2012 Toyota 4Runner SUV - FROM $31,090
For the relatively few drivers who require an all-conquering all-terrain SUV, the 2012 Toyota 4Runner is a top choice.
What's New for 2012
For 2012, the Toyota 4Runner receives new sound system features, including Toyota's new Entune connectivity system. Automatic-deploying running boards are a new option for the SR5 and Limited trim levels.
Like the white rhino, the Toyota 4Runner is an endangered species. It's one of the last SUVs left with body-on-frame construction and a traditional outdoor work ethic. If you're looking for a vehicle with true off-road capability and all the rugged hardware that makes it possible, the 2012 Toyota 4Runner is here for you.
Being endangered doesn't mean the 4Runner is a relic. Motivated by a powerful 270-horsepower V6, the two- or four-wheel-drive 4Runner will keep up with the Joneses and their more common car-based crossover SUVs while still getting decent fuel economy. The 4Runner's interior is also pretty roomy for cargo and can be optioned with a third-row seat for seven-passenger capacity. Toyota's new "Entune" smartphone integration system is new for the 4Runner this year as well.
In terms of off-road gear, every 4Runner loads up with a specialized traction-control system, hill-hold and hill-descent control and a full-size spare tire. Depending on the trim, there are two types of four-wheel drive (available with low-range gearing, locking center and/or locking rear differentials), two suspension options (one of which can disconnect the front and rear stabilizer bars for greater wheel articulation over rough terrain) and specialized tires.
The main issue you'll want to think about is that when compared to a modern crossover such as the Chevrolet Traverse, Honda Pilot or even Toyota Highlander is that the truck-based 4Runner lacks the comfort, utility and general convenience found in those suburban-duty vehicles. And compared to its closest competitor, the Jeep Grand Cherokee, the 4Runner doesn't offer a V8 engine option and isn't as upscale on the inside. But overall, we like the 2012 Toyota 4Runner and recommend it, even if it represents the last of a dying breed.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Toyota 4Runner is a midsize SUV offered in three trim levels: SR5, Trail and Limited. The SR5 and Limited are available with 2WD or 4WD and bookend the Trail-grade 4Runner that is 4WD only.
Standard features on the 4Runner SR5 include 17-inch alloy wheels, skid plates, hill-start assist and hill-descent control, heated mirrors, foglights, air-conditioning with rear ventilation, cruise control, full power accessories, a power rear window, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a trip computer, Bluetooth (with audio streaming) and an eight-speaker sound system with a CD player, satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack and a USB/iPod interface.
The 4Runner Trail level is only available as a 4WD model, and it includes the above equipment plus mud guards, a locking rear differential, Crawl Control (which electronically modulates throttle and brakes when ascending or descending hills), off-road-oriented tires, a sunroof, water-resistant seat fabric, power front seats, a rearview camera with a monitor integrated into the mirror, a sliding rear cargo deck, upgraded gauges and two 120-volt household power outlets.
The Limited includes 20-inch wheels, adaptive suspension dampers, keyless ignition/entry, automatic headlights, dual-zone automatic climate control, leather upholstery, heated front seats and power lumbar support for the driver seat. Also standard for the Limited is an integrated rearview camera, HD radio and Toyota's Entune smartphone integration system.
Many of the features incorporated by the 4Runner Trail and Limited are available as options for the SR5 model, though specifics will vary based on the region of the U.S. in which you live. Other option highlights include a voice-activated navigation system, a 50/50-split third-row seat, automatic deploying/retracting running boards (not available on Trail) and the KDSS off-road suspension (available only on Trail models).
Powertrains and Performance
The 2012 Toyota 4Runner comes standard with a 4.0-liter V6 engine that produces 270 hp and 278 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed automatic is the only available transmission. The SR5 and Limited trims' 4WD systems differ in that the SR5 uses part-time dual-range and the Limited utilizes a full-time system with a lockable center differential. The Trail comes only with part-time dual-range 4WD but with a locking rear differential and selectable electronic terrain-sensitive systems. Regardless of model or trim, the 4Runner's towing capacity is rated at 5,000 pounds.
In Edmunds instrumented testing, a rear-drive 4Runner SR5 accelerated from a standstill to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds (8.2 seconds for a 4x4 Trail model), which is about average among competing SUVs. The EPA estimates 17 mpg city/23 mpg highway and 19 mpg combined for a rear-wheel-drive 4Runner, which is also average in this segment. A four-wheel-drive 4Runner gets 1 mpg less on the highway.
Standard 4Runner safety features include antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, active front head restraints, front knee airbags, front-seat side airbags and full-length, roll-sensing side curtain airbags. For 2012, the Limited comes with Safety Connect, Toyota's emergency assistance (stolen-vehicle locator, roadside assistance and automatic collision notification) system.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the 4Runner its top rating of "Good" for both frontal-offset and side-impact protection and a second best "Acceptable" in the roof strength test. In an Edmunds test, a rear-wheel-drive 4Runner SR5 came to a stop from 60 mph in 122 feet, which is average among other SUVs in its class. However, a Trail model with its off-road-oriented tires consumed 140 feet to come to a standstill.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Toyota 4Runner's interior features a geometric, industrial theme that supports this SUV's rugged image. Hard plastics are abundant throughout the cabin, though most touch points are lightly padded. The oversized climate control knobs underscore the 4Runner's utilitarian design, but have a wobbly feel when operated. Notable for 2012 is Toyota's new Entune smartphone integration system that allows one to utilize many popular applications such as Pandora and OpenTable through the car's audio system and display screen.
For more conventional endeavors, the Toyota 4Runner offers spacious seating for five passengers. The 40/20/40-split second row offers cargo-carrying flexibility and each section reclines through 16 degrees in four steps. The optional third-row seat increases the count to seven, though it's suitable only for small adults or children. With all seats folded flat, maximum cargo capacity is a useful 90 cubic feet. An optional sliding rear cargo deck can support up to 440 pounds. Tailgate partygoers will appreciate the optional Party Mode, which directs most of the audio system's sound to the speakers in the liftgate and increases bass response for a thumpin' good time.
Cruising around town, the 2012 Toyota 4Runner is surprisingly smooth and comfortable. Despite being built on a truck chassis, there is very little of the bouncy, over-sprung ride you expect from a body-on-frame vehicle capable of serious off-roading. Though no V8 engine is offered, the standard V6 provides plenty of grunt and should be suitable for just about any driver.
On the downside, the 4Runner's on-road handling limits are notably low and the steering feels disconnected and uncommunicative on the pavement. Although the low-speed light effort of the steering makes for easy maneuvering in parking lots, this attribute also makes for less kickback on a rutted or rocky trail.
Off-road, the 4Runner performs very well -- perhaps one of the best -- particularly if it's a Trail model fitted with KDSS.