DriveApart Review: 2013 Toyota 4Runner

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RideApart Overview
Does anyone remember the first generation Toyota 4Runner? No, not the one with four doors but rather the one that invented the SUV genre in a rather crude manner by merely adding a top to the rear of a Toyota Pickup so that a bench seat and seat belts could be crammed back there. Rear seat passengers did have to cram their soon contorted bodies into the second row which also lacked a bit in the headroom department. It was, after all, a pick-up truck with a camper shell on top essentially. My, how times have changed.

What We Like
Everything about the 2013 Toyota 4Runner screams pure and unadulterated SUV with few to no weak “crossover” undertones. This “truck” is still built on a body on frame chassis meaning that it is extremely capable off-road and for hauling cargo. Surprisingly, it also manages to squeeze an extra set of emergency foldaway seats in the ample 47.2 cubic foot cargo hold. The interior design, while blocky and very angular, suits the vehicle well and even the climate control knobs are designed to be usable when wearing thick work or snow gloves. Clever.

What’s Not to Like
If you are looking for a car that handles like a Lotus or a Porsche then clearly you are in the wrong market segment here. In fact, the 4Runner corners and handles much like a pick-up truck which is to say that you don’t want to push it too hard, not even as far as you might push your average car based crossover. The 2013 Toyota 4Runner is meant to tackle the really rough stuff and come through it unscathed and there aren’t many SUV’s out there like this anymore. Sure, we may need to be more cautious on mountain roads but the payoff is an SUV that makes you feel as tough and cool as this vehicle is to the core.

Lots of cargo space available in the 4Runner.

Tow and Haul
The 2013 Toyota 4Runner comes with a maximum of 89 cubic feet of cargo capacity inside the vehicle with the rear seats folded for all of the gear you don’t want to get wet or to be exposed to the elements. Overall tow capacity is an impressive 4,500 pounds but always remember that you need to weigh both your trailer and whatever it is you are towing together. So don’t just weigh your racing motorcycles separate from the trailer and think that is all you are going to be towing. You can often find a tow scale at places like an RV or trailer retailer. Some Toyota dealers also have them on site so just ask at the service department.

To get another vehicle with three row seating, body on frame assembly and this kind of hauling toughness you might want to turn to a Chevy Tahoe. The popular 5.3 liter 335 horsepower/320 lb. feet of torque V8 allows 2WD models to tow up to 8,500 pounds. That means that this Chevy is built more like a heavy duty truck in the vein of the Silverado than the 4Runner which is capable like a smaller and lighter Tacoma. Still, how often do you need to tow over 8,000 pounds? If you aren’t carrying a giant ski boat then maybe you don’t need this SUV. Also, prices start about $39,000 so you are bound to spend more on the Tahoe.

The Drive
Surprisingly, there is quite a bit of fun to be had from behind the wheel of the 2013 Toyota 4Runner and while we aren’t talking about the usual Miata-style handling thrills we are talking about a sense of imperviousness when piloting this puppy. Steering feel is not loose or wobbly like in so many SUVs or crossovers and offers a nice heft in your hands making it easy to pilot the 4Runner where you want it to go which is very important should you be maneuvering boulder filled dirt trails or backing a couple of Jet Skis into a lake.

The passenger seats.

Engine and Drivetrain
The 2013 Toyota 4Runner Limited, like all 4Runners, is powered by a 4.0 liter 270 horsepower/276 lb. feet of torque V6 that puts out ample power for most situations you will encounter in a suburban or urban environment. Thanks to the fat torque curve, the 4Runner is also very adept at climbing steep hills and dirt trails. The engine can be a little raucous at times as it hits redline but if you wanted serenity you should have bought a Lexus.

Interesting Vehicle Features

This is pretty much the only SUV left in the known universe that still has a rear most window that will roll all the way down which completely cuts out wind buffeting in the cabin should the back seat passengers want their windows down and the front passengers want them closed. For anyone who has ever heard what wind buffeting sounds like in an SUV then this is a huge blessing to the eardrums. Also, the 4Runner has been on sale since 1984 in Japan and was at first called the Hi-Lux Surf. Good name change that happened there on the part of Toyota.

