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First look: 2010 4Runner fixed onto fading SUV genre

Posted by Bill Griffith  November 11, 2009 11:30 AM

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The 2010 4Runner makes its way up the Rubicon Trail, with some bruises.

New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick can be credited with making the saying "It is what it is," a common part of this region's speech pattern. The term also can be applied to Toyota's fifth generation 4Runner, which will be coming to a showroom near you in the next few weeks.

Rather than pitch the 4Runner as a car for the masses, Toyota's executives said it, er, "is what it is" - that being a capable off-road vehicle aimed at buyers who utilize the vehicle's "go anywhere" capabilities. It's also a niche vehicle: the company expects to sell about 35,000 in the coming model year in the US market and many more worldwide.



The Limited model, which tops out at nearly $45,000, comes with full-time all-wheel drive, unlike the manual control of the Trail and SR5 models.

Toyota brought a pair of these new 4Runners - a prototype and early production model - to a meeting of the New England Press Association at The Boston Globe on Nov. 10.

At a time when most of the 4Runner's competitors have gone to unibody construction, the 4Runner remains body-on-frame with improved ground clearance (9.6 inches), generous wheel articulation and excellent approach and departure angles for tackling steep grades.

On its way to market, the 4Runner traversed the 22-mile Rubicon, nature's legendary test track through California's High Sierras. In stock trim with the addition of a set of rock rails and readily available off-road tires, the 4Runner finished the trek with only some minor dents and scratches. Afterwards, it was driven home - a 700-mile trip to Toyota's Arizona test facility. You have to wonder if "Plan B" was a ride home on the back of an AAA flatbed wrecker!

The result was a pleasant surprise to the Toyota engineers who did the driving. A look at the video shown by Kristi Pourmousa, a Toyota vehicle product training specialist, might be the 4Runner's best sales tool.

Since the original 4Runner was introduced in 1984, Toyota has sold more than 1.8 million units in the United States. Now, as the marque celebrates its 25th anniversary, 1.3 million (nearly 75 percent) are still in use.

In the new generation, Toyota has limited the options for build simplicity. Instead, there are three models - the off-road Trail, the SR5 (aimed at active young couples), and the Limited (an urban off-roader for those with a more luxurious lifestyle and occasional need to go off-road to a second home or remote vacation area.

Gone for 2010 is the V8 option. Instead, a 4.0-liter, 270-horsepower V6 replaces the outgoing V6, developing 34 more horsepower than its predecessor and improving fuel economy to 20 miles per gallon in combined driving and 23 mpg highway.

A 2.7-liter four-cylinder version (and some 2WD versions) will be available, but "mostly sent to California and the Gulf Coast," said Toyota's Pourmousa. Northeast showrooms will have the three versions, almost exclusively with the V6 and four-wheel drive.

The off-road technology includes:

  • Crawl Control with five driver-selectable speeds.  Hit the button and all the driver has to do is steer, a big bonus after a while on an off-road track.

  • Multi-Terrain Select.  Choose loose rock, mud and sand, mogul, or rock and the computer will regulate wheel spin.

  • A-TRAC uses the 4Runner's ABS system to brake slipping wheels while transferring torque to other wheels.

Inside, the second and (optional) third-row seats fold flat. A "party mode" equalizer centers audio around the rear hatch opening for tailgating parties with additional 120-volt and 12-volt power outlets. MSRP for the 4WD SR5 is $30,915.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
In the garage: 2006 Subaru Baja
AAA's Car Doctor, John Paul John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
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Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
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Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
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George Kennedy is a senior writer for WheelsTV in Acton, which produces video reviews for Yahoo, MSN, and other auto websites.
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