THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Good: Refined ride, go-anywhere capability, legendary reliability, Voodoo Blue, Voodoo Blue, Voodoo Blue
- What’s Bad: Fuel economy, lacks many modern features, TRD Pro is nearly $60 grand
I can’t remember the last time I got into a new vehicle and had to twist a key to start it. Or one where I had to physically take that key out of my pocket and press a button to get inside.
First world problems I agree but the general lack of modern equipment in the 2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro, a vehicle that stickers at nearly $60,000, is laughable.
Want blind spot monitors, lane departure warning, forward collision warning? Not here.
Ardent complaints about the replacement of buttons by screens and haptic feedback controls don’t apply to this Toyota. Big chunky knobs and large buttons dominate the dash. They frame a tiny little touch screen with grainy graphics and a navigation system so outdated that its voice instructions don’t include street names.
Even the turn indicators don’t feature the automatic triple-blink when changing lanes that virtually every other car does.
Sitting in the driver’s seat is like slipping in between the pages of H.G Wells’ novel ‘The Time Machine’. If you want to be transported back to the early 2000s, the 4Runner would probably be a good way to do it.
Now, I should point out that there are models of the 4Runner that appeal more to the mature buyer, and not one with aspirations of conquering Isla Nublar.
They have normal wheels and tires and there’s an easy-to-use electronic 4WD selector dial. Generally, it’s a more upscale experience with real leather and dual-zone automatic climate control, a better sound system, some wood trim on the inside and chrome trim on the outside. And the key can remain in your pocket so you don’t have to push a button to get inside. But you do get to push one to start it. As is fashionable today.
It’s all just a bit of a disguise, though, because the 4Runner is really just an old beast. One that’s hanging around with a bunch of young guns sporting digital interiors and e-powertrains.
Dismissing mid-cycle facelifts and general upgrades, the 4Runner has been with us in current form for nearly 10 years.
Somehow, though, it soldiers on. Fueled by pure charm and nostalgia.
What this Toyota is then, is a beacon of the past. Unspoiled by the ever-encroaching digitization of cars. An honest vehicle, with tough, oily mechanical bits and a proven body-on-frame design. What SUVs used to be before they became jacked-up cars.
The engine, too, has been around for a long time. Its displacement of 4 litres seems too large for a V6. It has no turbos. It isn’t very fuel-efficient and it uses an ancient 5-speed automatic in an era of 9-and 10-speeds. My mix of city and highway driving saw it consume 15.3 litres of unleaded for every 100 kms travelled.
It is powerful, though. The 270 horses and 278 foot-pounds of torque are delivered in a smooth, linear fashion. More than adequate to get this big SUV moving at a good clip.
It might read like I’m not the biggest fan of the 4Runner, but that couldn’t be further from reality. I am a fan. A big one. Especially when equipped with this TRD Pro package.
The first thing you notice is the paint job, only available on TRD Pro. Toyota calls it Voodoo Blue. I call it fantastic. It’s the type of colour you’d associate with Lamborghini, or McLaren. It’s a throwback to when it was available on the FJ Cruiser, last sold here in 2014. If a 10-year-old put up posters of a truck in his bedroom, this should be it.
The Pro is at the top end of the off-roading spectrum in the 4Runner trim lineup. It comes with 31.5” Nitto Terra Grappler tires (my tester had winter tires) mounted on black 17” wheels; a thick TRD-stamped aluminum skid plate, 2.5” internal bypass Fox Shocks, TRD tuned front springs, Toyota heritage badging on the front grille, a large roof basket (that prevented me from clearing my underground parking entrance), and a smattering of TRD-Pro badges inside and out.
Like the one-rung-below TRD Off-road trim, it comes with a rear differential lock, and that old-fashioned manual shifter that allows you to switch between 2-wheel-drive, 4-wheel drive, and 4-wheel-drive low. It requires a healthy shove that feels like an accomplishment every time.
Also on hand is Toyota’s unique CRAWL control system. Think of it as an off-roading autopilot, where you’re only job is to man the rudder. The truck will control the accelerator and the brakes to get you through rugged or rocky terrain at low (crawling) speeds.
Then there’s the Multi-Terrain Select system that can switch between different off-road drive modes, like mud and sand, loose rock, and moguls.
With the crappy winter we just had, I was happy to be driving this 4Runner, and that Voodoo blue really popped against the white backdrop.
Since I couldn’t fit the thing in the underground garage, I (legally) parked it on the street, on top of a thick mound of ice and snow. It looked happy there.
Driving the 4Runner was an enjoyable experience. You sit high and there’s a ton of room inside that square body. There’s a large cargo area and the rear hatch window rolls down at the touch of a button, a rare functional feature found only in a handful of vehicles.
The steering is still hydraulically assisted which is a rarity and the ride is remarkable with none of that shuddering over sharp bumps that you usually get with body-on-frame vehicles. When you get it up to highway speeds, it’s quiet and refined. Even on those big tires.
All those knobs and buttons inside are easy to operate with gloves. Best of all they are distraction-free and well placed for an easy reach without taking your eyes off the road. I get that screens can do far more using less dashboard real estate, but they take way more of your attention to operate and there’s something to be said for the simplicity and ease of using real buttons. This is not an upscale interior as the price would suggest it should be. Most of the touch points are hard plastic but everything does feel rugged and well put together, which works with the overall theme here.
It doesn’t matter what generation of 4Runner you’re in. They all feel the same. I can swear that they smell the same too. But that might just be me. Or maybe it could be that since 1984 the Toyota 4Runner has been assembled in the same place. Tahara, Japan. In one of the world’s most advanced automotive assembly plants. Known as the Hilux Surf in other markets, this SUV has weaved a legendary tale of solid build quality and reliability.
A Hilux pickup truck famously survived all of Top Gear’s attempts at blowing it up. No matter how much they tried to break it, the little Hilux-that-could just kept going. Immortalizing itself on the Interweb and in the minds of car enthusiasts everywhere.
You’ll find Toyota trucks working hard in some of the most extreme climates on our planet. It’s this reputation of unwavering durability that keeps them so popular with people the world over.
You get a sense of that unbreakable character behind the wheel of the 4runner. You know it’s never going to let you down.
There’s so much to like. But the TRD Pro is almost $60,000 and that’s a lot for what it is. And you can’t get this blue on any of the other trims, so if you want it, you’ll have to cough up the cash.
But if you’re in the market for a real SUV, with real off-road capability but also one that remains practical and comfortable every day, the 4Runner needs to be on your shortlist.