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Review: 2003 Toyota 4Runner Sport 4WD Sport Edition

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

SEE ALSO: Toyota Buyer's Guide


    Only the name remains the same. Back in 1985, when it made its 
debut, the Toyota 4Runner was little more than a compact pickup 
truck with a built-in camper shell. As was the norm in those days, 
the first 4Runner was built for hard use, and was a ruggedly capable 
vehicle that became popular with outdoor enthusiasts of all varieties. 
Although succeeding generations became more comfortable and 
better-equipped, the 4Runner stayed true to its roots when some of 
its competitors became softer and more street-oriented.

    And the all-new fourth-generation 2003 4Runner keeps that 
rugged heritage alive. If Toyota's competitors thought that their 
offerings beat the 4Runner on interior space and available power, 
bad news for them. The 2003 4Runner is larger in almost every 
dimension without being too large, and now comes with V8 power 
as well.

    All early-production 2003 4Runners have a 4.7-liter V8. An all-
new 4.0-liter V6 is also available, Toyota's first aluminum block 
truck engine with VVTi variable valve timing. High-tech is a feature 
of all new 4Runners, with a variety of electronic systems for added 
safety, performance, and convenience. Three grades are offered, 
each with V6 or V8 engines and two- or four-wheel drive. The SR5 
is the standard model, with the Sport Edition adding cosmetic 
upgrades and the ``X-REAS'' semi-active suspension system. The 
Limited tops the lineup with a host of luxury comfort features.

    I've been driving a Sport model for the past week, and have been 
very impressed with its poise and comfort in daily traffic and on the 
open road. When the 4Runner was introduced to the press last Fall, I 
had the opportunity to drive several examples on serious four-wheel 
drive trails at the Hollister Hills State Recreational Vehicle Area, 
near Monterey in Northern California. Still the real deal for rugged 
outdoors use, the 2003 4Runner gives up absolutely nothing when 
the pavement ends, even on the most difficult trails. It is also the 
most civilized 4Runner yet, with plenty of civilized comfort. Why 
rough it?

APPEARANCE: There is little doubt that the new 4Runner is a 
Toyota SUV. Mix a little of previous model for general shape, add a 
pinch of RAV4 angularity for spice, and make it longer, wider, and 
leaner and you get a 2003 4Runner. It takes many of the previous-
generation vehicle's styling features, including the blistered fenders, 
upside-down trapezoidal grille, and bulging hood, and develops them 
further. Especially in 4WD trim, ground clearance is proudly 
celebrated. Sport models have a prominent hood scoop and gray 
plastic-covered bumpers with matching ``overfender'' wheel-arch 
trim and lower side cladding.

COMFORT: A few inches don't make much difference outside, but 
sure count inside. There is noticeably more width, headroom, and 
legroom. And, despite the high ground clearance, access is easy, 
even for short people, because of the seat cushion height and grab 
handles for all doors. Styling is contemporary Toyota, and more 
youthful than the previous 4Runners', with silvery trim around the 
instruments and center stack. The cog-wheel geometric motif found 
outside, on the wheel-arch trim, is repeated on the control knobs. 
There are plenty of useful storage areas around the interior, 
including a large locking glove box, huge console box, and storage 
in all doors. Upholstery in the Sport grade is quality synthetics. 
Comfortable and supportive sport-type bucket seats are found in 
front, with a contoured bench in the rear. Rear comfort and space 
are enhanced by a nearly flat floor. The rear seat is split 60/40, and 
the cushions flip up and the back folds down for a long, flat load 
floor when necessary. The full-size spare tire is stowed underneath 
the outside rear of the 4Runner, pickup style, for improved interior 
space and rear visibility. The liftgate is well-balanced, with a power-
operated backlight for summer ventilation or fast access for small 

SAFETY: All 2003 4Runners feature four-wheel antilock vented 
disc brakes with electronic brake force distribution and brake assist 
for sure stopping on any surface. Vehicle skid control and traction 
control are also standard.

ROADABILITY: The new 4Runner's frame has large, full-length 
boxed section side rails and nine fully-welded crossmembers for 
rigidity and strength. Large-diameter body mounts increase 
torsional rigidity and help reduce noise, vibration, and harshness, 
and the body structure itself is designed for rigidity and impact 
absorption. Suspension is independent at the front, and the rear 
solid axle has four-link location, with coil springs. The ``X-REAS'' 
system standard on the Sport diagonally links each pair of shock 
absorbers (left front to right rear, right front to left rear) to dampen 
roll and pitch motions and improve on-road stability and handling. 
The result is a vehicle that has ride smoothness and quietness more 
akin to a luxury car than a truck, but is still capable of extreme off-
road activity. Especially with the X-REAS system, there is very 
little body roll in corners or pitching during acceleration or 
deceleration or on bumpy roads. When the pavement ends, full-time 
dual-range four-wheel drive with a locking center differential gets 
the power to the ground. Hill-start Assist Control (HAC) keeps the 
4Runner from rolling backwards when it's stopped on a steep uphill 
grade, while Downhill Assist Control (DAC) improves stability and 
control descending steep grades at low speeds in 4WD low range.

PERFORMANCE: A quick perusal of the specifications brings one 
obvious question: if the 4.0-liter V6 has 245 horsepower, what's the 
point of the 4.7-liter V8, which has ``only'' 235 horses? Two 
answers: 1) all early production 2003 4Runners were all equipped 
with the V8 because it's an existing engine, also used in the Land 
Cruiser, Sequoia, and Tundra. 2) There's more to power than 
horsepower. The V6 makes 283 lb-ft of torque; the V8 has 320. As 
has been said, torque is what you feel, and, in a back-to-back 
comparison at the press introduction I could definitely feel the 
difference. That said, the V6 should satisfy all but the most extreme 
4Runner owners. For towing, or for serious off-roading, there is no 
such thing as too much torque. V8 models have an electronically-
controlled five-speed automatic transmission that is nearly as 
smooth as a CVT.

CONCLUSIONS: The 2003 Toyota 4Runner is more spacious and 
comfortable than ever, but stays true to its rough-and-tough off-
road roots.

2003 Toyota 4Runner Sport 4WD Sport Edition

Base Price			$ 32,075
Price As Tested		        $ 35,810
Engine Type			dual overhead cam 32-valve V8
Engine Size			4.7 liters / 285 cu. in.
Horsepower			235 @ 4800 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			320 @ 3400 rpm
Transmission			5-speed electronically-controlled 
Wheelbase / Length		109.8 in. / 189.0 in.
Curb Weight			4,450 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower	        18.9
Fuel Capacity			23 gal.
Fuel Requirement		91 octane unleaded premium recommended
Tires				P235/65 SR17 Dunlop AT 20 Grand Trek
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / vented disc, antilock,
                                 electronic brake force distribution
                                 and brake assist standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent double wishbone with 
                                  coil springs /
				  solid axle with 4-link location and 
                                  coil springs
Ground Clearance		9.1 inches
Drivetrain			front engine, full-time four-wheel 

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		15 / 19 / 16
0 to 60 mph				est. 9 sec
towing capacity			        5,000 lbs.

JBL Synthesis AM/FM/cassette/6 CD changer
  10-speaker audio system			$ 875
Power tilt & slide moonroof			$ 900
115V AC power point				$ 100
Curtain and side airbags with slideable sun
  visors with illumination			$ 530
Rear spoiler with center high-mounted stop
 lamp						$ 200
VIP RS3200 alarm system			$ 359
Z1 Preferred Accessory Package - includes:
  carpeted floor mats, cargo mat and net, 
  first aid kit					$ 261
Destination and delivery			$ 510