By: Yousef Alvi and Jonathan Wooley
In the 90s, SUVs had a real sense of utility and purpose… that spawned a natural attraction to them. There was a generational movement, to get out and explore the world. To get dirty. And to use a vehicle not just for a daily commute, but to also broaden & expand your life. That’s the spirit behind what a real SUV should be. And that movement has always been lead by Jeep & Toyota. And then – all the followers & fakers ensued. (…Continue reading below)
In this current decade, SUVs have gotten fat, sloppy, and incapable (much like their drivers did), and turned more into soft-roaders than off-roaders. Meaning they’ve more-or-less just morphed into minivan-alternatives… but with adventurous-sounding names & non-sliding rear doors. Right? Yeah, pretty much.
Well – the new 4Runner TRD Pro is a blatant return to Toyota’s original design and intent behind the SUV. It puts the ‘sport’ back in Sport Utility Vehicle – and it does so in a beastly way.
The TRD Pro gets a 1.5-inch lift over the other models. It gets upgraded Bilstein shocks with remote reservoirs. The TRD Pro / Bilstein shock setup has enough juice to absorb hits on natural terrain at speed (gravel/dirt/desert), without upsetting & unbalancing the ride. It can be a little soft on asphalt, but if you’re honestly trying to backroad-rip an SUV… then you bought the way-wrong sports car. Trust me – city potholes are not even noticed.
The TRD Pro has an electronic rear locker – so if you get the truck crossed-up in a situation where one rear wheel doesn’t have much weight or solid ground under it, instead of just spinning the free wheel & rendering yourself stuck, you can hit the electronic lock button. It will lock the differential, and both rear wheels will turn in unison, using whichever wheel has an edge in grip to dig you out.
^^^^^Like a glove
On an upper console near the rearview mirror, you have a dial for crawl control, which will manage your speed AND braking during steep descents & climbs with limited traction. It works going up or going down. All you have to do it point the nose away from cliffs and lakes. There is also a sister dial on the upper console to select the terrain that you’re working with – whether it be sand, gravel, snow, etc – so the truck can best-adapt its 4WD system to the current conditions. It’s inspiring to see Toyota use modern technology to bring drivers CLOSER to the adventures of real life driving/off-roading… in a time when some other manufacturers are using technology to REMOVE us from the experience – it really starts to open your eyes.
The TRD Pro gets a great looking set of TRD 17-inch wheels with all-terrain tires. It gets a 1/4-inch metallic beefy skid plate to protect engine/suspension components. And the front bumper loses the standard Toyota emblem, in favor of bold, blocked-out TOYOTA letters with matte black accents. The front & rear bumpers are angled-in on the sides & bottom to allow for more aggressive approach/departure angles.
Inside – you get synthetic leather black seats with red stitching that carries over to the door panels. Don’t take the word ‘synthetic’ as a cheap alternative. It is actually more durable & easier to maintain/clean over time than standard leather.
The dash has a strong & satisfying presence – with some gloss black metallic accents around the center console. It’s obviously well constructed. Radio and AC knobs are large, easy to grab, and offer just the perfect amount of resistance – so you can nudge up the tunes while barreling down a bumpy dirt road… without your hand bouncing all over the dials & accidentally spiking the volume causing ‘a look’ from your spouse/girlfriend (you’ve gotta think about these things).
The rear seats & rear cargo area pick up where the FJ fell off, and offer more than enough room for offspring & gear. It also offers an optional slide-out tray – which doubles as a bench if you’re working on a bike, waxing a board, or changing socks & shoes. And – it has an extra set of speakers in the hatch itself, so when the hatch is up and the stereo’s on… you have your favorite jams showering down to keep you mellow. (There is also an OEM subwoofer mounted stealthily in the back)
After all these 4Runner generations, the window in the rear hatch still rolls down – a 4Runner signature. That may seem unimportant to all these modern day germaphobes out there. But get in this SUV on a nice day, and within 5 seconds, all windows are down & the breeze is blowin’ through… and it’s simultaneously blowin’ OUT all the BS & stress of your life. You can hear the Nitto all-terrains humming down the road, and it calms you down. You don’t seem to be in as much of a hurry as the rest of the world. You take a little bit more appreciation in the sights & smells around you. The TRD Pro creates a relaxing atmosphere; a good vibe. And as corny as it may seem to see a guy with dreadlocks sneak the words ‘good vibe’ in a Toyota 4×4 review, it’s a critical component to an SUV… and it’s a component that most fake SUVs are lacking.
The TRD Pro is more than the sums of its parts, and people in the market for a TRD Pro already understand that. It’s not for everyone, but it IS incredibly adaptable to whatever you throw at it. The TRD Pro is an SUV that can realistically open you up to new adventures, new hobbies, new values… and change what’s important your life. That may sound a little far fetched, but it’s not far fetched if you don’t fight it. Just look at the Toyota 4X4 nation out there across the world – it’s real. And it’s literally – more than a car. This 4Runner’s got a tried & true V6 that, as Autoweek said, “should last approximately until the sun burns out”. …Can’t really say it any better.
And from a money well spent standpoint – it’s a truck that you can drive for 30 years, get nods of approval & appreciation for the entire duration, and still sell it for 10-grand… should your 30-year-older self ever be foolish enough to do so.
^^^^^This is how you park a TRD Pro.
^^^^^Or like this. (No, it wasn’t stuck.)