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TOYOTA 4RUNNER: ICONIC HARD LIVIN ROCK STAR PERFORMER

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010
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Ivan Stewart, not a Rock Star, but a legendary off-road racer known as the Ironman, was driving flat-out at triple-digit speeds, while whipping up a blast of pale-beige dust half a mile long behind the vehicle racing across El Diablo Dry Lake. He was at the wheel of a new 1984 Toyota 4Runner and, man, everyone that saw that wanted one.

This was in Baja California in 1984. The 4Runner looked sharp, and a lot of people seemed to agree. Toyota went on to sell more than 1.8 million 4Runners.4runner trail

Fast forward 2010. Toyota has brought out what it considers the fifth generation of the 4Runner, which has changed over the years into a substantial all-terrain Rock Star vehicle.

The new 4Runner is supremely competent, particularly when equipped for off-roading. A big body-on-frame sport utility, it arrives in a market that has begun to ignore, or even scorn, truck-based S.U.V.’s. It no longer offers a V-8 engine — no great loss, but an omission that might turn away a few customers.

Timing of its introduction coincided with a period of uncharacteristically troubling news about Toyota; alleged reports of unintended acceleration; braking problems with the new Prius, a series of recalls all blown way out of proportion by a media with shall we say ulterior motives…

The 4Runner has not been implicated in these controversies — it even passed the emergency handling test that caused Consumer Reports to issue a “don’t buy” warning recently for a related vehicle, the Lexus GX 460.

The 4Runner’s upward progression over 26 years serves as a reminder of Toyota’s roots,… dependable and, as it turned out, nearly indestructible. By the late 1990’s, they seemed to be everywhere.

That first 4Runner of 1984 was essentially one of these, little more than a small Toyota pickup with a back seat and an integrated camper shell. The latest one is brawny, laden with features and capable of mind-boggling maneuvers. It also comes with a well-earned reputation as a “Baja tough” S.U.V. The latest proof came when a 2010 4Runner won its class in the Baja 1000 off-road race last November.

After driving all the trim levels now offered — SR5, Limited and the new Trail model, any driver with an appetite and only a morsel of off-road skill could contend for Baja trophies. The Trail, in particular, seems to regard nasty terrain with an attitude of the Big Bad Wolf: “All the better to eat you up!”

The 4Runner’s ladder-type frame, made of thick-gauge steel, is strong as a jail cell. The front suspension is a double-wishbone with coil-over shock absorbers; the rear is a 4-link supporting a solid axle on coil springs.

The S.U.V. is generally unflappable when the going gets rough. If you tackle a diabolical washboard surface at 35 m.p.h. — “getting on top of it,” the racers say — it will dance across as effortlessly as Fred Astaire.

The Trail’s list of standard off-road-specific features goes on and on, including electronic locking rear differential, A-TRAC active traction control, Multi-Terrain Select and Crawl Control.

  • The Crawl and Multi-Terrain Select features — these are preprogrammed throttle, brake and wheel traction settings — will walk the vehicle up, down, around and through nail-biting inclines, guttural raucous mud and axle-swallowing sand, all without added drama.
  • The optional Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System disengages the antiroll bars and loosens up the suspension settings so the wheels have more articulation (up and down movement) so the vehicle can tackle refrigerator-size obstacles.
  • The 4Runner’s rock-crawling capability seems to be limited only by its 9.6-inch ground clearance and 33-degree approach angle.
  • When rolling on the highway, you are unlikely to forget that the 4Runner is essentially a truck. On poorly maintained concrete roads the ride can get bouncy, and the chassis shivers on the worst expansion joints. But the steering is true, its balance is precise and its tracking is unerring. It is a snap to tow up to 5,000 pounds.

The old 4Runner’s optional V-8, an inefficient 4.7-liter that added too much weight and wasn’t particularly powerful with a drinking problem has been eliminated.

Now, most 4Runners come with a 4-liter V-6 that generates 270 horsepower — 10 more than the old V-8 — and has more torque for towing. Fuel economy for the V-6 4×4 has improved to 17 in town and 22 highway from 16/20 last year (and 14/17 for the defunct V-8). This more modern V-6 weighs less than the old V-8. Everybody should be happy even though some enthusiasts are grumbling on the Internet saying Toyota should have borrowed the 4.6-liter V-8 from the Tundra pickup for more towing capacity.

Despite a curb weight of nearly 4,800 pounds, the 4Runner Trail accelerates from a stop to 60 m.p.h. in a reasonably quick 7.8 seconds.

Early 4Runners offered 4-cylinder engines, turtle-like wonders that seemed to run forever.  For 2010, an in-line 4 returns — a 157-horsepower 2.7-liter engine borrowed from the Tacoma pickup. Equipped with the 4, the 4Runner feels lighter and more agile,… fuel economy is minor though, 18/23 m.p.g. might be cool if it were available with a 5-speed manual. But a 4-speed automatic is the only transmission. The V-6 models come with a 5-speed automatic.

