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2011 Toyota 4Runner AWD Limited Review & Test Drive

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The all-new fifth-generation Toyota 4Runner Sport Utility was introduced for model year 2010 but since there were several unfortunate recalls from Toyota and several reschedules I decided to test this new rugged off-road sport utility in model year 2011 after the dust had settled at Toyota. The new 4Runner was completely redesigned and re-engineered in 2010 with an adaptive interior and unique cargo area that make this newest 4Runner smarter, more comfortable and more versatile than ever.

The new 4Runner combines a rugged body-on-frame construction with suspension technology that yields the kind of ride comfort more often associated with car-based, unitized platforms.  The newest 4Runner is available in a variety of configurations and in three models: a well-equipped SR5, a top-of-the-line Limited (that I tested), plus a Trail grade for maximum off-road capability.  Optional third-row seats allow for up to seven-person capacity.  Drivetrain configurations include rear wheel 4X2, part-time 4X4 and full-time multi-mode 4X4 with a locking center differential.  All models come equipped with a 4.0 liter V6 teamed up with a smooth-shifting five-speed ECT-i automatic transmission.

The 2011 4Runner is powered by a 4.0 liter, all-aluminum, DOHC V6 that generates 270hp at 5,600rpm and 278lb.ft. of torque at 4,400rpm.  Through the use of advanced engine management that includes dual independent Variable Valve Timing with intelligence (VVT-i), the new 4.0 liter engine gained more power over the previous 4Runner’s V6 and even some V8 engines, yet is more fuel efficient than either.  The new 4.0 liter fuel economy ratings rival car-based platforms with 17mpg/city and 23mpg/highway for 4X2 models, 22mpg/highway with 4X4.  The maximum towing capacity is 5,000lbs. which is plenty of towing power for pulling a trailer of jet skis, ATV’s, a power boat, or weekend camper.

I had no problem merging into fast moving LA freeways or powering over tough off-road obstacles like rocks, deep ruts and logs.  This new engine also comes with an ECO indicator light on the instrument cluster that lets you know when you are driving most efficiently.  I really like this new feature to help stretch more mpg as much as possible.

The double-wishbone independent front suspension setup combined with a variable-flow rack & pinion steering system makes for quick and precise control on demanding roadways.  Coil springs over gas-charged shocks are used at all four wheels for a comfortable ride and more controlled handling.  A front stabilizer bar helps to keep body lean to a minimum.  The four-link, rigid rear suspension setup helps minimizes axle hop and assures a smooth ride for back seat passengers while a rear stabilizer bar also keeps body lean while cornering to a minimum.

My Limited model came with 20X8in. aluminum alloy wheels wrapped with Bridgestone 245/60R20in. Dueler mud and snow radials tires that not only improved my on-road/off-road performance but also added to its rugged good looks.  Standard wheels and tires are 17X7in. alloys wrapped with 265/70R17in. Bridgestone Dueler mud & snow tires.

My Limited model 4Runner also came standard with an X-REAS suspension system that further improves performance, comfort and control.  X-REAS automatically adjusts the damping force of the shocks when driving over bumpy road surfaces, or when cornering. The system uses a center control absorber to cross-link shocks on opposite corners of the vehicle, substantially reducing pitch and yaw by offsetting opposing inputs.  With X-REAS the new 4Runner corners flatter, smoother, and handles choppy pavement more easily.  It really came in to good use when exiting a freeway at high speed, smoothed out the bumps on poorly paved roads and when I was driving off-road.

This new 4Runner shares the same platform as the Toyota FJ Cruiser.  Extensive frame and body reinforcements have been added, using high-tensile steel to add strength without adding weight.  The SR5 and Trail 4X4 models have a two-speed lever-operated, part-time four-wheel-drive system with neutral position.  The 4Runner Limited is equipped with a full-time, four-wheel-drive system with a locking center differential and a three-mode, center console-mounted switch.  The new 4Runner is also equipped with a stronger rear differential than the previous model, with a large ring gear.  Getting into and out of 4X4 has never been easier.

