On my work table is a chest of half a dozen leather working gloves, but as I bundle myself up for battle with the rose bushes, poison ivy, and the army of creatures that live in my yard and craving my flesh, the eye is drawn to one worn but trusty pair.
I call them Goldilocks Gloves, not only because they are soft yellow.
A bit heavier than the others, this pair is remarkably durable. More than once I covered them with so much mud that I had to take a hose for them. I put them on the patio table. Dry overnight, take out the next morning, and slip on instantly. They feel comfortable, efficient, and ready for all the things I need or want to do.
This is the basic nature of the Toyota 4Runner. An old-school, body-on-frame design, the 4Runner is an adaptation of the Tacoma pickup truck, and despite years of tweaking and adding as many modern amenities as possible, the 4Runner can’t escape its DNA.
The handling is superb, the ride rocking, the wind and road noise are rudimentary, the fuel economy is pretty poor, the third row is stifling, and when pushed, the engine roars like a tormented demon. However, there is something totally fun about 4Runner. Maybe that’s the well-earned reputation for reliability, maybe it’s incredible off-road ability, or maybe it’s the familiar handsome looks and good muscle.
Whatever the reason, the 4Runner fits perfectly in old gloves. Dozens of family-sized SUVs are more comfortable, more fuel-efficient, less expensive, and much more advanced than the 4Runner, but if I’m loading up on a camping trip off the beaten path, the 4Runner ticks nearly all the important boxes.
Most importantly, it is solidly built. The current generation 4Runner has been in production since 2009 and the 4.0-L V-6 has been in the running for a decade longer. What are the few bugs that could have been resolved a long time ago.
The same goes for the five-speed transmission. It’s a little tricky, but if it’s good enough for desert fighters, I can trust it.
There is a lot to be said about it. People believed in 4Runner. They feel safe in it. They feel they can count on them and in today’s world it’s hard to get feelings of trust and security. The fully-equipped 4×4 4Runners weigh in at 6,300 pounds. That’s more than three tons. That big mass sure makes the car safer, doesn’t it?
Not right. Although the 4Runner has one of the lowest rates of driver deaths per million miles, it scores below average in a crash test conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It is rated marginal in a small overlapping frontal collision while body protection and safety are rated poor.
Newer single-body vehicles, such as the Highlander, Honda Pilot, Subaru Outback or Kia Telluride, are lighter, yet their use of modern alloy steels and body designs better protect occupants.
I’m not saying that the magnitude of the collision doesn’t matter. In general, according to IIHS, large luxury SUVs have the lowest fatality rates. It should be noted that these vehicles also have the most driver assistance technologies. Smaller, inexpensive cars, such as the Ford Fiesta, Hyundai Accent, Chevy Sonic, Nissan Versa, and Fiat 500 are the top picks. It should be noted that Toyota, which provides a full range of driver assistance technologies in all its models, even its small cars, did not have one in the list of the ten most dangerous.
When the Highlander was introduced in 2001, Toyota executives quietly said they expected the 4Runner to be gone within a few years. The monocoque was easier to drive, had more space, had a smoother power train, and more advanced electronics. From the ground up, it was a superior car.
All of this may be true, but some people like the feeling of driving in a truck. Here we are, 21 years later and the 4Runner is still going strong. Through April, the Highlander was engaged in a battle for midsize SUV supremacy with the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ford Explorer. However, the 4Runner is a solid No. 8, according to goodcarbadcar.net.
Properly equipped, the 4Runner has a serious off-road cut, capable of running with anything that carries a Jeep or Bronco badge. If you’re exploring places where the roads are stingy or non-existent, the 4Runner TRD Pro is for you. If that’s something you only do occasionally, you’re rambling about an extra ton and paying heavily in purchase price and gasoline for something you don’t need.
Nobody can take off the doors and the roof, like on the Bronco, but the 4Runner has always had a huge rear window that drops at the touch of a button. still does. Drop the windows, too, and the overheated car will cool off from the sun in an instant. It’s a feature I’ve always loved.
Change is coming
I hope Toyota keeps it if the new 4Runner hits showrooms. When will that happen? There’s a lot of talk about it in car vine these days, but the people who talk don’t know because the people who know don’t.
For a while, Grape said the new Tacoma and 4Runner would arrive in 2022 as 2023 models. Now Grape isn’t sure.
“We won’t have any new 4Runner information anytime soon,” said my go-to Toyota source, Greg Thom, Plano’s senior director of communications.
This is certainly a correct political response. The Securities and Exchange Commission takes a bleak view of publicly traded companies as it spit on future products. Knowing Thome, it’s probably an accurate response. He has a habit of carefully measuring his words.
Toyota is certainly working on developing and deploying technology that may support the new 4Runner and Tacoma. An all-new body-on-frame platform is already being used in the new Land Cruiser, Lexus LX 600, full-size Tundra pickup, and new Sequoia.
What’s Next? There are also rumors of the Grand Highlander, a seven-passenger SUV with a real body. Just rumors, but Toyota clearly has options.
Like all manufacturers these days, Toyota has a strategy of designing and building modular platforms that can be adapted to different sizes of vehicles. The monocoque platform for cars and crossovers is now endemic to the Toyota and Lexus lineups. The truck platform is already in four products and it is reasonable to assume that more will follow.
These vehicles are powered by a twin-turbocharged, 3.4-liter V-6 engine that generates 409 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque. The Tundra and Sequoia come with a hybrid version that makes 437 horsepower and 583 pound-feet of torque, and can tow up to 12,000 pound-feet. All of those numbers dwarf what the current 4Runner and Tacoma can do.
In the meantime, all R&D and all factory tooling for the old 4Runner have already been paid for. The same is true of the equally outdated Tacoma, which still dominates its market position, so profit margins per unit should be astronomical. Meanwhile, current engines come with warranty costs that Ford may die for. It doesn’t break, so it doesn’t cost to repair.
High fuel prices may ultimately be the dog breed that brings down these ancient war horses, but as long as the public demands them, they won’t break.
Things go in and out of fashion, but never a nice pair of work gloves.
Test Drive is an automatic review column by Bill Owney.