There is an upscale Limited which no longer wears the thick tu-tone cladding that distinguished it visually from lesser versions. Now it is a gentleman’s off-roader.. something you can use to inspect your herd on the South 40 and then go to church in on Sunday. The Trail is for grown-ups who still like to play in the dirt. The base SR5 2-wheel drive is useful for week-end trips to Home Depot and the favorite Grocer.

The Limited comes with full-time 4-wheel-drive; the SR5 and Trail 4x4s use a part-time system engaged by a lever next to the shifter.

Prices for the 2010 4Runner start just under $30,000 and top out above $40,000.

The new cabin feels spacious — the old ones always seemed cramped — and Toyota has figured out how to jam in an optional third row of seats. But the ride back there isn’t pleasant for anyone larger or less compliant than 10 year olds. With all seven seats in use, the cargo capacity (up to 89.7 cubic feet with the rear seats down) almost vanishes just when it is needed most.

Without the third row, a sliding rear cargo deck is perfect for tailgating. There is also a “party mode” button, which redirects the stereo’s output to the back for maximum partying.

Toyota decided to keep the one-piece tailgate and the rear window that powers down. This provides flexibility when hauling kayaks, lumber or brass hat racks.

General Motors, Ford and Chrysler are having tomove away from body-on-frame S.U.V.’s toward more carlike crossovers and there are now fewer choices for those who need truck-solid performance and off-road abilities. Now, more than ever, there is nothing quite like a 4Runner.

BALANCING OFF ROAD TIRES

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010
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Balancing off road tires can be a challenge. The tires on Tacoma, 4Runner, FJ Cruiser, and Tundra can be heavy and the tread easily damaged. For Example, when the tires are aired down they can sometimes slip on the rim so the balance point moves. In wet muddy conditions, mud can adhere to the inside of the wheel throwing  the tire out of balance.counter act bead application

The traditional way of balancing tires uses static mounted weights on the rims to counter balance the heavy points in the tire/rim combination.  With the ever changing condition on off road tires and rims these balance points can change very quickly.

Bead balancing systems have been used on over the road truck tires for some time and they are now finding there way into off- road applications. So when planning to mount custom Wheels and specialized Tires it may be wise to give balancing beads a try. There are companies such as Counteract Balancing Beads, that will send you bags for this installation.

The beads can be added during the tire mounting so no additional balancing need be done on the wheels. Off-Road enthusiasts who take lengthy off-road trips report feeling no balance vibration from the tires. The application seems to have worked very effectively.

An added benefit of the balancing beads is there are no weights mounted on the outside of the rims which leads to a much cleaner installation.

FEWER SEQUOIA, TUNDRA, AND 4RUNNER MODELS COULD BE AROUND THE CORNER

Saturday, April 3rd, 2010
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A little publizied act occurred this week that went largely unnoticed and could affect the future availability of Sequoia, Tundra and even 4 Runner . sequoia grillePresident Obama has forced the big three US carmakers, and their unions, to accept tough mileage rules for cars and SUVs. The rules will cut emissions from vehicles by more than a third over the next four years.

Whether the new rules end America’s love affair with huge cars like Sequoia remains to be seen. But they are being introduced at a time when SUV sales are at a fraction of their peak level five years ago. Their demise coincides with the country’s first mass-produced “plug-in” electric car, which finally rolled off a Michigan production line this week.

From 2016, new cars and SUVs will have to deliver an average of 35.5 miles per gallon, comparable for the first time with European and Japanese requirements.

SUV mileage under the new regime is expected to average 28.8mpg, or nearly three times that of the Hummer H1 that Arnold Schwarzenegger once drove into Times Square in New York to begin the vehicle’s transition from armoured personnel carrier into celebrity runabout.

The new rules end a notorious loophole in US law by which SUVs were exempt from emissions standards that applied to cars. This made them so much more profitable that at the peak of the sport utility boom, a single Ford plant was generating up to $15 million a day in pre-tax profits.

The rules were welcomed yesterday by the industry and environmentalists. Of course, The US Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, had little choice but to accept the standards after the $25 billion bailout of Chrysler and General Motors.

The Big Three producers will have to spend about $52 billion to upgrade engines, power trains and air-conditioning systems to meet the requirements. The average cost of a new car or SUV is expected to rise by $1,000 as a result, meaning that the future of American motoring depends on consumers’ willingness to pay a modest premium for old-fashioned cars — or a larger one for something very different. Higher prices and an uncertain economy under our present government will most likely cause manufacturers including Toyota to be very cautious with inventory levels on the large vehicles like Sequoia, Tundra and 4Runner.

US motorists have shown repeatedly that their affection for big cars rebounds as gas prices fall, but the new regulations reflect a long-term trend. On average, Ford sold 412,000 Explorer SUVs each year from 1995 to 2003. By 2008 sales had slumped to 78,000. GM has sold the Hummer brand to a Chinese rival and SUV sales fell overall by 52 per cent last year alone.

