The Mojave Preservation Spans 695,000 Acres; We Might Have Inadvertently Seen Them All

One Week With The 2009 Toyota 4Runner: A Review and a Few Lessons


May 26, 2009 Cars By

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With most of the items that we review here at Gear Patrol, we strive to curate and highlight gear that’s attainable for most guys. Yes, some of it will still be ridiculous and unaffordable, but we are trying to focus on the staples.

In a continued effort to attack products with our signature G.E.A.R. treatment (Gear Patrol, Enthusiast, and Amateur Reviews), we’re introducing car reviews, specifically cars that… well… you can actually buy. Our hope is to take these four-wheeled contraptions out for extended review (days and weeks, not minutes and hours) and to see how they hold up in real life, with real men at the helm. We’ll see how they do in everything from a daily commute to a Las Vegas road trip. Down the road, maybe we’ll even do a few challenges (a la Top Gear) of our own.

Either way, we want your feedback and opinions as we do these. Unlike those done by pros at, say, Car & Driver or Edmunds, a lot of our tests will rely on rudimentary testing equipment (if any), seat-of-the-pants analysis, and possibly some cool photographs. But we have some advantages, the most important being your opinions. Send us an email (sayhello @ gearpatrol.com), leave us a comment, or holler at us through Twitter. Hell, if you’re interested in doing a review of your own, take a shot and submit it through our Open Forum. If you’re in an area where we’re reviewing a car, maybe you can even join us. We’re up for pretty much anything.

You’ve seen Bradley’s review of the Nissan Cube. Now, lets get into the driver seat of the 2009 Toyota 4Runner.

Hello 4Runner

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Gear Patrol’s request to Toyota for a 4Runner resulted in the procurement of a Salsa Red Pearl 2009 Toyota 4Runner Limited, V8. A beast, this is. It couldn’t help but remind us of just 10 years ago, when fellow high school cronies couldn’t get their grubby mitts off of one. Everyone from the high school quarterback (not this writer), to the chess club captain (not this writer) wanted one, and rightfully so. Whether the base model or a loaded-to-the-gills Limited version, the 4Runner melded just the right amount of ruggedness, utility, and style. It was an SUV in the days when saying you drove the acronym purported any kind of specific cool. A day, long before crossovers, roll-over protection, and gas mileage concerns. It was the day of $1.25 gas and a free car wash with fill-up.

We had plotted a course that would take us from Los Angeles to Las Vegas by way of Joshua Tree National Park for a photoshoot with the 4Runner, as well as an alternate route via the Mojave desert. This trip was ultimately about a poker game at our weekend digs in the Encore Hotel at the Wynn Casino in Las Vegas, a seemingly ideal excursion to let the 4Runner and it’s not-so fuel-efficient, yet seductively powerful, V8 stretch its legs (a more miserly V6 is widely available).

The Technical

4runner-logoLets get the technical aspects out of the way. The 2009 Toyota 4Runner is in its last model year before a redesign. Those of you men who only like the latest and greatest should hold off for next year. However, most car nuts will agree that vehicles tend to be at their finest the year before a new model hits the roads. Engineers and designers have managed to work out all the kinks and bugaboos and everything works as it should. Our 4Runner was no exception.

The 2009 4Runner rides on a reinforced body-on-frame design, a tried and true but dated method of building cars trucks. This is in comparison with integrated vehicle design (modern crossovers, cars) which tends to result in more stability. When you look past all the electronic gadgetry and plastic body molding, the 4Runner’s roots are basically based off of mudslinging, utilitarian pick-up trucks. It is, after all, of the same genes as the Toyota HiLux, which Top Gear made infamous by demonstrating its near impossibility to destroy. Unfortunately, Gear Patrol doesn’t have the budget to buy our own Toyota to annihilate (perhaps one day…), but we’ll take our collective experience with Toyota’s to trust this 4Runner’s longevity.

4runner-interiorIn terms of aesthetics, the best shot at explaining the looks of the Oh-Nine 4Runner takes us back to the high school metaphor. Remember the one girl you knew in high school that would still look great today? Well, fast forward to your 10 year reunion and she still does looks great, but you’re older… wiser. You’ve matured (as has she), and though she still looks great, you know there are better looking options. This is the 4Runner and if/when you do get one, you realize you’re not necessarily buying it for its current looks. Some will like the blocky bumpers and bulging fender flares, but the style won’t translate to off-road performance. The profile of the 4Runner we’ve all come to know and love is still there, but its now shopping for clothes at Talbots rather than Express.

