The Retro 4×4 Fun of the 2018 Toyota 4Runner TRD

A few weeks ago the Toyota team reached out and asked my family if we wanted to head to a Rockies vs. Mets game at Denver’s Coors Field Stadium. Better yet, we’d be enjoying the game from their luxe stadium box seats. You can read about it: Let’s Go Places with Toyota: A Baseball Game! Short summary: It was fantastic! 🙂

What I didn’t talk about in that post, however, was that Team Toyota also said “We can’t have you drive to the game in anything other than a shiny new Toyota vehicle” and dropped off a 2018 Toyota 4Runner 4×4 TRD OFF-RD premium edition in Barcelona Red. Here it is:

2018 toyota 4runner 4x4 trd

Turns out that the 4Runner is a very interesting part of the Toyota lineup because it’s a workhorse of a 4×4 but eschews almost all of the premium and luxury features of the greater Toyota line, even in the “Premium” edition. But we’ll come back to that because the lack of tech is an important aspect to identifying whether or not you’d enjoy owning a 4Runner.

Let’s start by talking about the interior design instead, because it’s quite good. From the entertainment system to window controls, 4×4 gears to automatic hill climbing tech, it’s all at the driver’s fingertips. The main dash shot highlights much of what’s to like about the interior:

2018 toyota 4runner trd interior dash

Notice that the window controls are located on the driver’s door, easily accessible without having to hunt for the buttons. Also note that while there are a lot of buttons on the steering wheel, the cruise control is done through a small lever off the steering column. That’s the same design Toyota’s been using for many, many years: My 2007 Toyota Highlander had exactly the same stick with all the same buttons. Also note that the gear shift on the center console is almost hiding the smaller 4×4 gearing stick too (just behind it and to the right).

But what about the hill gearing controls? In a layout a bit reminiscent of a Boeing 747 cockpit design, those controls are all above your head, added to the console where you’d normally expect to find sunroof controls. Even getting a photo of these is tricky, learning how to choose the right one without having to crane your neck and twist around to stare at the traction controls is something the die-hard off-roaders must have to learn pretty quickly:

overhead traction controls, 2018 toyota 4runner

Then again, as with all tough off-road vehicles, I have to wonder what percentage of 4Runner owners actually do more than drive on the occasional dirt road or just want to be able to power through snowbanks on those coldest of winter days. Data I’ve read suggests that most SUV and 4×4 buyers just want the biggest vehicle in the school parking lot or on the highway, so it’s likely that only a small subset of owners are doing those crazy mountain passes we see in the adverts.

Back to the dashboard. You can see in this picture that the main gauge display is busy, but all the information you want is right there at a glance, including that it was a very hot summer afternoon when I took this photo:

2018 toyota 4runner dash gauges

For a big 5 seater 4×4 with tons of cargo space and towing capacity, the fuel efficiency of the 4Runner favorably surprised me. 19.0 mpg isn’t going to win any green awards if it’s a little city sedan, but for this size vehicle, it was definitely better than I expected. Would 25 mpg be better, and 40 mpg be amazing? Of course. But fuel efficiency is always about tradeoffs…

With its 4.0L DOHC V6 and 5-speed transmission, the vehicle was also surprisingly fun to drive, though having the A/C on full blast affected my ability to rabbit from a stop and get up to speed quickly. The 4Runner isn’t made for street racing but tackling tough hills and crummy terrain, and the engine definitely felt hugely powerful. For towing it’s rated for 5000 pounds, more than enough for a boat or trailer full of tools, bikes or camping gear.

The other part of a vehicle that gets a lot of use with my family is the main console with all the navigational and entertainment system controls. Toyota stuck with a tried and true layout and control knob design for the 4Runner:

2018 toyota 4runner nav system entertainment

An entirely serviceable and easily learned design, particularly with the convenient additional controls under your left thumb on the steering wheel. As is common for Toyota, there’s no button that gets you directly a full-screen navigational map, though. I still can’t figure that out: most other manufacturers have a MAP or NAV button instead of a HOME button. Maybe Team Toyota has just spent too much time visiting Web pages? Or maybe I’m the one out of step here; What do you prefer if you had to choose between a split screen or nav-only push button?

In the above also notice that it supports music CDs and has a (hidden behind a button on the right) slot for a MicroSD card you could add, full of your favorite music. CD support is good, though undoubtedly going to be phased out in the next few years, but that MicroSD card? Has anyone who purchased a modern car ever bought a card, loaded it up with music, and plugged it into their vehicle rather than just using their mobile device or hooking up an Apple iPod? I’ve got to admit, I’m skeptical.

Stepping out of the vehicle, here’s a shot of one unique feature I thought was fantastic, absolutely tailor-made for tailgaters: A sliding rear cargo deck:

2018 toyota 4runner rear with pull-out seating shelf

As you can see, it slides out, gaining you access to a storage space and giving you a great workspace for a picnic, to work on a bike, finish packing your cooler before you hit the trail or just to sit on it (weight rating is 400 pounds) and enjoy the crazy fan activities in the parking lot before your team’s next big game. [Note that this is an optional item with an additional cost]

Finally, back to the exterior one more time. The 4Runner just had a great look to it and the front was pleasantly aggressive for an SUV:

front view, 2018 toyota 4runner trd

For all that I liked the 2018 4Runner, there was still a lot of small pickup truck design and appearance to my eye. It would also explain the curious lack of technological improvements in this 2018 model year vehicle: It’s possible this category of buyers just don’t want adaptive cruise control, blind side monitoring, or even a key fob and start button.

Oh, did I mention that it’s so old-school in that regard that you have to insert the key and turn to start the engine?

key fob, starter, 2018 toyota 4runner

Fun, though having to constantly fish the keys out of a pocket got a bit tedious when I’ve been spoiled by the majority of other vehicles that rely on the presence of the key and the push of a start button. Again, though, a curious, almost retro design.

What I most missed driving this big truck of a vehicle was the blind side monitoring system. It’s so darn easy to miss the little car or motorcycle in your blind spot just before a lane change, and blind side monitoring can be a life saver. I certainly rely on it in my own vehicle.

In summary, then, if you’re looking for a luxury 4×4 or SUV Toyota has other options in its lineup that are a better match. While comfortable, the 4Runner has “let’s hit the dirt, boss!” in its blood, not “let’s get the kids settled down and head to the Mall while chatting with your BFF”. Still, the exterior design is solid and quite attractive, and the vehicle feels like it’s going to be running 250,000 miles down the road, regardless of what you throw at it. (There’s a reason it landed in the #4 spot in Forbes Vehicles That Can Go Over 250,000 Miles feature). Give it a test drive and see what you think!

AS DRIVEN: 2018 Toyota 4Runner 4×4 TRD OFF-RD Premium Edition in Barcelona Red / Brick. 4.0L DOHC 24-Valve v6 5-speed automatic with part time 4WD with Active TRAC, crawl control, hill-start assist front and rear stabilizer bars and skid plates. Optional equipment: sliding rear cargo deck, kinetic dynamic suspension system, power tilt/slide moonroof. BASE PRICE: $39,495. AS CONFIGURED: $42,690.

Disclosure: Toyota loaned me this 4Runner for the purposes of this review. Thanks, Toyota!

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