Toyota's latest 4Runner was completely re-designed and re-engineered for 2003. It got a bulked up, more athletic new look, two new engines, two new drivetrains, a new suspension system, advanced stability control technology and a bigger, far more comfortable interior. No significant changes for 2004. Clearly, Toyota got this one right the first time. MSRP for the base 4Runner 2WD is $27,810; for the top line Limited 4WD its $34,085. Standard warranty is 3 years/36,000 miles.
All 4Runners are made in Japan and use a body-on-frame architecture. In other words, theyre real trucks rather than squared-off family sedans pretending to be trucks. 4Runners have always been rugged operators. Before this latest or 4th generation model, 4Runners were built on the Tacoma chassis, which lent them a certain Taliban chic according to CAR, the brilliant British magazine. Youve got to admit any vehicle capable of crashing around the non-roads of Afghanistan while 6 or 7 wild and crazy guys wave kalashnikovs from the pick up bed is probably more than capable of transporting mom and the kids on her daily rounds. However, the latest 4Runners use the larger Land Cruiser Prado chassis. Handling is far superior to the last model. For 2004, you get an optional folding third row seat and a very useful tire pressure monitoring system. Also for 2004, you get a choice of two very powerful, completely new, simply terrific engines - a 4.0 L, 245 hp V6 with 283 lb-ft of torque @ 3400 rpm and a 4.7 L, 235 hp V8, which produces 320 lb-ft of torque at 3400 rpm. The smaller V6 has more horsepower than the V8. Your dealer will explain how and why. Its all about torque and it makes a good yarn.
4Runners come in 2WD and 4WD versions and in three trim levels - SR5, Sport Edition and Limited. The 2004s resemblance to previous generation 4Runners is very apparent even though it doesnt share a single body panel with the earlier Tacoma-based models. While by no means a style leader, the fourth generation 4Runner has a much greater presence than previous models. Its considerably wider, longer and taller. The large wheels have been moved out closer to the corners. The result is a far more athletic stance, significantly improved handling (especially through corners) and a less bouncy, more controlled highway ride. Special attention was paid to cabin ergonomics. You'll find everything you need is located exactly where common sense dictates it should go. The heating and air system controls are particularly well placed and easy to operate. Extra attention was paid to noise suppression. At 70 mph, road and wind noise levels are near luxury-car like. The seats are first rate. Both front seats are multi-adjustable. Second row seats are theatre-style, which means adult passengers back there can actually see forward out the windshield. The new-for-2004 third row seats fold up and away quite ingeniously.
On the Road
Youve got a choice of two very powerful, completely new and simply terrific engines - a 4.0 L V6 and a 4.7 L V8. You can also choose between full time and part time 4WD systems. With the V8, you get fulltime 4WD; with the V6, part time 4WD. Few drivers can tell the difference between the two systems. However, the V8 with the full time 4WD system will burn a lot more gas. All manner of advanced engineering features to assist the driver who wants to test his mettle on dry creek beds and the like are available - including the kind that make the climb up or down the 35-degree face of a gravel pit both safe and sure. Sort of. Toyota engineers paid special attention to the 4Runners on-road handling performance. To get the desired ride quality, they designed a totally new suspension system - the remarkable X-REAS sport suspension. It links each of the vehicles shocks to their diagonal counterpart via a gas/hydraulic chamber. As it bounces and twists, the chamber transfers hydraulic fluid to the shock sustaining the most force. This helps maintain the wheels in contact with the driving surface. The valuable X-REAS system comes with the optional SR5 sport package, which includes lots of other stuff.
4Runners can be loaded up with all kinds of sophisticated engineering features. You cant go far wrong simply checking every box on the option sheet. But youll end up with a lot more capability than youll ever need, which wastes your money. If youre prudent, you can get every bit the vehicle you want without a lot of stuff you dont need. And youll save a bunch of money. For example, the top line Limited 4Runner comes with the monster JBL system (which produces an extraordinary sound, incidentally). But even the AM/FM/CD sound system standard in the base SR5 model will satisfy all but the most committed audiophile. For keeping those easily bored rear seat passengers pre-occupied, a DVD-based entertainment system is also available. This probably falls into the prudent purchase category. The designers paid a lot of attention to user convenience. The rear hatch door includes an electric release switch for easy door opening and a power-assisted hatch closer. No slamming needed. Theres also a remote-controllable auto up/down function of the rear hatch window, which includes finger protection. The bottom line is the 4Runner is simply a great machine. For the money, nothing currently available is more all-round capable.