Gas Mileage
The EPA estimates that the 2013 Toyota 4Runner will return fuel economy of 17 city/21 highway in 4×4 Limited guise but we only once cracked the 16 mile per gallon mark during a long freeway cruise. No matter, this monster SUV runs on regular and you have to understand it’s a hefty beast weighing over 4,500 pounds in and of itself before any passengers or payload are added. Thankfully there is a nicely sized 23 gallon fuel tank.

View of the interior.

Interior and Exterior
When you see the 2013 Toyota 4Runner from the outside it is unmistakable which SUV this is as the overall ethos of the shape has not changed much at its core since the second generation model. Given how many 4Runners that Toyota has sold since it gave this SUV four doors, it’s no wonder that it hasn’t messed too much with a successful look. It’s macho without being a caricature of itself although on the inside some of the military angularity to the dash can come across as a bit heavy handed.

For instance, must the power window switches sit right on top of the door where you usually rest an arm? And while we know that the ride height is elevated for off-road duty, lifting heavy items into the cargo hold can be back breaking work. Suffice it to say, this is no easy to live with RAV4 or CR-V. But are either of those as cool?

Our fully loaded (and we say fully worth it) 2013 Toyota 4Runner Limited 4×4 stickered for $44,395 and came with leather seats, automatic climate control, heated front seats, 7 passenger seating, in-dash navigation with Entune, Bluetooth, a power moonroof and standard tow hitch package. Other SUV to look at are the Jeep Grand Cherokee starting at $27,695 and the Nissan Pathfinder at $28,650.

The 4Runner in action.

The Verdict

Truly, the 2013 Toyota 4runner was the precursor (some might say forerunner if you’ll pardon the pun) to all of the pretender SUVs and crossovers that came after it. It’s built with a solidity and toughness that you just won’t find from a Hyundai Tucson. Not that there is anything wrong with a Tucson but too many SUVs nowadays are just really tall hatchbacks where as a 4Runner is an honest to goodness SUV truck ready to hit the trail or a mountain road with your bike trailer posing no strain on this legend’s mighty powertrain.

  • Austiopath

    All these photos are of a Toyota RAV4… did you even drive this thing?

  • Stuki

    This one really is the SUV to beat, if actual multipurpose functionality is your gig. Not the most exciting thing on creation, but so bloody competent at pretty much everything, it almost hurts.

    Get the 7 seater, either base or limited, rather than the Trail, or any other version with weird, sliding cargo trays or such. Not for the number of seats, but because 2nd row is different on it to facilitate ingress/egress from third row. Which results in them being simple fold flat seatback types, rather than lift-the-custhion, fold-the-back types. Which, combined with the fold down third, means you have a completely flat floor, with no interuptions between the tailgate and the back of the front seats. Making it one heck of a bed. 7 feet long. On the 5 seat versions, the distance between the 2nd row lifted cushion and the tailgate is too short (5 1/2 feet or so) for most people to sleep in comfort. And while rooftop tents may look all kinds of cool to Discovery Channel glued dweebs, they suck bigtime in practice (In the US, at least). Cars as large and competent as the 4runner should be designed with guerrilla camping in mind. And with a slight window tint, the sunroof open for ventilation (with a mosquito net cover), and go manywhere ground clearance and tires, the 7 seat 4r really is the bee’s knees as far as that particular task is concerned.

    For winter use, the Limited is preferable, as it has a (lockable) center diff (full time 4wd), instead of a simple transfer case. That being said, Toyota has managed to make stability control effective even in 4H on the Base and Trail, so the difference is not night and day (probably not worth the money, if money matters). The Limited suspension also has some hydraulic wizardry that makes it roll less on road, seemingly without too much ill effect off road.

