It’s always hard to give these great vehicles back, but in this case it was particularly difficult because we felt so at home in this truck. That’s because we own a 2000 4Runner that’s pushing 300,000 miles thanks in part to a number of coast to coast trips over the years. But that’s also the other edge of the sword—we were likely to be a little pickier in reviewing the next generation of a vehicle we are very familiar with.

Toyota picked up on the customer feedback that the fourth generation (N210; 2002–2009) of this nameplate strayed too far from its predecessors. This 2018 4Runner is part of the fifth generation (N280; 2009–present) which brings the nameplate back to what people like and we noticed that—which eased our third gen snobbery some.

The nameplate goes back to 1984 and was also called the Toyota Hilux Surf and was considered a compact style SUV as a three-door wagon. It became a mid-size SUV in 1996 with the introduction of the third generation.

History aside, we took this 2018 Toyota 4Runner TRD from Boulder to Durango for a family ski trip with two kids under four years old and racked up nearly 900 miles for this review. This came with the Premium trim which sits fourth in price of the six trims available (it’s right in the middle of the three TRD off-road trims). As driven and tested this vehicle was priced at $39,495. We added our own Thule racks and Yakima roof-top box for extra storage.

A dusting of snow… a good start to a trip to go skiing!

Handling

For being a very capable off-road 4×4 vehicle, this 2018 Toyota 4Runner TRD was incredibly comfortable for all the miles we drove on paved roads. Granted, the tire tread was street focused, but still, it made for a very nice on-road drive. Where we noticed the truck pedigree was in sharper corners or when the steering wheel got jerked a little at speed. Those looking to be particularly critical of the handling may go as far as to say the on-road handling is sloppy, but I found it to be more than tolerable—I’m not looking to take corners as fast as possible in this. I’m happy to have a vehicle with as much ground clearance (9.6 inches) as this. It’s also worth considering we raised the center of gravity some by putting a box on top full of skis and other gear.

Unfortunately, we didn’t really get to take it off-road, or even on dirt roads on this trip—which is where this vehicle really shines for a stock SUV. There was one small stretch of veneer compact snow one morning on our drive up to Purgatory Ski Resort from Durango, but nothing of significance. Nevertheless, it did have that truck like feel that made me want to find some gnarly roads or tracks to crawl on. This truck includes body-on-frame construction and a pickup truck like solid rear axle as well as Toyota’s four wheel drive Active Traction Control, adjustable Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS) and Crawl Control, Multi-terrain Select, and a locking rear differential. The body style provides for impressive approach and departure angles (33º and 26º respectively).  

Hauling

I’ve always thought of 4Runners as covered short-bed pickup trucks with a second row of seats and this still rings true. There’s lots of room for cargo when the second row of seats are up (46.3 cu. ft.), and dropping the second row of seats bumps the cargo space to 88.8 cubic feet. That out-hauls our recently reviewed Mitsubishi Outlander (33 cu ft behind the second row—but it also has three rows of seats), but it’s just a skosh under the 47.8 cubic feet behind the second row (of three rows) of the Nissan Pathfinder. Is that a fair comparison? Your call.

All loaded up and we can still see out the back window!

An interesting feature discovered in our test model is the sliding deck for the cargo area. The floor of the cargo area is on sliders with a handle and a latch that allows the user to pull it, and all of the cargo on it about a foot out of the back. The claim here is easier loading and unloading so you don’t have to bend your knees backwards to reach into the wonderfully deep 46.3 cubic feet of cargo space. The shortfall is it leaves about 6-8 inches of cargo deck floor that doesn’t slide at the front end of the cargo area—the bit right behind the second row of seats. So, if anything crosses the line from the very front up against the backs of the seats onto the sliding deck, it’s likely to fall between the space when it’s slid out—or, more realistically like in our case, we just didn’t use it. We had a 45L Dometic fridge back there, which would have been awesome to have slide out some to load and unload it, but it meant wasting the cargo space behind it so it wouldn’t cross the line to the floor that didn’t slide out. There’s also some skinny storage available under the slider, but again, it’s not like it’s easy access if you have a mound of gear filling the back because even with it slid out, it’s difficult to reach around the gear to get to it. I’m sure that feature is useful for someone, but I wouldn’t get it.

The sliding cargo tray. Note the few inches of space that does not slide out right behind the seats.

Because we were going to Durango to ski at Purgatory, we had to load a box on top to bring the adult skis. The vehicle we tested did not have standard crossbars, but it did have rails where we could strap on our Thule towers and crossbars and then throw our Yakima box on those. I’m not sure where the blame lies, probably a bit on each between Toyota and Yakima, but the box at it’s forward most setting sits so far back that the tailgate hatch just kisses the box when it was up. Granted, it worked much better than on our own GMC Terrain where, with the same box, the tailgate hatch hits the box and stops at about three-quarters of the way open. The crossbars were on as far forward as possible.

The box on top and a bit more gear. The skis are hiding underneath.

