standard on 4x4 models. On 4x2 models, a 2.7L DOHC I-4 is available. An optional third row with the ability to seat seven is also new.

Maintaining body-on-frame construction was key in preserving the 4Runner's robust foundation. The 2010 4Runner shares the same basic platform as the FJ Cruiser, and gets a double wishbone front suspension and solid rear axle with coil springs over gas shocks at all four corners. That rear axle is also stronger than before, now sporting an 8.18-inch ring gear, up from the 7.87-inch ring gear of the previous model. Body reinforcements that are unique to the 4Runner add to the stiffness of the structure.

On the 4x4 front, Toyota offers a suite of technologies to help the 4Runner excel on the trail. While both the SR5 and Trail models include a lever-actuated transfer case, the Trail-grade 4Runner takes it a step further with more aggressive 32-inch tires and a rear locker. A-TRAC is now standard equipment on all 4x4 4Runners and can distribute power to just one wheel with traction, ensuring that the 4Runner can keep going.

Trickling down from the Land Cruiser is the optional Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS). KDSS improves suspension articulation by automatically disconnecting the stabilizer bars in slow, uneven terrain. Another Land Cruiser technology that benefits the 4Runner is Crawl Control (CRAWL). CRAWL is an electro-mechanical system that controls the speed of the vehicle while minimizing the load on drivetrain components in technical, low range situations. Think of it as cruise control for rock crawling.

In addition to CRAWL, the 4Runner Trail also gets a Multi-Terrain Select system which is similar to Land Rover's Terrain Response and allows the driver to fine-tune vehicle performance to match the terrain. In mud or sand, wheel slip is allowed to work in the vehicle's favor. On rocks or in bumpy terrain, the system operates more like a limited slip, minimizing wheel slip for maximum traction.

Standard to all 4Runner 4x4s is Downhill Assist Control (DAC), which increases the ability of low range to hold a driver-determined downhill speed without any driver intervention. And lastly, all V-6 4Runners come equipped with Hill-start Assist Control (HAC). HAC keeps the vehicle stopped when the engine needs to be restarted on steep inclines or slippery surfaces.

Specific to our testing was the Trail grade model, which has increased approach and departure angles, higher ground clearance, and a unique wheel and tire package targeted at those who intend to use their 4Runner in the dirt.

Our Trail-grade tester came to us with a base price of $35,700. Options included KDSS ($1,750), Navigation and upgraded stereo ($2,420), and carpet floor mats and cargo mat ($204.00), bringing our as-tested price to $40,874, including an $800 delivery and processing charge.

Trail-grade models can be distinguished from other 4Runners by a hood scoop, different front and rear fascia styling, and smoked lenses on the headlight and tail lamps.

Track Testing
We tested our 4Runner at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, where it clicked off an 8.92 second 0-60 run, while crossing the quarter mile threshold in 16.8 seconds at 85.46 mph. The 4.0L DOHC V-6, which makes 34 more horsepower more than last year's model, felt strong and worked well with the five-speed automatic transmission, although we wished that the exhaust note was a little more assertive.

From 60 mph, the 4,750-pound 4Runner came to a stop in just 126.76 feet. Pedal feel was firm and confidence inspiring. We noted very little brake fade.

Overall Impressions
On the road, the 4Runner is fairly unremarkable. It rides and handles more like a crossover than a truck and has a comfortable, smooth ride. The steering feels isolated and the driving position offers excellent visibility from all sides. It does feel more substantial than the previous model, and isn't unlike its Land Cruiser big brother in many respects.

The larger interior does feel roomier than before, just as advertised. The second row seats fold flat without necessitating the removal of the headrests, and the rear cargo area has a slide-out tray that can hold up to 400-pounds and makes the process of loading and removing cargo a breeze. The 4Runner interior is well laid out, with only the four-wheel drive controls remaining hidden initially.

The interior materials in our preproduction model lacked the Land Cruiser touches. At this price point, almost all of our staffers were unanimous in wondering why there was a mouse fur headliner instead of the generally accepted woven style, and why the front seats looked like they came out of a base model Tacoma. The seats do offer more adjustments than before, but could benefit from a bit more padding.

That aside, the navigation system offers a large, bright screen and the stereo was judged to be one of the best available in the class. We especially liked the USB iPod integration. Our tester also offered "Party Mode," which when activated by a button on the dash, directs the music to the rear for tailgating enjoyment.

Our 4Runner was rated at 17mpg in the city and 22mpg in the highway, but we observed an impressive 17.62mpg average during our test.

Trail Testing
The point of all this scrutiny, of course, is to see how well a vehicle performs in the dirt. So off we went to our favorite desert test venues, where we put the 4Runner through its paces in sand, dirt, rocks, and washes. At the end of the trail portion of our test, we came away impressed. Clearly, the 2010 4Runner can be mentioned in the same breath as such segment stalwarts as the Jeep Wrangler, Hummer H3, Nissan Xterra, and FJ Cruiser.

