SEE ALSO: Toyota Buyer's Guide
The ever-increasing popularity of sport-utility vehicles for suburban station-wagon use has caused concern among more traditional four-wheel drive aficionados. Manufacturers go where the sales are, and the qualities that make for a successful suburban utility vehicle aren't necessarily the best choices for serious off-road use. Some old-time off-road favorites have become less-suited for their original clientele because of this.
Not the Toyota 4Runner. It's come a long way from its original pickup-with-a-built-in-camper-shell nature, but make no mistake. The 2000 4Runner is a completely modern vehicle that is capable of satisfying the needs of both new and old-line SUV buyers. It is unashamedly a truck, but it's a truck that is nearly as comfortable as a Toyota Camry. Unlike the newer "hybrid" designs that blend car and SUV characteristics, the 4Runner is made to get seriously dirty, with serious ground clearance and a sturdy suspension and drivetrain. There are enough choices of engine, drivetrain, and appointment levels in the 4Runner lineup for it to please everyone from the upscale suburbanite to the grizzled off-roader.
I recently had the opportunity to sample the latest version of the 4Runner, the Highlander. The Highlander's new "Sports Package" adds interest to its appearance, but there is more to it than mere looks. A 300-mile day trip, on roads ranging from superhighway to dirt, gave the Highlander a chance to show its abilities. That much time in a truck -- or many cars, for that matter - can be painfully tiring. No such problem in the 4Runner. It has the contemporary comforts that matter to the suburbanite and the backwoods manners that matter to the outdoors types.
It's civilized but not compromised.
APPEARANCE: Although there is a certain resemblance between the 4Runner and Toyota's Tacoma compact pickup, particularly in the fender and hood lines, the two share no body or frame parts. The 4Runner is a typical two- box sport-utility in shape, with rounded edges and corners. Sculpted character lines on the fenders and a bulge in the center of the hood add interest. It had a minor restyling last year, with a more aggressive grille and front bumper fascia. This year's "Sport Package" adds a semi-functional hood scoop that lets cooling air into the engine compartment and gives the 4Runner a much sportier attitude. Add-on fender flares and enough ground clearance to show the skid plate under the front complete the backwoods-ready look.
COMFORT: Despite the high clearance and lack of running boards, access to the 4Runner is not difficult. There are plenty of grab handles, and the seat cushions are at a level that makes it easy for most people to slide right in, or out. In mid-level trim, interior materials are synthetic, with grippy cloth upholstery. Leather is available, and is standard with in the Limited version. The 4-way manually-adjustable sports seats that are part of the Sports Package are well- bolstered and comfortable, even after several hours on the highway. Instrumentation is complete, and auxiliary controls are placed for easy use. A locking glove box, deep console box, and medium door pockets give convenient storage. The 6-speaker AM/FM/cassette/CD audio system helps prevent highway boredom. Both the heating and air conditioning work well and quickly, and rear vents help rear seat passengers stay warm. Those rear passengers have more room than in some larger SUVs, and their own door and seat storage spaces. The rear seat is split 50/50, with a flip-and-fold feature for extra cargo storage. The liftgate is balanced for ease of use, and a relatively low cargo floor makes loading and unloading easy. The full-sized spare tire is underneath the rear, pickup-style, for increased room and visibility.
SAFETY: The 2000 Toyota 4Runner has dual front air bags, anti-lock brakes, and daytime running lights.
ROADABILITY: Despite its civilized comfort and appointments, the 4Runner is no "off-road look-only" poseur. It's the real deal for showroom-stock offroad ability, with 11 inches of ground clearance with the P265/70 R16 tires of the Sport Package, and real dual-range four- wheel drive and an available locking rear differential. Yet, on the highway and around town it's as comfortable and quiet as a Camry, and not too large to maneuver into tight spaces.
PERFORMANCE: The 4WD 4Runner V6 is no lightweight at nearly two tons ready to run, but its 3.4-liter V6 has enough power for any task. There is a myth that overhead cam, multivalve engines only develop power at high rpms. Many such engines do, but that's because of other design factors. The 4Runner's V6 makes its maximum 183 hp at 4800 rpm and, more importantly, maximum torque of 217 lb-ft at 3600 rpm for the sort of low- and midrange power necessary for successful off-road use, or effortless highway cruising. Acceleration is good if not blistering, and the 4-speed automatic transmission shifts as smoothly as that of a Camry.
CONCLUSIONS: The Toyota 4Runner is a capable vehicle for any condition on or off the road.
SPECIFICATIONS 2000 Toyota 4Runner Highlander Base Price $ 28,008 Price As Tested $ 33,316 Engine Type dual overhead cam, 24-valve V6 Engine Size 3.4 liters / 206 cu. in. Horsepower 183 @ 4,800 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 217 @ 3,600 rpm Transmission 4-speed electronically- controlled automatic Wheelbase / Length 105.3 in. / 183.3 in. Curb Weight 3930 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 21.5 Fuel Capacity 18.5 gal. Fuel Requirement regular unleaded, 87 octane Tires P265/70 R16 Bridgestone Dueler H/T Brakes, front/rear vented disc / drum Suspension, front/rear independent double wishbone with coil springs / solid axle with 4-link location and coil springs Ground clearance 11.0 inches Drivetrain front engine, on-demand 4-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 17 / 19 / 17 0 to 60 mph 9.5 sec Towing capacity 5,000 lbs OPTIONS AND CHARGES Rear heater $ 170 Sport Package - includes: locking rear differential, 6x7 alloy wheels with P265/70 tires, foglamps, color keyed bumpers, over-fenders, and grille, hood scoop, front sports seats, leather-covered steering wheel $ 1,965 Power tilt & slide moonroof $ 815 Upgrade Value Package #2 - includes: power windows, remote keyless entry, air conditioning, rear cargo cover, premium AM/FM/cass/CD sound system, carpeted floor mats $ 2,198 Towing receiver hitch $ 305 Roof rack $ 275 Destination charge $ 480