It was with great reluctance that we handed back the keys of our beloved Toyota 4Runner Limited. Everyone on staff voiced his desire to extend our long-term tester, but, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end.
With every drive of this versatile SUV, our editors found more things to write in the logbook. Almost all the comments were positive, with the exception of notes from more than a few people about a couple of idiosyncrasies.
Overall fit and finish and quality of interior materials was impressive. As one editor put it: "When did the 4Runner become a luxury SUV? This Limited is at or near $40K, and the interior is better than most of the hotel rooms I stay in. Flexibility of the second- and third-row seats is amazing, and console, dash, and IP all use first-rate materials."
Surprisingly, with all this comfort, the new-for-2004 4Runner didn't give up any of the previous-generation's off-road capabilities. In the time we had it, our 4Runner saw more dirt, mud, rocks, river beds, and sand dunes than many SUVs would see in a lifetime.
The long-termer had those little things that helped make our lives easier, like its power rear window, a feature formerly common in most domestic wagons and nearly exclusive to Toyota SUVs today. On road trips where photos and video were necessary, it was invaluable.
Another item that made itself useful was the 115-volt A/C power port inside the center console. This was handy on the road for recharging batteries for cameras, radios, and even computers. The ability to keep these electronic devices functional without needing to stop was a great convenience and terrific timesaver. On the downside, though, there was only one 12-volt outlet in the front, and without the 4Runner having a multisocket adapter, we couldn't have a cell-phone and radar detector plugged in at the same time.
Another faulty issue we found was the high-floor/low-seat cushion combination in front, which forces a driver's knees to be too high, making one feel like they're sitting on a futon. Also, the runningboards seemed only good for dirtying pant legs and finding hidden rocks while off-roading.
The 4Runner received a midyear update for 2005. These changes include a new color (Salsa Red Pearl), new rear spoiler shape, and new trim levels. The SR5 gets a chrome grille, color-keyed front and rear bumper, black runningboards, and optional roofrack. The Limited also gets color-keyed front and rear bumpers, black lighted runningboards, and black roofrack. 4Runner interiors receive advanced driver and passenger airbags and an updated navigation system. Mechanical upgrades include a new five-speed automatic transmission; a new V-8 with VVT-i producing 270 horsepower and 330 pound-feet of torque; and an automatic limited-slip differential, added to the vehicle stability control system.
As far as issues or problems, the windshield cracked twice, costing a total of $1361.60 for both replacements. The only other trips to the dealer were as part of the suggested maintenance schedule.
Toyota has managed to move into the luxury-SUV market without compromises. The tradition of off-road prowess continues to thrive, with the welcome additions of an ultra-plush interior and seamlessly smooth ride. Couple that with a variety of engine and trim options, and you have a vehicle almost anyone can afford, and everyone will love. Who needs a Land Cruiser?