Anyone that is interested in a body-on-frame sport/utility vehicle knows that compared with a unibody, there are going to be some tradeoffs. Why does Toyota still have the Highlander, Venza, and 4Runner in its SUV stable? Because they all appeal to different buyers. There’s no way you could take a Highlander or Venza off-road, yet something like the 4Runner, which is mildly refreshed for 2014, could encourage you to find trails to explore.

It is amazing that the 4Runner has lasted as long as it has. When it first came out, President Reagan was finishing his first term as president and the Summer Olympics were about to start in Los Angeles. Since then, the vehicle has gone through numerous generations, gained two doors, and continues to change with the times, all without losing its off-road capability.

We recently had the opportunity to drive the fifth-generation 2014 4Runner, which received a restyle inside and out. Mechanically, it is mechanically the same as the 2013, powered by a 4.0-liter, 270-horsepower V-6 mated to a five-speed automatic. On road, the 4Runner -- in our case, an SR5 -- feels well built and ready for anything. Ride and handling don’t have the precision of a unibody vehicle, but this is an SUV that gives a feeling of solidity, that it was engineered to handle more than a regular driver would throw at it. The sport/utility feels heavy, but the engine never struggled and was quieter than you would think. We would like to see it get a six- or even eight-speed automatic, a move that would improve fuel economy and power delivery.

Even though the driving feel of the 4Runner has stayed basically the same, Toyota has made several small improvements for 2014. For example, crossmember braces were added to improve torsional rigidity and trailer sway control is now available. Engineers also looked at minor details like brake hose stiffness, increasing it to improve brake feel.

The exterior is the easiest way to differentiate between 2013 and 2014 4Runners. There are three trim levels -- SR5/SR5 Premium, Trail/Trail Premium, and Limited -- and all three have a new front end. The SR5 and Trail come with vertical cutouts between the headlights and fog lights that make the 4Runner look as if it’s crying. The Limited has the same new headlights, grille, and bumper treatment, but instead of the cutouts, its fog lights flank a metal strip across the bottom. It is the best-looking front end of the three.

Inside, the cabin looks clean and attractive. The addition of Entune adds infotainment options that weren’t available in the previous 4Runner. Features like the 6.1-inch high-resolution screen with a backup camera are standard, as is Bluetooth connectivity.

While on-roaders would likely flock to the SR5 and topline Limited (the Limited isn’t available with low range), anyone whose eyes wander toward the dirt should get the terrific Trail Edition. Changes on this model include SofTex seat material with red stitching and an eight-way power driver seat, plus black interior plastic has been removed. It also gets the uplevel Entune Premium Audio with Navigation. Mechanically, the 2014 Trail uses a retuned version of the 4Runner’s KDSS—Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System. It helps improve traction off-road and improves the ride on road. Cool off-road features include Multi-terrain Select, which is similar to systems offered in the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Land Rover LR4. There’s a dial that’s used to select the type of obstacles you are attempting to get past (choose from Mud and Sand, Loose Rock, Mogul, or Rock), Active Traction Control, a locking rear differential, stability control disabler, and the excellent Crawl Control system, which is like cruise control for the trail. You can set it to go no faster than one of three preset speeds. All of the Trail’s off-road features are located in a console overhead, by the interior light. With the 2014 4Runner, Toyota continues to appeal to a niche of buyers that want the knowledge that they can go anywhere in their SUV, and that SUV is tough enough to take it. No, the 4Runner doesn’t feel like a Highlander on road, and it shouldn’t. What it offers is a unique driving experience, one that doesn’t have to end when the pavement does.


2014 Toyota 4Runner SR5 4x4
BASE PRICE $35,000 (est)
LAYOUT Front-engine, 4WD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 4.0L/270-hp/278-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6
TRANSMISSION 5-speed automatic
WHEELBASE 109.8 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 189.9 x 75.8 x 71.5 in
CURB WEIGHT 4800 lb (est)
GVWR 6300 lb
PAYLOAD CAPACITY 1500 lb (est)
TOWING CAPACITY 5000 lb
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 17/22-23 mpg (est)
ON SALE IN U.S. August 2013