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New Car/Review

1998 Toyota 4Runner SR5

by John Heilig


SEE ALSO: Toyota Buyer's Guide


ENGINE:                  3.4-liter V-6
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE:       183 hp @ 4800 rpm/217 lb-ft @ 3500 rpm
TRANSMISSION:            Four-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY:            17 mpg city, 20 mpg highway, 15.8 mpg test
WHEELBASE:               105.3 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 178.7 x 66.5 x 69.3 in.
CURB WEIGHT:             3895 lbs 
FUEL CAPACITY:           18.5 gal.
LUGGAGE CAPACITY:        44.6/79.7 cu. ft. (rear seats up/down)
TIRES:                   P265/70R16
INSTRUMENTS:             Speedometer, fuel level, water temperature, 
                         digital clock.
EQUIPMENT:               Power windows, power door locks, power mirrors, 
                         power seats, cruise control, air conditioner, 
                         AM-FM stereo radio with cassette, 
                         anti-lock four-wheel disc brakes, 
                         dual front air bags.
STICKER PRICE:           $30,716

I'll never forget my first drive in a Toyota 4Runner. Toyota was conducting a regional introduction and, although the weather was fine in Pennsylvania, it was absolutely horrible in Maryland, where the introduction was to be held.

We drove a RAV4 to the intro, and were scheduled to drive 4Runners at the intro. On the way from lunch to the off-road display of the vehicle's capabilities, one of the people from the advertising agency put a 4Runner on its side. The went snow's depth had increased to four inches by that time and the Toyota executives were getting nervous.

When they heard about the incident, all activities were cancelled and we drove back to the hotel for lunch.

Toyota's nervousness was uncalled for. We have since driven the 4Runner on all kinds of roads in all kinds of conditions and it has performed admirably. This week's test took us through some rain and mud and in some clear weather. True, it wasn't four inches of wet snow, but there were no problems.

The interesting thing about the 4Runner's evolution is that it started out as an option on a pickup truck. Four-wheel drive and a cap on the back of the truck created the two-door 4Runner; adding two doors and making the cap a permanent hard top created the third-generation 4Runner as we know it today, a capable four-door mid-sized sport utility vehicle that shares showroom space with the Big Daddy Land Cruiser and the compact RAV4.

Even calling the 4Runner a mid-size is a bit of a misnomer. In fact, the vehicle is closer to the Dodge Durango. Both are pickup-based and both are longer than the Blazers and Explorers they compete against.

4Runners may be ordered in three trim levels--4Runner, SR5 and Limited. Each can be powered by a four-cylinder or a V-6 with a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic gearbox, two-wheel or four-wheel drive. Our tester was an SR5 with V-6 and automatic.

The 3.4-liter V-6 is rated at 183 horsepower. While this is slightly lower than the 200 horses that have become the benchmark in the class, 183 is enough to allow the 4Runner to do everything you ask of it. We had no trouble accelerating away from stop signs and onto highways from exit ramps. We were able to keep up with all the traffic on the highways. The only highway "trouble" we encountered was excessive wind and tire noise from the 265/70 16-inch tires. The engine was quiet enough, but driving the 4Runner was too noisy for my "delicate" ears.

Handling was good, although in 4WD mode the turning circle radius was larger and the vehicle didn't want to go in reverse. This is a problem we've encountered in many 4WD vehicles.

Toyota's SR5 trim classification isn't the top-of-the-line, but it's good enough for most people. We had extra lights over the base version, power mirrors and door locks, tilt steering wheel and intermittent front and rear wipers.

Every time I drive the 4Runner I think about that first encounter. My co-driver and I wanted to test its mettle in the off-road section, but Toyota wouldn't let us. Subsequent drives have shown that the vehicle can handle almost anything and do it with ease.