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Motoring: Toyota 4Runner best left for country roads

Nauman Farooq | Interrobang | Sports | March 29th, 2010

Before we get into details about the 2010 Toyota 4Runner, we should look into the year Toyota has had so far.

2010 will be remembered as the year Toyota would most want to forget. First came news about problems with accelerator pedals in most of the cars in their line-up. This unintended acceleration had sadly claimed a few lives, and Toyota had to go into investigating the issue and having a massive recall.

Then a few weeks later, a recall was issued regarding the brakes on the Toyota Prius and the Lexus HS250h. This was followed by a front drive shaft issue with the Tacoma pick-up truck, and most recently another recall was added for the Corolla (the best selling car ever made) regarding an issue with its steering.

So things are not looking good for Toyota and it seems the troubles are very far from over. Despite the financial stress these recalls will have on the company, the damage to its once bullet-proof reliability reputation will take much longer to recover from.

Personally, I think Toyota will come out of this mess just fine, because if you ask most Toyota owners, they will tell you that they are quite happy with their cars and have not had any issues with them.

I have been testing Toyota and Lexus products for five years, and not once did any of their cars ever have any sort of technical or mechanical issue, but for years I have had one huge issue with their products.

My issue is from a lack of excitement they offer. A few years ago, Toyota decided that its line-up could do without any sports cars, so they killed the Supra and then the Celica. The MR2 also has been resigned to the history books.

Instead, they focused on boring family cars (like the Camry and Corolla) and larger trucks and SUV's (Tundra, Sequoia, etc.).

While these vehicles are well made and well equipped, they are not what anyone would call, fun. They had become appliances with wheels, built to do a job and nothing more.

The one exception however is the FJ Cruiser. This cartoonish styled SUV not only makes you smile when you look at it or step inside, it is actually a joy to drive, because it makes you feel like you're a kid again.

This brings us neatly back to today's topic of discussion, the new 4Runner. You see, the 4Runner shares the same engine and transmission that you'll find in the FJ Cruiser, so you'd think this would be just as much fun to drive.

Sadly no. As far as driving is concerned, the 4Runner can be described in just one word, “meh!”

From the very moment you put it into drive it feels like farm machinery. First you'll notice how loud it is as you pull away, and not the nice kind of loud either. Then there is the acceleration, or the lack of it. Taking the first off ramp onto the highway, it felt like the vehicle was stuck in low-range. Even a heavy foot on the throttle made little difference to its progress. This is particularly surprising because its not like this vehicle has a weak engine. It has a 4.0-litre, six-cylinder engine that produces 270 hp and 278 lb/ft of torque.

It's mated to a five-speed automatic gearbox, which should do the job just fine to haul this 16-ft truck, but due to its heft, performance is the last thing its capable of delivering on.

The same goes for on the road handling. Putting it through corners is like asking an elephant to perform figure skating, it's not going to do very well.

The soft suspension with hard dampers and its unwilling chassis are just not up to the task of making this SUV perform through the corners. The vague steering didn't help matters either.

Couple that with very hard, quite uncomfortable seats, and things certainly don't look very promising for the new 4Runner.

So as a driving tool, it falls flat on its rather flat face. But it does have its plus points too. First of is its size. It is huge, both inside and out. So no matter where you're seated or what you're carrying, you'll find plenty of space. Then there is the electric window in the rear tailgate (a trademark for the 4Runner) that is a very neat feature to have. And then, most surprisingly, is its fuel-economy. I thought this vehicle would be a massive gas-guzzler, but it's not. I averaged 12.6-litres/100km, which is quite good. I don't know how it achieved that, but it did, so kudos to Toyota on that.

Plus I am sure that on the off-road track, it would do very well. So if you live in the city, avoid the 4Runner like the plague, but if you live out in farm country, this might just be the truck for you.

Prices start at $36,800, which is not bad, however my test vehicle for some reason was worth just over $45,000.

So here is my advice. Don't worry about the recall woes Toyota is going through right now, I am sure only a very minor percentage of vehicles actually had any fault with them, so you can buy one with confidence. Also, if you live in the city and need a large family hauler, you really should take a long hard look at the Toyota Sienna minivan, which is quite good.

But unless you live out in the country or are a huge off-roading enthusiast, it's best to avoid the 4Runner.
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