In 1985, Toyota introduced a midsize sport/utility vehicle meant to address the growing desire for a rugged four-door that could take a beating and still get its occupants home in one piece. The 4Runner was targeted to a wide variety of world markets, and in order to slip below some country's vehicle width/tax formula, its width was limited to 1.7 meters. While that restriction helped ensure sales in many lands, the narrow cabin rubbed broad-shouldered Americans the wrong way. Yet the 4Runner sold well in the U.S., to the tune of 1.2 million vehicles since '85. For 2003, Toyota has set aside the thin-is-good approach and presented a proper-size entry for the hyper-competitive midsize SUV market.

Available in both 2WD and 4WD models, the original 4Runner had a beefy frame under a separate body, and the newest version is no different. The full-length boxed section frame rails are connected with nine fully welded crossmembers, while a Class III tow-hitch receiver is built into the rear-frame crossmember. The rigid frame is a good place to mount a substantial suspension, and Toyota has installed a double A-arm setup in the front, while a four-link solid axle holds up the rear. A new feature to the midsize-SUV market is the X-REAS (Diagonal-linked Relative Absorber System). Available on Sport and Limited models, what it really means is that the four oil-filled shock absorbers are cross-linked to their diagonal mate using tubing. The result is dampened suspension motion, as well as better transitional feel.

Unlike past 4Runners that offered a six-cylinder engine as top-of-the-line, the newest version starts with an all-new 4.0L DOHC V-6 powerplant. This all-aluminum engine develops 245 hp and 283 lb-ft of torque. Attached is a four-speed automatic transmission. As might be expected from a twin-cam, it delivers most of its power in the upper-rpm range. Yet this new engine has impressive punch right off idle. Keep your foot planted to the carpet, and it sails to redline like mechanical silk, cleanly shifting gears. It's more than sufficient for the majority of buyers.