The 2011 Toyota 4Runner is, as it has always been, an off-road SUV that is very well-mannered in the city. After a redesign last year, the 4Runner returns mostly unchanged, with one notable exception: The previously available inline-4 engine is no longer offered. Not that you're going to be particularly broken up about this. The underpowered four-cylinder struggled to propel the heavy 4Runner with much authority and offered a minimal benefit in terms of real-world fuel economy.
This leaves the plenty powerful V6 as the sole engine choice for the 2011 Toyota 4Runner. Besides ample horsepower and impressive off-road prowess, the 4Runner counts a civilized driving demeanor and a spacious interior among its other strengths.
Climbing peaks and navigating treacherous terrain is what the 4Runner is best at. Just like a traditional SUV, it features body-on-frame construction and a solid rear axle suspension, although it also incorporates the latest in off-road technology with Toyota's Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS), which can disconnect the front and rear stabilizer bars for greater wheel articulation over rough terrain at speeds below 40 mph. Opting for the Trail trim level further enhances the 4Runner's wilderness-taming attitude with black-plastic fender flares and rocker panels (for easier and less expensive replacement), a locking rear differential, hill-start assist and hill-descent control, durable off-road tires and even water-resistant upholstery.
It is worth mentioning that for the majority of SUV buyers who rarely (if ever) take their vehicles off road, the 2011 Toyota 4Runner has been outclassed by the flood of car-based crossover SUVs on the market, at least as far as urban utility is concerned. Compared to the likes of the GMC Acadia, Hyundai Veracruz or even the Toyota Highlander, the 4Runner lacks the on-road comfort and everyday practicality that these vehicles provide. The 4Runner also lacks a V8 engine option, which means choices like the Dodge Durango, Jeep Commander/Grand Cherokee and Nissan Pathfinder might be better for heavy towing duty. But in the end we have no hesitations recommending the 2011 Toyota 4Runner as a jack-of-all-trades SUV.
Body Styles, Trim Levels and Options:
The midsize 2011 Toyota 4Runner SUV is offered in three trim levels: SR5, Trail and Limited.
Standard features on the 4Runner SR5 include 17-inch cast-aluminum wheels, skid plates, heated outside mirrors with turn indicators and puddle lights, foglights, air-conditioning with rear ventilation, cruise control, full power accessories, a power rear window, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a trip computer and an eight-speaker CD/MP3 audio system with an auxiliary audio jack. The SR5 is available in either rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive.
The 4Runner Trail level is only available as a 4WD model, and it supplements the SR5's equipment list with a hood scoop, black fender flares and rocker panels, a locking rear differential, Crawl Control (which electronically modulates throttle and brakes when ascending or descending hills), off-road-oriented tires, tinted head- and taillights, a sunroof, a back-up camera that displays in the rearview mirror, upgraded gauges, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, water-resistant upholstery, power front seats, a sliding rear cargo deck and an upgraded audio system with satellite radio, a USB port with iPod connectivity and Bluetooth phone and audio functions.
The Limited is available only with full-time all-wheel drive and includes 20-inch cast-aluminum wheels, Toyota's X-REAS adaptive suspension dampers, keyless entry and ignition, automatic headlights, dual-zone automatic climate control, a 15-speaker JBL audio system with a six-disc CD changer, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, leather upholstery, heated front seats and power lumbar support for the driver seat.
Many of the features incorporated by the 4Runner Trail and Limited are available as options for the SR5 model, though specifics will vary based on the region of the U.S. in which you live. Other option highlights include a voice-activated navigation system and a third-row seat. The KDSS off-road suspension is available only on Trail models.
Powertrains and Performance:
The 2011 Toyota 4Runner comes standard with a 4.0-liter V6 engine that produces 270 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed automatic is the only available transmission. The SR5 and Limited can be had in either rear-wheel or four-wheel drive (part-time dual-range system on SR5; full-time system on the Limited), while the Trail comes only with part-time dual-range 4WD. When properly equipped, the 4Runner's towing capacity tops out at 5,000 pounds.
In Edmunds instrumented testing, a rear-wheel-drive 4Runner SR5 accelerated from a standstill to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds, which is about average among competing SUVs. The EPA estimates 17 mpg city/23 mpg highway and 19 mpg combined for a rear-wheel-drive 4Runner, which is also average in this segment. A four-wheel-drive 4Runner gets 1 mpg less on the highway.
Standard 4Runner safety features include antilock disc brakes (with brake assist), stability and traction control, active front head restraints, front knee airbags, front-seat side airbags and full-length, roll-sensing side curtain airbags.
In government crash tests, the 4Runner scores a perfect five out of five stars for driver protection in frontal collisions and four stars for the front passenger. Five stars have been awarded in side impact tests for both front and rear passengers. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awards its top rating of "Good" for both frontal offset and side-impact protection. In a recent test, a rear-wheel-drive 4Runner SR5 came to a stop from 60 mph in 122 feet, which is average among other SUVs in its class.
Interior Design and Special Features:
The 2011 Toyota 4Runner's interior features a geometric, industrial theme that supports this SUV's rugged image. Hard plastics are abundant throughout the cabin, though most touch points are lightly padded. The oversized climate control knobs underscore the 4Runner's utilitarian design, but have a wobbly feel when operated.
The Toyota 4Runner offers spacious seating for five passengers. The optional third-row seat increases the count to seven, though it's suitable only for small adults or children. With all seats folded flat, maximum cargo capacity is a useful 90 cubic feet. An optional sliding rear cargo deck can support up to 440 pounds. Tailgate partygoers will appreciate the optional Party Mode, which directs most of the audio system's sound to the speakers in the liftgate and increases bass response for a thumpin' good time.
Cruising around town, the 2011 Toyota 4Runner is surprisingly smooth and comfortable. Despite being built on a truck chassis, there is very little of the bouncy, over-sprung ride you expect from a body-on-frame vehicle capable of serious off-roading.
On the downside, the 4Runner's on-road handling limits are notably low, even for this class of vehicle. The steering feels disconnected and uncommunicative on the pavement, although this makes for less kickback on the trail, though its light-effort response at low speed also makes for easy maneuvering in parking lots.
Off-road, the 4Runner performs very well, particularly if it's a Trail model fitted with KDSS. Though no V8 engine is offered, the standard V6 provides plenty of grunt and should be suitable for just about any driver.