The 4Runner’s interior is also updated for 2019, with a revised dashboard and centre stack as well as Toyota’s Optitron instrument cluster.
Way back in 2010, when the fifth-generation 4Runner was released, it was easy to fall for its rugged good looks.
For me, however, it was what lay beneath its handsome body that really solidified my love affair with Toyota’s go-anywhere SUV.
At a time when most manufacturers were moving away from body-on-frame designs in favour of the more car-like unibody construction, Toyota recognized the 4Runner had a loyal following among off-road enthusiasts and adrenalin junkies worldwide and wisely soldiered on with a full frame.
So why does any of this frame business matter?
Even in mild off-road situations, most unibody vehicles don’t hold up very well against the forces distributed throughout its united design and, as a result, are susceptible to twisting and even cracking.
A body-on-frame vehicle, however, allows the frame to take the punishment without putting added stress on the body.
A full frame also allows for easier modifications, including suspension lifts to support larger tires and increased ground clearance.
Body-on-frame vehicles are also typically more suitable for towing.
Basically, all the things my SUV needs to do.
Nowadays, the 4Runner stands nearly alone in this segment — the only notable competitor to offer a body-on-frame design in a similarly sized vehicle is Jeep with its legendary Wrangler.
The upcoming Ford Bronco is also rumoured to feature a ladder frame, but that’s not hitting showroom floors until next year.
The new Chevrolet Blazer is unibody, so is the Ford Explorer and so is the Nissan Pathfinder — nice rides, to be sure, but if your destination is deep in the bush, there’s a good chance you won’t make it there in any of these vehicles.
Sure, you can opt for a full-size SUV such as Chevrolet’s Tahoe and Suburban or GMC’s Yukon, or maybe Ford’s massive Expedition, but those are basically limo-sized pickup trucks with stretched cabs that guzzle fuel and are way too big and heavy to get you to the backcountry — and back.
Many of you likely prefer the more car-like ride found in the majority of mid-size SUVs and typically only rely on AWD to help gain traction on snow and ice or maybe the occasional gravel road.
For an off-road enthusiast like me, though, the ability to dig a little deeper into the forest is a major selling point and the key reason why the Toyota 4Runner, even after remaining largely unchanged for nearly a decade, remains one of my favourite vehicles.
Since that release in 2010, the current generation 4Runner has only received one facelift, in 2014, which consisted of a revised front end with projector headlamps, a fresh rear fascia with LED tail lights and a few other minor exterior cosmetic changes.
The interior was also updated and changes included a revised dashboard and centre stack as well as Toyota’s Optitron instrument cluster. No driveline changes were made.
Here in Canada, the 4Runner continues to be available with only one engine, a 4.0L V-6 featuring dual variable valve timing with sequential multiport electronic fuel injection linked to a stainless-steel exhaust system.
This engine makes 270 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque.
This engine is mated to a five-speed sequential shift mode automatic transmission with overdrive, lockup torque converter and a transmission cooler.
It also features an engine oil cooler, a heavy-duty battery, starter, alternator and heater.
Toyota’s on-demand, one-touch manually operated 4WD system also offers performance features including Hill-start Assist Control and Downhill Assist Control.
The 4Runner also offers a tow hitch with a 5,000-pound rating, a trailer-sway control system and a 4+7 pin trailer wiring harness as standard gear on all models.
Our tester was a sinister-looking Nightshade edition. This seven-passenger bad boy looked like a SWAT vehicle and definitely had a commanding presence on the road.
New for 2019, the Nightshade package adds a series of black accents, including black front and rear bumpers, a black chrome grille, roof rack and blacked-out 20-inch alloy wheels.
It also adds a host of nice features, including push-button start and automatic running boards that deploy and retract with the opening and closing of the front driver’s side door.
This package is available in three colour choices: Midnight Black Metallic, Blizzard Pearl and Magnetic Gray Metallic.
The 4Runner is available in a variety of trim levels and option packages, starting with the base five-passenger model from $46,155, the Limited five- and seven-passenger versions from $51,530, the Nightshade seven-passenger we tested at $55,115 and the top-dog TRD Pro model loaded with rugged options including Bilstein High-Performance shocks and 31.5-inch Nitto Terra Grappler all-terrain tires from $56,580.
Inside, even in the Nightshade trim, the 4Runner does start to show its age a bit, but it all still works together beautifully.
The combined navigation and information screen is clear and easy to operate, while the optional JBL audio system with 15 speakers and a subwoofer absolutely rocks.
Seating up front is comfortable and the large HVAC controls can easily be worked with gloved hands. The second-row seat is also fairly spacious and although there’s three seatbelts, it’s probably best left for two adults. The third-row seat was clearly designed for kids.
On the road, the 4Runner is definitely a more truck-like ride than a unibody SUV, but for me, that’s its charm — it feels firmly planted and predictable, but certainly not sporty.
Off-road, however, is where it really shines. Thanks to the mountains of snow we received here in Manitoba this winter, there was ample chance to test out its chops in a variety of low-traction situations, including up and down a few snow-covered hills near my rural property, where it crawled along like a mule in areas my 4x4 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 would have likely remained until spring.
While a sixth-generation 4Runner is certainly on the way in the next couple years, it’s still easy for me to recommend the current model.
Toyota has designed and continually upgraded an extremely reliable SUV that offers a terrific blend of style, utility and capability.
Who could ask for anything more?
With the 4Runner, Toyota has designed and continually upgraded an extremely reliable SUV that offers a terrific blend of style, utility and capability.
The ability to dig a little deeper into the forest than the competition is the key reason why the Toyota 4Runner remains one of Free Press Autos editor Willy Williamson’s favourite vehicles.
The 4Runner hasn’t seen significant change in nearly a decade — it hasn’t needed it.