In a world of SUVs that’ve been softened by demand and suburban wusses, the 2015 Toyota 4Runner stands out. The Ford Explorer’s now a grocery-getter. The Nissan Pathfinder has morphed into a CUV fit for a soccer dad. Meanwhile, the new 4Runner, with its chunky tires, boxy body and the ergonomics of LEGO Duplo blocks, gives the finger to good drag coefficient numbers; it just wants to crest a rocky hill with mud on the rocker panels. This car doesn’t care about beauty (its maw is about as attractive as Manuel Noriega), mostly because it’s meant to do what other SUVs don’t: go out into the world and make an adventure out of things. It eschews refinement, and that’s becoming ever more rare.
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First, the fascia looks like a Michael Bay Transformer reject with its hugely framed grille, conglomeration of angles and butchered vents from an Aston Martin One-77. That is unimportant. What is important is that it gets a good 33-degree approach angle that you’ll need to get to your Rocky Mountain picnic of beef jerky and stale coffee. The rest of the body is unadorned and appropriately rugged-looking with virtually no chrome and bulging fenders that speak to its mud-tossing intentions.
This car doesn’t care about beauty (its maw is about as attractive as Manuel Noriega), mostly because it’s meant to do what other SUVs don’t.
The interior of the 4Runner does seriously look like the land that time forgot, unless you opt for the slightly dressier digs of the Limited version. But it’s still very truck-like with its fat four-spoked steering wheel, building-slab-sized nonsequitir “trim” above the glove compartment, window switches at chest-level, plasticky transmission selector dial and a gearshift knob that looks like it was lifted off a dump truck. This is all part of the 4Runner’s rugged appeal. If you want something fancy, get a Lexus. Seating is comfortable, with an option for a third row; steering is good for something this chunky and the fairly quiet ride betrays its woodsy leanings.
Speaking of woodsy, the 4Runner 4×4 gets a four-wheel-drive system with a transfer case, part-time four-wheel-drive or a full-time mode with a locking center diff. It wants to go way beyond shopping malls and PTA meetings. The 4.0-liter V6 carries over from the previous model, which is adequate for most drives, short of gunning it on the freeway passing lane to get in front of that Mustang GT. 270 horsepower and 278 lb-ft won’t scare anyone, but it’s still enough to get you where you need to go and nets a respectable 17/22 mpg in 4×4 trim. It handles dirt and mud like a lumberjack slapping a poseur from Jersey Shore, and seems ready to continue doing so in the roughest of driving situations.
Toyota doesn’t exactly have the magic formula for SUVs, but the 4Runner does retain the same tough goodness that’s its been known for over the past five generations. If your plan is to pack up your rock-climbing gear, whitewater kayaks or single-tracking mountain bikes to get out into God’s green and rocky earth, then look no further.