A few notes about having a box on a vehicle like this 4Runner. It has a sunroof, but as with any combo like this, the sunroof gets covered when a box is strapped on. On the good side, I was a little worried about the box covering the mini shark fin antenna at the rear of the 4Runner. There was absolutely no noticeable obstruction for the reception of the XM Radio on the whole trip. Sure, it cut out on occasion when in a deep canyon, but it actually did better than previous vehicles without a box on it. That technology is coming along nicely.

The box covering the shark fin antenna, but no loss in radio/XM reception.

We didn’t have to hitch anything up this round to tow a trailer or even take our hitch-mounted bike rack, but it’s always nice to have a standard 2” hitch for those occasions. Nevertheless, Toyota has this 4Runner TRD listed at 5,000 pounds SAE J2807 towing rating-compliant which easily covers most casual towing needs.

The 2″ tow hitch and full size spare.

Efficiency

The weak link for Toyota, with the exception of the Prius, is fuel efficiency. Rated at 17 mpg in the city, 20 mpg on the highway (18 mpg combined), the 4Runner is a bit of a drinker when compared to other vehicles of similar size and ability. But not by much. For the most part most models hover around and just above the 20 mpg range so it seems a small concern in the bigger picture of how a vehicle will be serve any given lifestyle. In terms of our real numbers (don’t forget we had a box on top), by the end of our nearly 900 mile trip to and back home from Durango, the 4Runner computer calculated an average of 19.5 mpg—not far from the 19.2 mpg I calculated the old school way at the pump.

The main console.

Amenities

With the Premium trim package, amenities abounded—even for being such an off-road focused vehicle. As mentioned above, there were unique editions like the sliding cargo rack in the rear which some may like, but it’s not for me. In a very geeky and maybe slightly egoistic sort of way I love the feature of being able to customize the default graphic on the 6.1-inch touch screen in the center console.

My custom graphic of choice for the screen, plus a look at the center console.

Another benefit of note are the extensive number of power outlets. In the front, there’s a USB/AUX in the center console next to one of the five total 12v/120w DC cigarette lighter style outlets. There’s another 12v plug in the center armrest storage area between the front seats, two more off the very rear of the center armrest facing the rear seats and one next to a 3-prong 400w 120v AC outlet in the very rear. And the beauty of the rear outlets is they are on the back of the wheel well and rear facing. Meaning, they don’t point into the main cargo space where something plugged into them is in a prime place to get bumped by the cargo itself.

USB/AUX plug and 12v power socket up front.

The twin 12v power sockets facing the rear seats.

Power sockets in the rear cargo area: a 12v DC and 120v AC.

Standard with 4Runners is a full size spare tire underneath the back end and in this model there were rear window defrosters not only on the very rear window but also on the rear side windows.

Defrosting elements in the side rear windows.

One of the few things we were disappointed with, ironically, were the cupholders (boo hoo, right?). The cupholders in the front have inserts that can be removed to accommodate larger drinking vessels, which is great. The bummer is—and maybe it only applies to a few specific types of drink containers—the insert would stick to my favorite travel mug, the Stanley Go Tumbler with Ceramavac, and come out of the cup holder with the mug. It turns out this really only happened when the cupholder was cold and just small enough to grip the mug. When the vehicle warmed the cupholder up to expand some, it didn’t stick as easily. Nevertheless, there are plenty of times when adventures start off cold in the truck.

The sticky cup holder.

And that leads into our other little peeve: no remote start. We installed a third-party remote start system in our 2000 4Runner and, especially as a family in Colorado without a garage (ok, we have a garage, but we choose not to park a vehicle in there—too much other stuff), the remote start is a very welcome feature that we really missed while testing this new 4Runner—especially on a winter ski trip. There’s also no remote smartphone app connectivity as is becoming common in vehicles today. It does have bluetooth for hands free phone calls and such.

The XM radio screen.

Comfort

As mentioned above, the great handling of the 4Runner was a huge help in making this a comfortable vehicle. With the Premium trim package came their SofTex (leather style) seats which were a great shape for many hours of travel. Again, we didn’t get to bounce around on unpaved roads to see how they fared in those circumstances. Inside the head room was spacious without being cavernous, good arm room and plenty of places to tuck things away to stay organized on the go.

Family Friendly

The 4Runner continues to be a family friendly vehicle. The rear seats have enough room to comfortably fit kid car seats, both forward and rear facing and all the organizational spaces mentioned above certainly help. With kids comes lots of gear and the generous cargo space for an SUV this size makes it easy to fit everything you need in the vehicle for weekend getaway trips (with the exception of bringing skis). I would think a family of four with little kids could even fit everything they need (maybe not everything they want) for a long weekend camping trip. But really, adding a box to the roof for extra space is no big deal and at that point, there really is plenty of room to hit the dispersed camping that a vehicle like this is designed to get to. In short, if Toyota had forgotten to take this back, we would have been OK with that. In fact, we might even go out and get one ourselves.

A 4-year old happily set in a car seat. Plenty of room, even behind the driver.

The 1-year old, pretty giddy to hit the road.