First Test: 2003 Toyota 4Runner
All new, still tough, and now with V-8 power
Body-on-frame sport/utilities seem to have taken a back seat to the latest, often car-based, unibody models. However, when the road morphs into a pack-mule grade or heavy-duty towing is part of the picture, the inherent strength of a separate frame is often an advantage.
The fourth-generation 2003 4Runner retains its separate frame/body configuration and is available in three trim levels: SR5, Sport, and top-line Limited. Offered in 2WD and 4WD, it boasts an optional V-8 for the first time. Using the same 4.7L/235-hp DOHC V-8 as in the Sequoia, the 4Runner has no trouble merging into traffic, as well as pulling a fair-size trailer. An all-new 245-hp DOHC aluminum V-6 is standard, and, frankly, it's all the engine most buyers will need.
Techno aids include Downhill Assist Control for inching down treacherous grades, Vehicle Stability Control, and Hill-Start Assist Control to maintain stability when climbing a slope. A diagonally cross-connected shock-absorber system (X-REAS) is designed to damp roll and pitch. The Limited models even offer an optional rear-axle air suspension. Improved NVH suppression gives the 4Runner a level of quiet usually found in higher-buck platforms. The increased cabin width is a boon to full-size Americans.
Given its higher feature content, solid off-road capability, and newly available V-8 power, Toyota shouldn't have a serious challenge meeting its sales target.