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Don Adair: Toyota 4Runner conquers winter like no other

The 4Runner's truck underpinnings, solid rear axle and 9.6 inches of ground clearance are the platform on which Toyota layers manifold 4WD functions. (Toyota)

It’s tempting to call Toyota’s 4Runner the last of a dying breed.

In fact, it’s more like an extinct breed. You only need one hand to count the midsize, truck-based SUVs for sale in the US.

The SUV’s decline makes sense. Crossovers, which are built atop car platforms, are more comfortable, utilitarian and economical. Toyota’s midsize crossover, the Highlander, is a better fit for most families than the body-on-frame 4Runner.

Yet Toyota persists.

Count me among the fans of 4Runner ($35,170, including transportation). Buckling oneself into an extravagantly capable vehicle is a comforting experience, especially coming at the tag-end of a winter marked by berm-jammed city streets and toboggan-run back roads.

The 4Runner is bred for such conditions, and worse. Its truck underpinnings, solid rear axle and 9.6 inches of ground clearance are the platform on which Toyota layers manifold 4WD functions.

The basic, part-time 4x4 system has a two-speed transfer case that pairs a set of low-range gears for extreme conditions and a high range for normal driving.

To this can be added a locking rear differential — it forces the rear wheels to spin at the same rate, producing maximum low-speed traction — and Toyota’s computerized Crawl Control (CRAWL) feature.

CRAWL excels in technical situations, where its ability to modulate power to the wheels with traction — and withhold it from those without — permits progress in near-impossible conditions. 
The top-level 4Runner, the Limited ($43,485), gets a full-time 4WD system that operates without driver intervention. Its “open” center differential automatically adjusts power fore and aft as conditions change.

All 4Runners get Hill-start Assist Control, which holds it in place on steep pitches as the driver moves her foot from the brake pedal to the gas pedal. Available Downhill Assist Control eases the 4Runner down steep slopes at a constant speed, preventing slides caused by wheel-lockup.

Our TRD Off-road Premium ($40,865) was equipped with Toyota’s Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS), which allows for extended wheel travel off-road and less body lean on.

The Limited’s unique X-REAS suspension instantaneously tweaks shock-absorber responses over rough surfaces and during cornering. It includes a central absorber that soaks up lateral weight transfer to reduce body lean in corners.

A 4Runners are powered by 4.0-liter V-6 (270 horsepower/278 pound-feet of torque) V-6, which is paired with a five-speed automatic transmission. 4Runner is tow-rated to 5,000 pounds and an integrated tow-hitch receiver and wiring harness are standard.

Most 4Runners seat five, the SR5 and Limited trims can be ordered with a third row. They are also the only trims available in either RWD or 4WD configurations.

SR5 standard features include cloth upholstery, underbody skid plates, foglights, a backup camera, keyless entry, five 12-volt power outlets and a 120-volt AC outlet.

The Limited fetches perforated leather seats, a sunroof, dual-zone climate control, parking alerts, a 15-speaker audio system and 20-inch wheels.

Toyota’s Entune infotainment interface appears in various iterations throughout the lineup. 

In the end, no 4Runner is luxurious like a top-tier crossover is luxurious. Nevertheless, there is not another rig I’d rather drive when the going gets tough.

Contact Don at don@dadair.com, or visit www.dadair.com.

2017 Toyota 4Runner 4X4 Off-Road Premium
Vehicle base price: $31,473
Trim level base price: $39,295
As tested: $43,433
Options included sliding cargo deck w underfloor storage; Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System; moonroof; paint protection film; roof-rack cross bars; wheel locks; hitch ball mount; first aid kit.
Tow rating: 5,000 lb
EPA rating: 18 combined/17 city/20 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified

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