Tested: Third-gen 1996 Toyota 4Runner SR5

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From the January 1996 issue of Car and Driver.

You can make a sport-utility vehicle out of a truck, but you can’t take the truck out of a sport-utility vehicle. That’s the rule of thumb for most SUVs out there (with the possible excep­tion of Jeep’s unibody-construction Grand Cherokee), and the truck heritage shows up in most of these vehicles as imperfec­tions in ride, steering, or structure.

But that’s changing. The new Toyota 4Runner, for example, shares only its basic mechanical format with the similarly sized Toyota Tacoma trucks. The first-genera­tion 4Runner, you might remember, was essentially a pickup truck with a fiberglass roof and seats in the rear. The second 4Runner wasn’t that far removed from a pickup either, despite its four doors and dedicated sheetmetal.

But chief engineer Masaaki Ishiko insists this latest, third-generation 4Runner doesn’t share the designs for its body, inte­rior, frame, and chassis. Naturally, there are some common mechanicals. The new 3.4-liter V-6 that powered our test car is available in the Tacoma, as is the base 2.7-liter four. But the engineering team endeavored to improve NVH, ride, com­fort, steering feel, and off-road perfor­mance well beyond what is expected of SUVs not wearing Range Rover stickers.

Have they succeeded? To a large extent, yes. The new coil-sprung control­-arm front suspension, four-link solid-axle rear end, and stiff body combine to pro­vide a ride that is as placid as that of a good car on smooth pavement. There is very little tire roar from the optional 265/70R-16 Dunlops (225s are standard on all vehi­cles except the V-6 4WD Limited model), and the engine is quiet at cruising speeds. By far the loudest sound was produced by wind at the tops of the doors, and even here the problem is likely to be licked by better door seals in production 4Runners.

So the 4Runner makes a good tourer on the highway, even while retaining—for those occasional off-highway excur­sions—the low-tech part-time, shift-on-­the-fly four-wheel-drive system of the old model (now enhanced by a very useful pushbutton-actuated locking rear differential). But you pay for the privilege of four-wheel drive with a lot of extra driveline mass, much of it unsprung (at the wheel end of the suspension). As a result, high-frequency surface corrugations pro­duce vibrations that feed into the cabin through the structure and the steering wheel, as in the last Tacoma we looked at. These impacts are better damped than what you feel in a pickup but are similar in character.

The suspension is nonetheless an admirable piece of engineering. The new front-suspension crossmembers, as well as a reinforced rear frame, cut chassis flex to a minimum and allow a pleasant balance between compliance over bigger bumps and body-motion control. A wheelbase now two inches longer than in the previous model undoubtedly helped Toyota engi­neers reduce pitching motions, while a wider track (almost one-and-a-half inches on models with 265 tires) and careful roll-­control tuning make the new 4Runner surefooted and free of lunge or flop in the mountains.

A changeover from recirculating-ball to rack-and-pinion steering hasn’t hurt the car’s poise either. It now feels uncom­monly precise and stable as you ease it into the switchbacks. In fact, it was the temp­tation to carve high-g lines along Oregon’s sinuous Pacific coastline on a three-day trip to L.A. that produced some motion discomfort—but no lack of chassis com­posure.

The new 3.4-liter V-6 is also a welcome addition to the package, providing a healthy 33-hp bonus over the old 150-hp unit; torque is 217 pound-feet at a relatively lazy 3600 rpm. Although the vehicle’s 3850-pound weight holds 0-to-60 times to 10.0 seconds, that’s a 2.8-second improvement over the five-speed we tested in February 1991. This was achieved in an automatic, and a beautifully calibrated one at that, providing appropriate downshifts at all throttle settings and gentle, slurred upshifts (except at full throttle, where faint jolts were just noticeable).

More important to most owners is the fact that the new 4Runner will troll comfortably through the mountains or cruise quickly along highways without demanding big bootfuls of throttle and the torrent of gas these driving tasks often consume. Our overall fuel consumption worked out to 20 mpg, the best ever for a V-6 4Runner in our care. What’s more, the sound of the V-6 being driven vigorously is tuneful and sophisticated, much better than the hoarse gargling of the Vortec V-6 in the Chevy Blazer or the 4.0-liter six in Ford’s Explorer.

All of these improvements would count for little were it not for the increases in space realized for the third-generation 4Runners. Headroom and legroom have been improved, adding 3 cubic feet more space up front and 4 cubes more in back. The cargo hold is one foot larger and now accommodates an optional third seat. The door openings are larger, and the climb-in height is lower for easier access. The cargo-compartment floor was lowered by 3.5 inches on 265-tire versions (and by 4.3 inches with the standard rubber) to reduce chiropractic costs. Plus, the rear hatch is now a one-piece gate that opens upward, and it has its own power window.

The increase in space eliminates what was formerly our biggest problem with the 4Runner: the new version easily accom­modates our tallest drivers. Although the seats felt fairly good after a day’s driving, they did begin to produce backaches during the three-day haul from Portland to Los Angeles. That aside, the 4Runner’s cabin is a good place to be, and the moon­roof is simply indispensable for viewing giant redwoods, which tower well above the sightline offered by the Toyota’s rela­tively tall greenhouse.

All in all, the 4Runner is a remarkably civilized example of the sport-utility genre, with a sophisticated powertrain, a smooth ride, and an elegant interior. Most of the truck genes have been engineered out, but the operation was expensive—the price of the 4wd SR5 is expected to start at around $28,500. That’s rather high, considering the unavoidable side effects of that shift-on-the-fly four-wheel-drive mechanism. And we had to admit during the 1000-mile trip we undertook that we would still have preferred a normal sedan. But that’s why this magazine is called Car and Driver.



1996 Toyota 4Runner SR5
Vehicle Type: front-engine, rear/4-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 5-door wagon

As Tested (est.): $28,500

DOHC 24-valve V-6, iron block and aluminum heads, port fuel injection
Displacement: 206 in3, 3378 cm3
Power: 183 hp @ 4800 rpm
Torque: 217 lb-ft @ 3600 rpm 

4-speed automatic


Suspension, F/R: control arms/rigid axle
Brakes, F/R: 12.6-in vented disc/11.6-in drum
Tires: Dunlop Grandtrek, P265/70R-16


Wheelbase: 105.3 in
Length: 178.7 in
Width: 66.5 in
Height: 68.7 in
Passenger Volume, F/R: 53/42 ft3
Cargo Volume: 45 ft3
Curb Weight: 3850 lb


60 mph: 10.0 sec
1/4-Mile: 17.8 sec @ 77 mph
100 mph: 40.4 sec
Rolling Start, 5–60 mph: 10.7 sec
Top Gear, 30–50 mph: 5.0 sec
Top Gear, 50–70 mph: 7.5 sec
Top Speed (gov ltd): 102 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 186 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft skidpad: 0.70 g 


Observed: 20 mpg


Combined/City/Highway: 17/19 mpg 


Source: Reviews -


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