By Sue Mead, Motor Matters

Turning 30 years old, it's a clever move for Toyota to keep the original 4Runner's DNA, with its unique body-on-frame utility, high ground clearance, and other features that make it a capable off-roader.

Toyota 4Runner is fast becoming the last of its breed with a full-boxed frame and a rugged suspension. The majority of today's SUV buyers have moved to crossovers, such as the Toyota RAV4 and Highlander that give a more comfortable ride, and have a more modernized look and feel. So, it's essential that Toyota add new ingredients to the 4Runner recipe.

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The 2014 4Runner gets a new look on the outside with LED tail lights, redesigned wheels and four new colors; updated styling on the inside with a new audio that includes Toyota's next-generation Entune Audio system; a standard back-up camera; upgraded trailering capability; and an improved, quieter ride. Prices will be released close to the on-sale date in September. The current model runs from $31,490 to $37,155.

The 2014 Toyota 4Runner comes in 2WD and 4WD versions and in three grades: more rugged SR5 (price will be maintained but with added value, says Toyota); Trail (gets a lower price and keeps the rough-and-tough look of the SR5); and the uplevel Limited that has been designed with "urban ruggedness" and comes with premium features (expected in a $40,000-plus SUV).

We drove the new 4Runner in Pennsylvania on the first press drive of the new, fifth-generation model. Toyota provided a collection on-road courses for our drive, as well as set up an aggressive off-road course that accentuated the backcountry capability of this vehicle that appeals to individuals and families who need a midsize SUV with two or three rows of seating, some decent stowage and the ability to tow a variety of loads, with its 5,000-pound towing capacity.

While there are different styling cues for each grade, the new 4Runner has adopted more of the overall looks of its angular and boxy sibling, the FJ Cruiser. Under its sheet metal is the same reinforced body-on-frame design featuring a fully boxed frame, high-strength steel, and a rugged suspension.

The 2014 4Runner continues with the current engine and transmission, motivated by a 4.0-liter V-6 that gets 270 horsepower and 278 lb.-ft. of torque, which an EPA-rated fuel economy of 17 city/23 highway/19 combined. It has an independent double wishbone suspension in front with a stabilizer bar and a four-link rigid suspension with coil springs in the rear.

There is a dramatic change in the on-road ride and handling of the 2014 4Runner, as a result of increased torsional rigidity, improved vehicle stability and ride control, plus an improved braking pedal feel. The biggest difference we could will feel a more mannered and not as "trucky" ride as in previous generations; it also has a quieter ride due to noise suppression improvements. Of note, Toyota has added Trailer Sway Control that is a safety and comfort aid with towing.

During our off-road driving was where the 4Runner really shined. It has great ground clearance, impressive wheel articulation, and excellent approach and departure angles to help it climb over obstacles such as longs, rocks and boulders, and ascend and descend hills with steep angles. Crawl Control is like an off-road cruise control that is a helpful driver assist under conditions that require slow and steady motoring.

While there are midsize unibody SUVs in the market with a lot of off-road capability, we find that the 4Runner's traditional body-on-frame is an important feature for many buyers who also want the torsional strength to handle all terrains, even in the most extreme situations.

For the 4Runner owner, it's about "getting to the adventure." It will do anything and go anywhere, and a big part of the 4Runner's adventurous utility is its off-road capability. It features off-road technologies that help owners go anywhere, whether they're driving to a lake or camp site, or off-roading recreationally.



VEHICLE TYPE_________________ 5/7-passenger midsize 4x4 SUV

BASE PRICE____________________ Estimated: $32,000

MOTOR TYPE___________________ 24-valve DOHC V-6 w/EFI

DISPLACEMENT_________________ 4.0-liter

HORSEPOWER (net)_____________ 270 at 5600 rpm

TORQUE (lb.-ft.)________________ 278 at 4400 rpm

TRANSMISSION_________________ 5-speed automatic

OVERALL LENGTH_______________ 189.9 in.

TURNING CIRCLE (curb-to-curb)___ 37.4 ft.

CURB WEIGHT__________________ 4,675 lbs.

FUEL CAPACITY________________ 23.0 gal.

EPA MILEAGE RATING___________ 17 mpg city, 22 mpg highway

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