In fact, the new 4Runner can accommodate more than before-89.7 cubic feet of cargo versus 75.1 with the rear seats folded; 47.2 versus 42.2 with the seats up-and its optional third row, which boasts 5.2 more inches of legroom, now folds flat rather than up against the side windows. Also, the side-curtain airbags now extend to the optional third row, if that $805 box is checked, and there are standard knee bags for the driver and front passenger. Pass on the third row (available only on SR5 and Limited trims), and the 4Runner offers a $350 sliding cargo board that doubles as a tailgate tray; as the latter, it can support 440 pounds. There's even a storage box between the deck and the rear seat that can accommodate 6.4 liters of goods. Press the Party Mode button on the front dash, and the stereo's tunes are concentrated to speakers in the tailgate and rear-cargo area for maximum enjoyment.

For many buyers, though, most enjoyment will come from taking the 4Runner off the beaten path. Luckily, the 2010 model is more adept than ever, whether conquering sand, mud, rocks, or rivers. Our tester came equipped with a part-time system featuring two-speed lever operation with a neutral position, as well as standard A-TRAC traction control, Downhill Assist Control, and Hill-start Assist Control. During our stint, we had no problem engaging or disengaging four-wheel drive, and found the manually operated system easy enough to use. But if you tend to embrace new technology and don't want to mess with a gearshift, you'll have to pony up for the Limited and its full-time offering. Regardless of which 4WD system, though, the 4Runner's front control arm/rear live axle suspension provides 9.6 inches of ground clearance (up 0.5 inch over 2009), meaning more capability and fewer cringes from skidplate encounters. Further, the 4Runner sports a larger (8.2-inch versus the previous 7.9) and more robust rear differential, and all differential housings boast improved sealing from mud and water.

Of course, given that most 4Runners will never venture off pavement, this fifth-gen Toyota relishes the beaten path too. Indeed, the 4Runner's on-road behavior impressed the entire staff. Sure, its truck frame and lack of an IRS translated to a slightly bouncy ride and some chassis shivers not associated with today's unibody SUVs, but all of its controls and dynamics, from the steering and brakes to the balance and handling, inspired confidence, certainly in light of its near six-foot height. Moreover, the 270-horsepower SR5 4WD is competitively quick for a 4634-pound vehicle, knocking off 0 to 60 in 7.6 seconds and the quarter mile in 15.8 at 88.8 mph. For comparison, a 4750-pound, 276-horse, 267-pound-foot Kia Borrego V-6 4WD hits 60 in 7.5 and the quarter in 15.9 at 87.2.