The new standards are based on a 2007 Supreme Court Ruling that reclassified carbon dioxide as a pollutant. They will be enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency, whether Congress approves or not.

TOYOTA 4RUNNER 2010: HERE IT IS!

Saturday, October 3rd, 2009
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Introducing The All New Toyota 4Runner For 2010

 

The Toyota 4Runner for 2010 debuts at the State Fair of Texas, and it’s one of the last body-on-frame midsize SUVs on the market.

We spent a week in this 4Runner, a Trail Edition, covering more than 800 miles, mostly on the highway with a few hours of commuting, mountain roads and trail driving thrown in.  The Trail Edition would be the most mechanically specialized 4Runner, trading on-road comfort for maximum off-road capability. Even so, we can vouch that the 4Runner is a comfortable cruiser and daily driver. In one day we logged 13 hours on the highway without feeling the least bit deprived.

Th 4Runner for 2010 is designed with outdoor enthusiasts and family adventures in mind. Now in its fifth generation, the 4Runner is far more rugged than the Camry-based Highlander crossover and more versatile than the two-door FJ Cruiser. Toyota offers the 4Runner in three distinct models, each aimed at buyers with different lifestyle priorities.

·For those who want maximum economy, there’s the SR5. It comes with a four-cylinder engine that gets 23 mpg on the highway and is available in either two- or four-wheel drive, with minimal frills.

·For those who want a touch of luxury, there is the Limited model, which offers amenities like leatherseating, full-time four-wheel drive, a 15-speaker audio system, 20-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry and color-keyed exterior styling with chrome accents.

·Finally, the Trail Edition is for the true outdoor recreationalist. It combines a part-time four-wheel-drive system with advanced electronic enhancements that allow the user to dial in off-road driving control based on the nature of the terrain. It’s aimed at buyers who want something as capable as the FJ Cruiser but with four doors and more cargo room.

Power and Mileage

 

In the interest of better fuel economy, Toyota has ditched the optional 4.7-liter V-8 engine in favor of a revised high-output version of their 4.0-liter V-6 that gets 270 horsepower. That’s 34 hp more than the prior V-6, and 10 hp more than the old, optional V-8. The 4Runner feels quicker than ever before, with stronger response. We had ample high-speed passing power and on-ramp acceleration — even with a full load, and there’s enough power to pass on the highway without forcing a downshift.  The V-6 is run by an electronically controlled five-speed automatic transmission. Its maximum towing capacity is 5,000 pounds.

We averaged 20.3 mpg during the week we drove the 4Runner, which is a little better than its combined 19 mpg EPA rating.

Driving Dynamics

 

As you might expect, the Trail Edition rides and handles like a 4×4. The suspension permits a fair amount of vibration on the highway; contact with cracks and small imperfections are noticed in the cabin. On the other hand, larger irregularities — washed out dirt roads, speed bumps or dips at intersections — tend to disappear, soaked up by springs, shocks and bushings tuned to handle tough terrain.

Steering is easy and reasonably accurate in the 4Runner, and it’s easy to keep on-center while cruising on the highway. It takes minimal effort to maneuver in tight spaces. We think the 4Runner would readily out-handle and ride more smoothly than most full-size SUVs, but car-based unibody SUVs would be noticeably more precise, with better on-road manners.

For-Real Off-Road Capability
While the 4Runner might be so-so when it comes to on-road manners, it clearly excels in off-road capability.

The frame is as rugged as they come, and the driveline has been strengthened all the way back to the rear differential.  The four-wheel-drive system in the SR5 and Trail Edition is a part-time system favored by off-road enthusiasts, enhanced by electronic traction control, speed control and terrain-following innovations.  Four-wheel drive is actuated by a short lever on the center console. 

We found that it was easy to shift in and out of 4-Lo, as long as the transmission was in Neutral, and it was easy to get back to two-wheel drive again. A locking rear differential that’s electronically actuated isstandard on the Trail Edition. One unique feature, the Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System, disconnects the stabilizer bars to enhance suspension droop in highly irregular terrain. KDSS and other enhancements that allow for fine tuning the traction control system were formerly only available on the top-of-the-line Toyota Land Cruiser. Ground clearance — 9.6 inches for the 4×4 — is ample for trail use; the 33-degree angle of approach is very good, but it’s not quite equal to the Hummer H3, another superior off-road crawler.

How Big Is It?

 

The 4Runner offers a three-row option with room for seven. The interior volume is enhanced by the rear seats that fold flat without having to remove the headrests, and the rear liftgate opens wide. That allowed us to load the 4Runner with our son’s dresser, mountain bike, computer, chair, guitar and amp — plus boxes, clothes and groceries — to bring to his college quarters in a single trip.

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