2018 Toyota 4Runner TRD Cumberland Plateau Road Trip Review By Steve Purdy
2018 TOYOTA 4RUNNER TRD
Rediscovering the Cumberland Plateau
Enjoy The Drive
A Road Trip Review
from A Shunpiker’s Journal
By Steve Purdy
The Auto Channel
The Cumberland Plateau, close to 100 miles long and perhaps 30 miles wide, extends from Eastern Kentucky through Tennessee and into Northern Georgia, running northeast to southwest along the western edge of the Appalachian Mountains – sort of the foot-hills of this ancient range. The Plateau’s ecology is of hardwood and pine forests, waterfalls, sandstone outcroppings and other ancient exposed rocks, including many that begged to be mined.
The dominant culture along the plateau, so the tourist giftshops would have you believe, is that of hillbillies. In reality, it is much more complex with large pockets of a more cosmopolitan culture, university towns, artist enclaves, manufacturing regions and substantial agriculture, where soil conditions allow. For us, the draw is the natural beauty and twisty roads.
Our destination is a golf resort and retirement community near Crossville, Tennessee about an hour west of Knoxville, on the edge of the plateau. We’ve visited this large resort development, Fairfield Glade, dozens of times over the years but it has been long enough we’ll need to get reacclimated.
For this trip our friends at Toyota hooked us up with the newest version of the 4Runner, their tough, midsize, full-frame SUV, nicely loaded with the extra TRD off-road stuff. That means we’ll need to spend some time exploring the 80,000-acre Catoosa Wildlife Preserve, a huge tract of wild land wrapping around the resort to the north and west. We’ve also been into the Catoosa before but not deeply in.
First, we must get to Tennessee. We loaded up early in the morning. From our southern Michigan door to the Glade is 6oo miles - generally a 9 hour drive down I-75 south, then I-40 west from Knoxville to Exit 322 where Peavine Road takes us 6 miles northeast to the resort, atop Peavine Mountain. We didn’t begin to challenge the generous 47.2 cubic-feet of cargo space in the rear. With the rear seatbacks folded we have 89.7 cubic-feet. You can even get a third-row seat if you like, but don’t expect any full-size people to fit back there. This would be a great choice for four adventurers on a road trip.
We give the 4Runner high marks for comfort and civility on the highway. Despite its truck base and the boxy charicter, we neither heard nor felt the 75-mph wind moving around us. The talented Toyota designers have used air management tricks all the way around the SUV to slice and dice the air passing by at high speeds. Ride and handling are fairly stiff and we know we’re driving a truck. You have confidence that if necessity or fun require you can conquer most off-road challenges. Seats are generous and comfortable and covered with a faux-leather you can hardly tell from the real thing.
The small, multi-function dash screen takes some getting used to but is reasonably logical and user-friendly. The traffic function within the navigation screen warned us accurately of a huge traffic tie-up on the other side of the freeway south of Cinci. Our cruise control was not adaptive, reminding me how much I prefer it this way in most conditions. Other design elements of the cabin affirm we’re not in a vehicle trying to stay ahead of trends; rather, one with priorities focused on capability.
With a sit-down lunch at Cracker Barrel we easily made the drive in 9 hours where we settled into a lovely condo near one of the five golf courses. We drove around to get our bearings then grabbed a few provisions at the new grocery store. We planned our week around a storm due in a couple days. leaving plenty of time to get out into the Catoosa. Another reason for all our trips to this area is a visit to Cade’s Cove, high in the Smokey Mountain National Park, where the ashes of some of our revered ancestors are strewn. (Remind me to tell you that story sometime.)
The base price of our 4Runner 4X4 TRD Off-Road Premium is $39,455. For that you get a nice array of off-road extras along with a high trim level: SofTex® leather-like seats and trim with contrasting stitching, special exterior trim, and tow hitch receiver, high/low range, locking differential and plenty more. Our test vehicle has a few extras that add a few grand to the sticker: some more TRD stuff like skid plates, running boards and sunroof. With the destination charge, we’re looking at $42,900. Not a bad ticket when you consider the capability, comfort and ambiance.
Under the bulging hood scoop we find Toyota’s trusty 4.0-liter V6 updated with all the technology that makes sense like dual independent variable valve timing. It makes a modest 270 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque and is mated to a tough 5-speed automatic transmission with lots of electronic controls for a variety of driving conditions. It has plenty of power for serious off-roading, but feels rather tepid on the highway. Can’t imagine how it would feel towing its maximum of load of 5,000 pounds, especially up a long hill. The 4Runner weighs in at just over 4,800 pounds, so the 18-mpg combined EPA fuel economy estimate is understandable. The 23-gallon fuel tank gave us a decent range, though the low-fuel light comes on when you still have close to five gallons. We managed 19.3 mpg for our entire 1,800-mile trip.
On a mild but misty morning we entered the Catoosa Wildlife Management Area through its southwest gate along Fire Tower Road, near the old Gulden Cemetery where the headstones barely peek through the soil, worn down like the teeth of an Anasazi. The road, I’ll report, was much better than I recall, looking as if it has been rebuilt and meticulously maintained. A few miles in we found a couple rangers to answer our questions, but emphatically corrected me when I kept referring to the Catoosa as a “park.” I promised them that I would remind our readers it Catoosa is a “wildlife management area” entirely funded through hunting and fishing licenses and fees. Our detailed map from the Tennessee Wildlife Management Office shows a spiderweb of footpaths and two tracks leading into and out of dozens of creek and river gullies. Wish we had time to explore them all. The main road winds entirely through the wildlife area, like a crooked spine, for about 15 miles. (Enjoy The Drive)
Looking for a place to photograph the 4Runner I remembered a crude river crossing on a side road that eventually leads west to Genesis Road. As it turned out, that road was much improved as well. We found a big, solid bridge crossing Potters Ford at the Obed River, just downstream from Billy Goat Bluff, instead of the simple one I was remembering. We shot the 4Runner there anyway. Just as we arrived a boy and his dad were fishing off the bridge for panfish. My pretty wife went for a walk up the road while I shot the truck, and when the fishermen left it was just me, the babbling creek and the nostalgic spells of fall foliage – a memorably serene place, indeed!
The Catoosa Wildlife Management Area has three hunting seasons – deer, boar and turkey – during which you probably don’t want to be out there without an orange vest and a big gun. Otherwise, with the improvement of the road, you can easily drive right through this carefully managed wilderness watching for wildlife. And, if you’re driving anything as competent as our 4Runner you can explore to the end of every branching two-track.
We can’t guarantee you’ll see any wildlife, we didn’t...but its still well worth the trip.
© Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved
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