Driving the 2022 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro around the Chicago suburbs for a week, I heard a voice, from the 5-speed automatic transmission, from the ladder frame, from its large 4.0-liter V-6, to the passersby who appraised it, “Ahhhh (hiking up their pants) they don’t make ‘em like this anymore.”
The SUV doesn’t pretend to be off-road capable by slapping on bulky burly cosmetics like some unibody crossover dilettante. The off-road version of the 4Runner is the real-deal SUV—it shares a platform with the Toyota Tacoma mid-size truck and comes with a 2-speed transfer case. As I was reminded in a week of testing it in winter weather but far from the untrod path, the genuine article comes with compromises.
It’s loud and inefficient, with outdated tech and compromised packaging. But it’s stubbornly if not obstinately Toyota: slow to change and keen on not fixing things that ain’t broke. The current 4Runner launched way back in 2010 and hasn’t changed much, despite the return of the Ford Bronco and new versions of the Jeep Wrangler that include a plug-in hybrid.
If Toyota keeps making it, and it should because it sold more than 120,000 units in 2022, down from the previous year’s peak in this millennium of 144,696 units, the popular SUV may get redesigned with the Tacoma, possibly for the 2024 model year. It could be a different beast.
Here’s where the fifth generation charms, and where it doesn’t.
Hit: Authentic SUV looks
The tester came in a vibrant orange that Toyota calls Solar Octane. Crowned with a tubular black roof rack, riding on 17-inch black alloy wheels wrapped in Nitto Terra Grappler mud terrain tires, and adorned with bulging ribbed body work, the Great Pumpkin charmed passersby. Suburban moms loved the look, shaggy teens looped around it, and middle-aged men asked where I was going. Even if they didn’t love the look, they appreciated the off-road suggestion. The 4Runner TRD Pro stands out above other SUVs. Why make a new one when this one mints money?
Miss: Loud, coarse, crude, appealing
The 4Runner takes back the outdated adage that there’s no replacement for displacement. The 4.0 liters get spread out in six voluminous cylinders instead of eight. It sounds like a tamer V-8, rising and falling with the throttle, but idling without much ado. It also delivers a 17-mpg combined EPA rating, and I fell short of that. On the road, the all-terrain tires and old-school body lead to enough cabin noise to drown out the sounds of whomever is in back. Add the TRD Pro roof rack and it’s a cacophony. Could be a good thing. The trucky suspension also has it bouncing around like a dog coming home.
Hit: Buttons, dials, knobs
The chunky blockiness carries over inside, where giant climate, temperature, and drive mode dials could be turned with claws, let alone gloved hands. Yet, little roller dials for the seat heaters in the console require a delicate touch. There are some curiosities, such as the traction control and crawl settings in the ceiling. The 8.0-inch touchscreen remains an afterthought, a capitulation to modernity.
Fuggitaboudit. Plug in Apple CarPlay or Android Auto and be done with it. The blocky dash minimizes the screen in keeping with the character of the 4Runner. A larger screen would morph it into something else, and lose some of its charm. It was a nice reprieve from the distractions and demands of larger screens, if only for a week.
Hit: Power tailgate window
The 4Runner’s power sliding tailgate window remains one of its simple but smart features. Power buttons on the console and on the outer tailgate make it easy to load stuff in or take things out of a loaded cargo area without the risk of spilling precarious cargo out of the gate. Dogs love it, and the open wind feel is more liberating than a sunroof but not quite as exposed as a Wrangler (or Bronco) with its doors off. It’s a good half step when off-roading, to be among the elements without being threatened by them. There are downsides, however. The engine has to be shut off to put the window up or down from the outside for safety reasons. And there’s no power tailgate option.
Miss: Limited rear seat room
Rear headroom is limited for passengers taller than 6-foot-2, give or take an inch. The 38.6 inches of headroom and 32.9 inches of legroom in the second row trail most every mid-size crossover SUV and many compact crossovers. The seats don’t slide because the seat bottoms flip up against the backs of the front seats, and the rear seat backs fold flat (but the headrests have to be folded first) for a huge, tall, flat cargo floor that totals nearly 90 cubic feet. It’s a tedious process compared to modern SUVs. TRD Pro versions don’t offer a third row, to boot. That probably a good thing because it’s way too cramped in other grades.
Hit: Cutish storage elements
Toyota compensates for compromised interior seating with clever if not outdated storage considerations. The asymmetrical layout of the console cupholders has some slots for phones and wallets, but the cupholder itself can be removed for larger, Yeti-like water bottles. The underside of the center console has a slot labeled “Tissue,” but it can also secure and conceal a wallet.
Miss: Sliding Cargo Deck
The tester came with a floor deck that could slide out of the cargo hold. You could put in an air mattress back there when camping. That’s the best case scenario I can consider. For tailgating or camping, it slides out to two positions and holds up to 440 pounds, so it makes a sturdier and cleaner tailgate seat than the rear bumper. It’s only $350, so it would be totally worth it if you were considering sleeping in the back. Otherwise, it eats up cargo room.
The 2022 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro’s macho looks and genuine SUV bona fides appeal to a wide swath of people, even those who would never use most of its capability. But its compromised packaging, outdated infotainment and powertrain sink its TCC Rating to 4.8 out of 10. You can’t put a number on cool, though.
2022 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
Base price: $40,890 including $1,335 destination
Price as tested: $55,725
Drivetrain: 270-hp 4.0-liter V-6 with a 5-speed automatic and four-wheel drive
EPA fuel economy: 16/19/17 mpg
The hits: real deal SUV, power tailgate window, sturdy control interface
The misses: Loud, coarse, inefficient, limited cabin and cargo space
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