Rowdy, off-road ready, truck-based SUVs were once the hottest segment in the market. But shoppers soon discovered that those kids of utility vehicles also came with rough rides and lousy fuel economy and weren’t really suited for daily commuting chores. That ushered in the crossover, an easy-riding, car-based light utility vehicle that looks a lot like an SUV but lacks its truck-based ruggedness. There are only a few SUVs these days that still offer body-on-frame construction for serious off-road capability. The 2016 Toyota 4Runner is one and, with available three-row seating, a spacious cargo hold and Toyota‘s reputation for reliability it stands alone in this price range. It won’t give you the fuel efficiency or ride comfort of a car-based crossover, but the 2016 4Runner stays true to its roots as a hairy-chested SUV that’s ready for almost anything.
Even in base SR5 trim, the Edmunds “B” rated 4Runner is primed for off-road action. Standard equipment includes items like mud guards and skid plates, while four-wheel-drive models add a dual-range transfer case, hill-start assist and hill-descent control. Move up the trim ladder and you can add better audio and advanced electronic aids for more precise off-roading. Toyota has even beefed up towing capacity for all models but the Limited trim. If off-roading and towing aren’t big on your list of things to do, though, there are better family SUVs available. The 4Runner has a difficult time smoothing out potholes in the city with its busy ride, and its fuel economy is woeful compared to most V6-powered crossovers. And its optional third row seating is best reserved for kids, so if you want adult-sized space back there, you’ll need to look elsewhere.
If you don’t need a third row of seating, the Jeep Grand Cherokee is one of our favorites, offering competitive off-road performance, several engine options, more robust towing capacity, better fuel economy and an upscale interior. The related Dodge Durango also has more towing capacity and a premium cabin, comes standard with a third-row seat and also has earned an Edmunds “B’ rating. If you can do without all the trail-busting hardware, the “A” rated Toyota Highlander offers room for eight passengers, a carlike ride and superior efficiency and acceleration.
But if nothing less than a traditional three-row SUV will do, the Toyota 4Runner’s the only game in town. It may be among the last of a dying breed, but it still has a lot to offer and the 2016 Toyota 4Runner is basically unchanged from the previous model year, when it was one of our top picks for a midsize two-row SUV.
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Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2015 Toyota 4Runner is a midsize SUV offered in four trim levels: SR5, Trail, TRD Pro and Limited. The SR5 and Trail are divided into standard and Premium sub-trims. Five-passenger seating is standard, but an optional 50/50-split third-row seat on the SR5 and Limited models raises capacity to seven.
The SR5 comes standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, skid plates, mud guards, a tow hitch, hill-start assist and hill-descent control (4WD only), a rearview camera, foglights, heated exterior mirrors, rear privacy glass, LED taillights, roof rails, a power liftgate window, a windshield wiper de-icer, keyless entry, cruise control, air-conditioning with second-row vents, cloth upholstery, a six-way power driver seat with power lumbar adjustment, a leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and 40/20/40-split folding and reclining rear seats. Standard electronics features include Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, Scout GPS Link cell phone navigation integration, and an eight-speaker audio system with a 6.1-inch touchscreen interface, voice controls, a CD player, HD and satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod/USB audio interface.
The SR5 Premium adds a sunroof, upgraded exterior mirrors, leatherette (premium vinyl) upholstery, heated front seats, a power front passenger seat, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and an upgraded version of Entune with smartphone app integration and a navigation system.
Go with the 4WD-only Trail trim and you’ll get all of the base SR5’s standard features plus unique 17-inch wheels, a hood scoop, silver exterior trim accents, a locking rear differential, selectable terrain modes and crawl control. The Trail Premium model adds the SR5 Premium’s standard features.
The 4Runner Trail models are exclusively eligible for the optional Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS), which automatically disconnects the SUV’s stabilizer bars in low-speed off-road situations to improve suspension articulation over deep ruts and boulders.
The TRD Pro comes with most of the Trail Premium’s standard equipment, adding or substituting matte-black 17-inch wheels with special off-road tires, automatic headlights, a TRD-stamped aluminum front skid plate, Bilstein shocks, upgraded front springs, a higher ride height, a unique black front grille and various TRD-themed aesthetic upgrades.
The 4Runner Limited includes most of the Trail Premium’s feature content, but it lacks the mud guards, locking rear differential, terrain-mode selector and crawl control. Its available full-time 4WD system instead employs a locking center differential. Other Limited highlights include 20-inch alloy wheels, adaptive roll-reducing dampers (X-REAS), automatic headlights, front and rear parking sensors, keyless entry and ignition, dual-zone automatic climate control, leather upholstery, ventilated front seats and a 15-speaker JBL sound system and Toyota’s Safety Connect telematics.
