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Toyota off-roader gets pavement tested

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For decades, there has been no shortage of those willing to go to bat for the Toyota 4Runner’s off-road capabilities, myself included. These SUVs are, to say the least, the real McCoy – proven and perfectly willing to be put to any test on a dusty path or trail.

However, the path to perfection is not paved by those hitting the trails and digging though the muck, even if it is their primary function. The 4Runner is engineered to be awesome off the pavement, but has never been a high mark when it came to actual road manners.

It’s the quandary of today’s SUV (or crossovers) that they must look the off-road part – though they often – perhaps mostly – cannot really take an off-road beating unless you are willing to pay big time for the ability. So, when given the chance to drive the 2018 Toyota 4Runner from Chicago to Nashville, a road trip of more than seven hours, I was a bit hesitant. How bad could it really be?

Road Trip Ready

Toyota’s midsize SUV turns out to be pretty surprising for a road trip that stayed pavement-bound the entire time. Sure, the Highlander would be a first choice from Toyota for this adventure, but get out your wallet. The 4Runner has a base price of $34,410 with six trim levels that add features and cost. My tester was a top-line trim with automatic running boards ($1,500) and a special paint coat ($395), it landed at $44,760.

Firstly, the 4Runner has an elevated seating position that makes the driver feel ‘above the action’ and it delivers great sightlines. This is a very roomy midsize SUV for front and rear passengers. Headroom and legroom was more than adequate and for my trip, the adults in back never felt confined or uncomfortable.

Comfy Cabin

The 4Runner’s cabin style fits its off-road persona. Fit and finish is perfect and while it has durable materials, the overall design is more off-road than comfort oriented. That is not to say it was cheap or unsightly, it was highly functional and the cabin is very quiet, even at highway speeds.

With the 47.2 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second-row seats and 88.8 cubic feet overall, my tester was more than capable of handling the bags for four plus a cooler or two and other odds and ends. I’d say it can haul more than any 3-row SUV.

Tech Payoff

Road trips require Navigation and the 4Runner I tested had it all. In addition, it featured advanced voice recognition and a household-style power outlet (in the cargo area). The Entune infotainment interface was intuitive and very much appreciated throughout the trip.

When you are loaded up on the inside it means there better be some power delivered to the outside pavement in order to make things comfortable and safe. My tester merged with ease and passed with confidence, even through some of Southern Illinois’ most hilly sections. The 4.0-liter V6 engine (270 horsepower) is mated to a 5-speed automatic transmission that is smooth enough to make you forget about cruise controls and hilly roads. Towing capacity was 5,000 pounds.

Ouch on MPG

If there’s anywhere I have a gripe about my 4Runner, it was the intimate knowledge I gained of gas stations along the way. At 17 mpg city and a cringing 21 mpg on the highway, this was a slight irritant, but the ride was not off-road-ready and much more cozy and easy to relax the entire duration.

The story you might hear is the 4Runner is just not meant for the pavement, but it is not what me and my passengers experienced over a long weekend of many hours on the roads. It is more trucklike than others, but some of those features are appreciated and pay dividends you don’t think about until weather gets bad or you need to climb a hill.

This auto review was researched and written by SteinPro Content Services and provided to the Sun-Times for publication