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2014 Toyota 4Runner Review and (Off) Road Test By Thom Cannell

2014 Toyota 4Runner (select to view enlarged photo)
2014 Toyota 4Runner

By Thom Cannell
Senior Editor
Michigan Bureau
The Auto Channel

The origin of this tough mudder, a body-on-frame 4X4, dates to 1984. Among its competitors in the mid-sized segment only 4Runner and sibling FJ retain traditional heavy duty ladder frames. Slabbing the body atop a tough under-frame is an antique in a world bound by fuel economy considerations, yet Numero Uno to most members of the global off road community. Not every vehicle is subject to the whims of our EPA, no-no, many actually need to work, work hard for decades, and this is hugely important to Toyota buyers. That and the locking rear differential.

2014 Toyota 4Runner (select to view enlarged photo)

What’s new for 2014 is the exterior and Toyota has smacked it with all the requisite new shiny objects, most of which are very good indeed. Like LED tail lamps. LEDs put less strain on the alternator and save fuel. They also last until after the heat death of carbon. All receive a new front fascia similar to our Trail’s flared fascia with smoked headlamps and new front grille. SR5 and Trail models like our test vehicle have color-keyed front bumpers and grille inserts and inset fog lamps. Trail models also key their bumpers and overfenders to the base color and have silver painted front and rear bumper accents. The real giveaway is a hood scoop. The Limited model is equally distinctive with chrome bumper and grille insert. Its headlamps are now projector beam instead of halogen.

2014 Toyota 4Runner (select to view enlarged photo)

Inside the changes are equally modest with SR5 and Trail adding soft touch trim and a leather wrapping for the shifter and steering wheel. The larger change is a Lexus-style Optitron instrument panel that includes a multifunction information display. If you’re up to a Trail model there are a couple of functions switched from overhead, by the dome light.

2014 Toyota 4Runner (select to view enlarged photo)

Although there is a 4x2 available, it’s the SR5 and Trail with part time 4x4 and Limited with full time all wheels driven that most are interested in. The later has full time four-wheel drive that is electronically governed, including locking center differential. Controls are on the center console. The part time system is favored by true off roaders, the dual range gearbox is why they buy 4Runner. Toyota equips all 4x4s with its A-TRAC traction control system to deliver more power to any wheel(s) with grip; Trail models also have an electronic-locking rear differential and five speed CRAWL system that regulates engine and braking to keep trail speeds at the driver’s selected speed. That permits drivers to focus on terrain, not throttle.

Toyota only equips 4Runner with one engine, a 270 hp V-6 that kicks 278 pounds feet of torque. Off roaders are seldom focused on mileage, nonetheless, the 4x4s are EPA rated at 17/22, a bit higher for the 4x2 models. All suspensions use double wishbones in front, four-link rears and coil-over gas shocks. The Limited also uses Toyota’s X-REAS automatic damping adjustment. It uses a center control absorber to links dampers side-to-side to reduce pitch and yaw.

Other new items for the refreshed 4Runner are more important to occasional dirt abusers and—let’s be honest—posers as well. These include improved leather seats and surfaces, next-generation Entune Audio which includes satellite service for the Mojave crowd. Grades, or models, include Trail, SR5 which is the volume seller, and LTD.

Entune is Toyota’s branded audio system with advanced features, like a select-a-screen feature should be universally adopted. Why? Wouldn't you like to easily select where and when you want to see audio, navigation, or app information? Entune systems are available at different option levels and Watt strengths. Apps include: Facebook Places, predictive traffic, iHeart Radio, Pandora, Yelp, and more. Best, apps are now subscription-free, even for previous buyers! We admit that on our limited drive, we were more concerned with sliding off the dirt trail than what satellite channel to listen to.

So what’s hot and what’s not? Changes are not abundant. Did they need to be? We don’t think so, and as one of the two remaining ladder frame off roaders’ it really only needed the gift basket it got.

2014 Toyota 4Runner (select to view enlarged photo)

The engine is reasonably powerful and torquey, with a low range to amplify torque which makes upgrades sort of meaningless unless you’re a genuine torque-monster off roader or deep mudder. In that case you’re likely buying used anyway as you’re about to sanction a total makeover of the beast.

In case you’re looking for a vehicle that can make it to a remote hunting lodge or birding site, this is a two row, or even three row vehicle that can deliver you there in style if not luxury. For luxury look to a Lexus LX 470 or Toyota Land Cruiser. But that is a whole different conversation.