Many of the higher-end standard amenities are available as options on lower trim levels, but availability can vary depending on the region of the United States in which you live. Stand-alone options include fixed running boards, automatically deploying/retracting running boards, a sliding rear cargo floor (two-row models only) and roof-rack crossbars.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2015 Toyota 4Runner employs a 4.0-liter V6 engine that produces 270 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque. The transmission is a five-speed automatic. The SR5 and Limited models are available with either rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, while the Trail and TRD Pro are 4WD-only.
Four-wheel-drive SR5 models have a part-time 4WD system with low-range gearing, while the Limited uses a full-time 4WD system with low-range gearing and a locking center differential. The Trail and TRD Pro models come standard with the part-time 4WD system and also include a locking rear differential, crawl control (for use in low range) and selectable terrain modes. Properly equipped, the 4Runner SR5 RWD or 4WD and the Limited RWD model are rated to tow up to 5,000 pounds; the Trail and TRD Pro models tow up to 4,900 pounds and the 4WD Limited model tows up to 4,700 pounds.
In Edmunds testing, a 4WD 4Runner Trail went from zero to 60 mph in 7.8 seconds, which is about average among competing SUVs.
The EPA estimates fuel economy at 19 mpg combined (17 city/22 highway) for RWD models and 18 mpg combined (17 city/21 highway) for all 4WD 4Runners. Those numbers are typical for a traditional SUV, but well behind those of most V6-powered crossovers.
Standard safety features on the 2016 Toyota 4Runner include antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, front seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, front knee airbags and active front head restraints. All 4WD models feature an off-road traction control system known as A-Trac that helps keep you moving on slippery terrain by redirecting engine torque to the wheel(s) that have traction.
A rearview camera is standard across the board, but front and rear parking sensors are available only on the Limited trim level. The Limited also comes with Safety Connect, which includes automatic collision notification, a stolen-vehicle locator and emergency assistance.
In Edmunds brake testing, a four-wheel-drive 4Runner Trail model took 132 feet to stop from 60 mph, which is a long distance by crossover standards but not bad for an off-road-oriented SUV.
In government crash tests, the 4Runner earned four out of a possible five stars overall, including four stars for total frontal-impact safety and five stars for total side-impact safety. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the 4Runner its top rating of “Good” in the moderate-overlap frontal-offset, side-impact and roof-strength crash tests, but the small-overlap frontal-offset crash test resulted in a “Marginal” rating (second-lowest). The 4Runner’s seat/head restraint design was rated “Good” for whiplash protection in rear-impact crashes.
Interior Design and Special Features
The interior of the 2016 Toyota 4Runner features instrumentation and controls that are well laid out and easy to understand. Most owners will be satisfied with the quality of the 4Runner’s cabin materials, which are oriented more toward durability than aesthetics. If you demand something a bit more plush, an alternative such as the Jeep Grand Cherokee will likely be a better fit.
All 4Runners come with a touchscreen audio interface placed high on the center stack. Depending on which trim level you’ve selected, the touchscreen brings various degrees of functionality from Toyota’s Entune suite of smartphone-enabled services and apps. All trims except the base SR5 and Trail include a navigation system. The SR5 and Trail models’ audio systems enable integration of navigation from your smartphone.
As for passenger accommodations, the 2016 4Runner’s standard five-person seating arrangement includes a reclining 40/20/40-split folding second-row seat. The optional third-row seat is bound to be a tempting option for carpoolers, but you’ll want to make sure your elementary schoolers will actually fit, as this is one of the smallest, tightest third rows of any midsize SUV.
In reality, the real estate in the back of the 4Runner is better suited for cargo. There’s a healthy 47 cubic feet of cargo room behind the second-row seats, a number that jumps to an even more impressive 89.7 cubic feet with all the rear seats folded down. This is far more space than the Grand Cherokee offers, and more than many large crossovers (such as the Ford Explorer and Honda Pilot) as well.
The Toyota 4Runner is designed to provide real utility when the pavement ends. It’s at its best when you’re plugging along on off-road trails, and the numerous upgrades on the Trail and TRD Pro trims only add to the fun. At the same time, the 4Runner is refined enough for the daily grind, though lots of bumps make it into the cabin as the rugged suspension and big tires jostle you around. The 4Runner’s steering feels a little too light in normal driving situations, but is ideal for off-roading, as it results in reduced wrist-wrecking kickback on gnarly trails.
The 4Runner’s V6 engine is strong enough for most needs, but there’s no denying that you get more grunt from rivals like the V8-powered Grand Cherokee and Durango. The 4Runner’s five-speed automatic transmission provides well-timed shifts, but we certainly wouldn’t mind another gear to calm the engine on the highway and eke out another mpg or two.