That aside, the 4Runner has rugged chops. The 237 horsepower 4.0 liter V6 and 260 horsepower 4.7 liter V8 both perform admirably paired with the silky 5-speed automatic transmission. The V8 has a brawny growl that never grows old, unlike the frequent trips to the gas station you’ll be making. Acceleration is a confident endeavor in the 4Runner, and highway passing is smooth and capable; we’d go so far as saying, it ramps up with gusto. It should be noted that in a quick side test we were able to get the V8 4Runner to 15mph… in idle. Yes, idle.

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Utilitarians will appreciate the 9.1 inches of ground clearance (yet still handles with aplomb on the interstate), optional locking rear differential, optional Bilstein shocks, and hefty towing capabilities. In our limited off-road testing (Mojave and Joshua Tree National Park trails), the 4Runner remained composed, navigating steep obstacles and pot holes the size of a Prius without skipping a beat. The V8 growled like a mechanical zealot and the suspension kept this particular driver from spilling his obnoxiously massive McCafé iced coffee… with milk.

Real World Driving

As for in-city driving, which 99% of you will will spend 99% of your time doing, the 4Runner absolutely does not disappoint. 18″ wheels fill the wheel wells nicely, and the Salsa Red 4Runner managed to make an understated statement, even on the infamous Louis Vuitton clad shoppers of Rodeo Drive where we took the photograph below.

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Road performance, which we tested in Los Angeles rush hour traffic, is best summed up in what I like to fondly call “One (Thesaurus) Word Reviews”.

  • Stop & Go Traffic: Cinch
  • Braking: Impetuous
  • Passing, Lane Changing: Indefatigable
  • Drive Position: Grandiloquent
  • Hands-Free Driving Factor*: Elementary

*I don’t condone it, but there are times when you’ve got to cram a meal, a conference call, and an iPod playlist-change into your commute (probably on your way to the great outdoors). Sometimes you use your knee, elbow, or chin to steer. Sometimes all at the same time. Sometimes you’re essentially doing everything but driving, and this is a sad truth of reality. This is the “hands-free” driving we tested.

The Road Trip

gear-patrol-mohave-desert-mapIn an honest mistake of over overambitious travel planning, we (rather, I) planned to make the 140 mile trip from LA to Joshua Tree National Park, photograph our 4Runner, and make the 215 mile trip from Joshua Tree to Las Vegas in one afternoon/evening – just in time for a 9pm poker tournament at the Wynn. Simple, right?

Wrong. What we I didn’t account for was the complete lack of cartography (electronic or paper-based) skills, cell phone service, fueling stations, Red Bull, road signs, and/or paved roads. The lack of which makes for a successful road trip, unless you’re on a safari, and not scheduled to play in a poker tournament.

The Mojave National Preservation is 695,200 acres. I’m almost certain we saw every freaking one of them. Two… hundred… feet at a time (approximate distance the 4Runner’s Projector Beam very-bright headlamps illuminate). By the grace of navigational gods, we did finally emerge from the Mojave National Preservation unscathed, 13 hours later with -0.5 gallons of gas. We only frightened what I believe to be three desert dwelling creatures that have never seen a human, let alone a Toyota 4Runner. And never once treading on an illegal path (don’t quote me on that). We did finally make it to Las Vegas for a poker tournament, just not that tournament.

It is said that the Mojave National Preservation is beautiful, and though our only encounter with beauty was the sweet glow of a Mobil gas station sign, we have no doubt that any road trip adventurer will want to attempt a (legal) crossing of the Preservation. Perhaps a trip to Joshua Tree National Park or Las Vegas. Perhaps, in a Toyota 4Runner.

Three Lessons To Take Away

  1. Don’t drive the Mojave National Preservation at night without fuel or maps.
  2. Get a Toyota Highlander… for your wife. Let her drive the family hauler. Your active lifestyle requires something like the 4Runner. Rugged, capable, and equipped with a deceivingly large fuel tank.
  3. Don’t let me plan your next trip from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.

Cost: $28,640+

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