If you need even more power, the newest 4Runner now offers a V-8 for the first time in its history. Essentially the same engine as in the Sequoia, Land Cruiser, and Tundra, the DOHC 4.7L delivers 235 hp and 320 lb-ft of twist, ideal for serious towing duties. While the V-6 is rated for pulling 5000 lb, the V-8 can haul 6500. Mated to the larger engine is Toyota's first use of a five-speed automatic transmission in a 4Runner.

The fourth-generation 4Runner wears a new body, a husky design that fits in well with the entire Toyota SUV lineup. With its bluff grille, traditional C-pillar treatment, and high-lift rear hatch, the 4Runner exudes a no-nonsense presence. Opening the door reveals a roomy, well-crafted interior that benefits from increased vehicle width as well as the 4.5-in.-longer (from 2002) wheelbase. No longer do occupants feel like they're sitting on the floor; the seats have good support and range. The rear hatch is fitted with a power rear window and power-assisted latching.

Three trim levels are on the menu, starting with the SR-5. Exterior cladding visually distinguishes it from the other two tiers. Standard on the SR-5 are 16-in. wheels, with 17s on the option list. Next up the ladder is the Sport Edition, with slightly different cladding treatment, a hood scoop, and standard 17-in. wheels. At the top of the list is the Limited, replete with special 17-in. alloy wheels, body-color cladding, 115-volt AC power outlet, and illuminated running boards.

Behind the wheel, the new 4Runner is light years ahead of its predecessor. Noise, vibration, and harshness are significantly reduced to achieve sedanlike levels of ride quality. Yet when the road ends, the ride isn't over. Toyota has fitted the 4Runner with just about every electronic assist in its portfolio to give this SUV mountain-goat-like manners. Technology includes a Torsen sensing type limited-slip center differential (4WD), vehicle stability control, and Downhill Assist Control (DAC). Similar in operation to the Hill Descent Control on BMW's X-5 and the Range Rover, DAC uses selective wheel braking as well as engine braking to control vehicle speed. On the trail, it takes the drama out of heading down a scarred trail.

All these changes, improvements, and technology have resulted in an SUV that can tackle the brutal wilds or the showroom with confidence. The competition is on notice: Toyota might not have been the first in this segment, but it's come to the party with one of the best offerings.