Whether on fast dirt roads or in deep rutted sand, we found the body structure to be solid, with no squeaks or rattles. The chassis, which is appliance-like on the highway, really comes to life in the dirt, with supple suspension that enjoys slow or fast trails.

The placement of the controls for the trail functions, which are mounted overhead, took some time to get used to. Once we figured out how everything worked, we aimed the 4Runner at our favorite hill climb and let the vehicle drive us right up. We found that the Multi-Terrain select allows for the appropriate amount of wheel slip in deep sand to keep the 4Runner moving forward, and worked well on rocks with CRAWL to prevent wheel slip and the loss of forward progress. We did not get a chance to test the 4Runner in mud, but we expect that function to work just as well there.

In our experience, the Toyota technologies worked as advertised, and allowed our testers to dial in just how much involvement they wanted from the vehicle. Unlike other Toyota products, we didn't feel that the 4Runner's electronics were overly intrusive. The learning curve can be a little steep at first, but in an afternoon, even a newbie wheeler can traverse tough trails like a pro.

The 4Runner has sturdy underbody protection and 9.6-inches of ground clearance, but a low hanging front crossmember met its share of rocks during our test. If we could make any changes to the Trail package, we'd add a front locker and some sort of rocker protection. Otherwise, the Trail package is well thought out, solid, and clearly aimed at enthusiasts. Whether you are an offroad novice or a seasoned pro, the 4Runner suits drivers from both ends of the experience spectrum.

While other manufacturers are shying away from capable body-on-frame SUVs, we applaud Toyota for continuing the 4Runner tradition and offering a truly trailable rig right out of the box. The Trail version, which is one of the most comprehensive offroad packages in the segment, deserves special mention for bringing Land Cruiser technology to a more affordable price point. The 4Runner is a multi-purpose SUV that is even better in its fifth generation. For that, we are awarding it our 2010 Four Wheeler of the Year award.

What's Hot: Potent V-6, flexy suspension, well-sorted chassis, Trail package is solid
What's Not: Down market interior materials, controversial styling
Our Take: The best IFS 4Runner to date, and our 2010 Four Wheeler of the Year

From the Logbook:
"The doors sure are tinny sounding when you shut them."
"The 4Runner practically drives itself over the rocks!"
"Structure is solid as a rock."
"Driving position feels almost aircraft like with all the overhead controls."
"Crawl control rules, now where is that button?"
"Ten grand less than the Lex GX but just as wheelable. Nice!"
"Active-Trac, Schmactive-Trac-there's just no substitute for that rear locker."
"Needs a better tire for such a capable trail machine."
"Overall, the most trailworthy IFS 4Runner ever, with a few strange design quirks."

Vehicle/model Toyota 4Runner Trail
Base price $35,700
Price as tested $40,874
Options as tested Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System ($1,750); Voice-activated touch-screen navigation system with JBL AM/FM/MP3 4-disc CD changer with 15 speakers in 9 locations ($2,420); carpet floor mats & cargo mat ($204); destination ($800)

Type DOHC V-6
Displacement (ci/liter) 244/4.0
Bore x stroke (in) 3.70 x 3.74
Compression ratio 10.4:1
Intake EFI
Mfg.'s power/torque rating @ rpm 270 @ 5,600/ 278 @ 4,400
Mfg.'s suggested fuel type Regular unleaded

Transmission Aisin A750F 5-spd ECT automatic
Ratios: 1st 3.52:1
2nd 2.04:1
3rd 1.40:1
4th 1.00:1
5th 0.716:1
6th n/a
Reverse 3.22:1
Axle ratio 3.73:1
Transfer case VF2A part-time 2-spd
Low-range ratio 2.57:1
Crawl ratio 33.7:1

Frame Ladder-type
Body Steel
Front Independent, double-wishbone, stabilizer bar/S20BD 8.2-inch
Rear Four-link rigid-type with coil springs/BD21BN 8.2-inch, Toyota electric locking
Type Power variable gear rack-and-pinion
Turns (lock-to-lock) 2.7
Ratio 18.4:1
Front 13.3-in vented disc, four-piston fixed-type calipers
Rear 12.3-in solid discs, single-piston floating-type calipers
ABS Four-wheel
Wheels (in) 17 x 7.5
Tires P265/70R17 Dunlop Grandtrec AT20
EPA city/highway 17/22
Observed city/highway/trail 17.62
Weight (lb) 4,750
Wheelbase (in) 109.8
Overall length (in) 189.9
Overall width (in) 75.8
Height (in) 71.5
Track f/r (in) 63.2/63.2
Minimum ground clearance (in) 9.6
Turning diameter, curb-to-curb (ft) 37.4
Approach/departure angles (deg) 33.0/26.0
Breakover angle (deg) 24
GVWR (lb) 6,300
Payload (lb) 1,550
Maximum towing capacity (lb) 5,000
Seating 5 (7 optional)
Fuel capacity (gal) 24.0
0-60 mph (sec) 8.92
Quarter-mile (sec @ mph) 16.80 @ 85.46
Braking 60-0 mph (ft) 126.76
Ramp Travel Index 491

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