    For actual offroading, the Trail is better equipped, but again, who the heck wants a big SUV they cannot sleep safely ensconced in, in bear country? If your going to be sleeping in a tent on the Alaska highway, you might as well ride up there on a bike instead. Also, for “actual” off-roading, a modded Jeep or Tacoma (or older 4r) is, to this lumbering giant, what a 250lb Ktm is to a GS anyway: Cheaper, more fun and just plain better for the task at hand. This thing is an Adventure Car, not a Jeep. And, as such, it’s by far the best of them, to boot. At least unless your preferences and finances run to 3/4 & 1 tonne trucks with popup campers, Earth Roamers, Unicats and the like.

    For everyday use, it would be better with a manual. The FJ (the same car, just smaller, cruder, less practical but more responsive and “fun”) has one available, and it makes all the difference in the world as far as making the vehicle seem more lively day to day. As torquey as the V6 may be, it has two distinct operating personalities: below 3500, it feels as if it is going to stall, but somehow never does, instead laboriously and slowly gaining speed. Above 3500, it comes on cam, and is quite responsive. Guess where Toyota’s EPA informed engineers built the slushbox to keep it almost exclusively? :) Fine for long road trips where range and fuel management is important, but a bit lumbering in town and on The Snake…..

    One caveat; if you’re much above 6 feet tall with a tall upper body, there’s not much headroom either front or back. For such a tall vehicle, there is surprisingly little headroom, as you do sit high (pretty much as high as on a GS, in fact….), and bolt upright (again, like the GS…pattern, anyone?). That’s how you get legroom for 3 rows in a midsize package. And also how you get better than GS ground clearance in a BOF SUV.

    Anyway, taking into account this thing’s comfort, capabilities, livability, reliability and just plain competence at pretty much everything, I’d have a hard time coming up with a “better” only vehicle for a single (except a bike, perhaps), a couple or a small family. It’s the kind of car you buy, and then never really feel any particular need to trade in, simply because nothing uniformly better ever gets released, nor do the thing ever break down. If any car is a 10 out of 10, this one is it.

    • shaun

      You should probably start writing for a magazine or, at least, this website. Your comment shines above the review. Please keep commenting away.

    • Bob

      Regarding the fold-flat seats: Are you saying you only fold down the second-row seatbacks and don’t have to lift the seat bottoms? Otherwise, I don’t see how you’re going to yank 1 1/2 more feet out of a vehicle that’s the same length inside as it’s two brother models. Besides that, in order for the cargo floor to be truly flat in models with third-row seats–as you describe them, the second-row seat will either have to sit lower than the models without third-row seats or the cargo floor isn’t flat after laying the seats down. In other words, the cargo floor will slant upwards at the point where the the second-row seats begin. Something’s gotta give somewhere. In the two models I checked out, the second-row seat bottoms flip up and the seat backs flip down, making a flat cargo deck. But there’s no 7ft. long deck. I know the Trail model didn’t have a third row seat, but I seem to remember the SR5 having a third row seat, but still it was a two-step operation–flip up the seat bottom, flip down the seat back.

      Regarding performance: I’ve driven them, both the 2012 SR5 and the 2013 Trail model. They are weak going up hill–I’m talking gradual, not-steep slopes, unless you stomp on the pedal, meaning they basically feel gutless under normal conditions. A lot of 2011-2013 4Runner owners complain about lack of power in the mountains and having to keep it in “S” mode, or to pop it there for passing on the freeway–these characteristics bely lack of power and questionable engineering. But the 4Runners never feel as though they’re going to “stall.” That’s a totally misleading and incorrect statement. What manufacturer would make a vehicle like that and what crazy customer would buy a vehicle with that kind of characteristic?

  • Susanna Schick

    I heart my 4runner. I’ve thought of selling it, now that I don’t need it to get my race bike to the track every month. But that would be like ditching the nice, reliable girl that’s always there for you for that mercurial supermodel who could give a fuck about you and your pathetic needs. I loaded her up to the rafters, stuck a 12′ or 18′ packed trailer and drove to LA. She was all “Is that all you got? Cuz, I can take more, if you want. You’re not even using the roof rack, hun.” Runs back & forth across the country like it ain’t no thing. I just wish she looked as cool as the FJ Cruiser. It’d be rad to get her pimped out with some sharper lines…

    • appliance5000

      FJ doesn’t look cool.