It's hard to believe that, when the Toyota 4Runner made its U.S. debut, Americans Carl Lewis and Mary Lou Retton were winning gold medals at the 1984 summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Yes, it's been 26 years. Nearly three decades and five generations later, the all-new 2010 4Runner-Toyota cites that of the 1.8 million sold since '84, about 1.3 million are still on the road today-soldiers on with body-on-frame construction and a live rear axle. And we couldn't be more pleased.

Frankly, with the Highlander, RAV4, and Venza crossovers in its lineup, Toyota doesn't need another car-based sport/ute. Thus, sticking with a rugged, heritage-rich offering seems wise to us, especially when the number of truck-based 4Runner competitors, i.e., Borrego, Explorer, H3, and Pathfinder, can be counted on one hand.

Based on the Land Cruiser Prado sold in other world markets, the made-in-Japan 4Runner wears bolder and boxier-retro, if you will-sheetmetal that more closely resembles that of the FJ Cruiser. Head- and taillamp lenses protrude from the body, the grille is gutsy and in your face, and the overall appearance just looks bigger, despite only modest gains in length (plus 0.7 inch), width (plus 0.6), and height (plus 0.8); the wheelbase, at 109.8 inches, remains the same.

The 4Runner is available in three trims for 2010: the four-wheel-drive, Rubicon-friendly $36,500 Trail Edition (see sidebar), which comes with only two rows of seating and a revised 4.0-liter, 270-horsepower, 278-pound-foot V-6 mated to a five-speed automatic; the entry-level RWD $28,300 SR5 with the Tacoma's 2.7-liter 157-horse, 178-pound-foot four-cylinder and four-speed auto; the $29,975 two- or $31,715 four-wheel-drive SR5 with the V-6/five-speed auto; or the luxury-oriented $38,565 Limited, which comes exclusively with the 4.0-liter and five-speed and adds 20-inch wheels, leather, X-REAS sport suspension, and, for $2035, a full-time 4WD system with a three-mode center-console-mounted switch. Why offer a four-cylinder and not a V-8? The four improves Toyota's CAFE numbers and gives customers a more fuel-efficient option should gas prices skyrocket again. That said, the four's EPA city/highway numbers (18/23 mpg) aren't much better than the V-6's (17/23 with 2WD), and its $1675 discount doesn't exactly warrant the 113-horsepower penalty, either. Our advice? Stick with the six.

Inside the 2010 4Runner, the FJ similarities continue, due to oversized knobs and buttons, a more upright windshield, and sporty seat fabric (which is water-resistant on Trail). Our pre-production SR5 4WD, which Toyota predicts will be the volume seller, was fitted with shiny plastics, but production models will get grained, matte-finished trim. Some editors found the interior a bit overwrought, but none could argue it wasn't extremely functional, roomy, and easy to use.

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.

While the 4Runner is admirably brisk, given its 400-pound weight gain over its predecessor, we miss the 2009's V-8 option. Toyota points out that the tweaked 4.0-liter makes more horsepower than the old 4.7-liter V-8 and that its fuel economy (17/22 for 4WD) is better than that of the 4.7 (14/17) as well as the previous 4.0 (16/20). Sure, but the new 4.0's torque is still down 28 pound-feet compared with the 4.7's. When overtaking slower vehicles on the highway, where the 4.0-liter strains through a downshift and some heavy breathing, Toyota's all-new 4.6-liter, 310-horse, 327-pound-foot V-8, which bowed in the 2010 Tundra and replaces the aforementioned 4.7, would've made a welcome option, especially for towing or carrying a full load.

But that's the only real complaint-er, wish. Thanks to a diverse lineup, the 4Runner can be either a dirt-devouring, rock-crawling, sand-swallowing rig or just a rugged, roomy, everyday transporter.

TRAIL MIX

In addition to all the goodness that is the SR5 4WD-body-on-frame construction, 9.6 inches of ground clearance, a live rear axle, 265/70R17 Bridgestone Dueler H/T tires, and standard A-TRAC, DAC, and HAC-the 4Runner Trail Edition offers the sliding cargo deck as standard; an available $1750 Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System that, as in the Lexus GX and Toyota Land Cruiser, can disengage the anti-roll bars for increased wheel articulation and travel; a Crawl Control system for navigating especially rough ground or steep inclines; and new Multi-Terrain Select, with pre-programmed off-road settings similar to Land Rover's Terrain Response. If that's not enough, the Trail provides the ultimate approach and departure angles of any 4Runner as well as front and rear 120V AC/400W power outlets. Trail giveaway cues include unique alloy wheels, a non-functional hood scoop, smoked head- and taillamp bezels, and black bumpers, fender flares, front grille, door handles, mirror housings, and utility roof rack.


Wheelbase
2010 Toyota 4Runner SR5 4WD
GENERAL
Location of final assembly Tahara, Japan
Body style 4-door SUV
Drivetrain layout Front engine, RWD/4WD
Airbags Dual front, front side, f/r curtain, front knee
POWERTRAIN
Engine type 60-deg V-6, alum block/heads
Bore x stroke 3.70 x 3.74 in
Displacement 241 ci/4.0L
Compression ratio 10.4:1
Valve gear DOHC, 4 valves/cyl
SAE horsepower 270 hp @ 5600 rpm
SAE torque 278 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm
Transmission type 5-speed automatic
1st 3.52:1
2nd 2.04:1
3rd 1.40:1
4th 1.00:1
5th 0.72:1
Reverse 3.22:1
Axle ratio 3.73:1
Final drive ratio 2.67:1
Indicated revs @ 60 mph 1750 rpm
Low-range ratio 2.57:1
Crawl ratio (1st x axle gears x low range) 33.7:1
Recommended fuel Regular unleaded
DIMENSIONS/CAPACITIES
109.8 in
Length 189.9 in
Width 75.8 in
Height 70.1 in
Track, f/r 63.2/63.2 in
Headroom, f/r 38.6/38.6 in
Legroom, f/r 41.7/32.9 in
Shoulder room, f/r 57.8/57.8 in
Cargo volume, behind 1st/2nd row 89.7/47.2 cu ft
Ground clearance 9.6 in
Approach/departure angle 25.0/24.0 deg
Curb weight 4634 lb
Weight distribution, f/r 53/47%
Payload capacity 1666 lb
GVWR 6300 lb
Max towing capacity 5000 lb
Fuel capacity 24.0 gal
CHASSIS
Construction Ladder frame
Suspension, f/r Control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar/live axle, coil springs, anti-roll bar
Steering type Rack-and-pinion
Ratio 18.4:1
Turns, lock to lock 2.7
Turning circle 37.4 ft
Brakes, f/r 13.3-in vented disc/12.3-in vented disc, ABS
Wheels 7.0 x 17-in, cast aluminum
Tires 265/70R17 Bridgestone Dueler H/T M+S
Load/speed rating 113/S
PERFORMANCE
Acceleration to mph
0-30 2.6 sec
0-40 3.9
0-50 5.7
0-60 7.6
0-70 9.9
0-80 12.9
0-90 16.2
Passing, 45-65 mph 3.8 sec
Quarter mile 15.8 sec @ 88.8 mph
Braking, 60-0 124 ft
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy 17/22 mpg
CO2 emissions 1.02 lb/mile
PRICE
Base price $31,715
Price as tested $34,735
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