To further enhance grip, the A-TRAC traction control system is standard on all 4X4 models.  The system can distribute driving force to any one wheel in contact with the ground, making terrain irregularities and slippery patches transparent to you at the wheel.  An electronic-locking rear differential is standard on the Trail grade model.  Axles house 3.73 gears in all 4X4 models.

An array of advanced features, formerly only available in the Toyota Land Cruiser further boost off-road capabilities.  The Trail grade offers Toyota’s Kinetic Dynamic System (KDSS) as an option.  KDSS significantly improves terrain-following ability by dynamically disconnecting stabilizer bars to allow for more axle travel, and better suspension articulation in slow, difficult terrain.

Toyota’s Crawl Control (CRAWL) feature is also standard on the Trail grade model.  CRAWL is an adjustable electro-mechanical system that can be tuned to match the terrain by selecting any of five speed levels.  The system helps to maintain an appropriate speed to keep the vehicle under control and minimizes the load on drivetrain and suspension components.  The CRAWL feature helps make traversing difficult terrain easier and safer.  With the transfer case shifted into low range, CRAWL regulates engine speed and output (along with braking force), to propel the vehicle forward or in reverse at one of five low-speed settings.  This allows you to maintain focus while steering over rough level ground or steep grades, without having to also modulate the throttle or brake pedals.

The Trail grade also features a Multi-Terrain Select system that dials in wheel-slip control to match terrain.  In loose terrain, such as mud and sand, more-than-normal wheel slip is permitted, allowing wheel-spin to work in the vehicle’s favor.  On bumpy moguls, or solid rock, wheel slip is minimized and the system acts more like a limited slip differential.  The Mogul setting is for any extremely uneven terrain, such as V-ditches, slopes, and ridges, uphill or down.

All 4Runner 4X4 models feature standard Downhill Assist Control (DAC).  This feature augments the low-speed ascending ability of low-range by helping to hold the vehicle to a target speed with no driver intervention.  All models also come standard with Hill-Start Assist Control (HAC), which provides additional control for off-road driving by helping to hold the vehicle stationary before starting on a steep incline or slippery surface.

Quickly and safely slowing the new 4Runner down from speed on or off-road are large, power-assisted vented steel disc brakes.  Up front are 13.3 rotors clamped with dual-piston calipers, and 12.3in. rotors clamped with single-piston calipers in the rear.  Braking power and control are enhanced with standard ABS, EBD and BA including Vehicle Stability Control that controls are of these braking enhancements.

It’s good to see that Toyota kept its signature 4Runner mid-size sport utility as a body-on-frame design that offers a more rugged exposure to serious off-road challenges.  Unlike its chief competitor, the Ford Explorer, that now features a unitized body and frame that gives it less 4X4 off-road capability, the new 4Runner is at the top of true mid-size on-road/off-road traveling.

The new 4Runner’s design emphasizes a more angular, rugged, and powerful stance, combining the 4Runner’s traditional form with new progressive styling cues.  Careful attention to wind flow has reduced aerodynamic drag to a Cd of 0.365.

All 4Runner models feature rugged bumpers and wide fender flares.  The new front headlamp and taillight clusters offer better performance and convey a technical design quality.  The front end’s square fender flares meld with a muscular profile that links with a beefy rear bumper and back hatch door that rises to 6ft. 6in. for easy access or loading.

In addition to its distinctive front grille, the SR5 model also features overfenders to help tackle inclement weather and off-road conditions.  A roof rack comes standard.

The Trail grade model is designed to maximize off-road performance with superior approach and departure angles, high ground clearance, and an array of functional upgrades for the most demanding active outdoor enthusiast.  It is distinguished by a unique hood scoop, unique 17in. wheels, black side mirrors, front and rear bumper guards and dark smoke treatment on the head lamps and tail lamps.

The Limited and SR5 models add to the muscular design with special touches that provide a premium appearance.  The front end includes a chrome-plated grille insert, fog lamp bezel and front bumper molding.  Front and rear overfenders and side skirts are color-keyed.  The side molding, roof rack and rear bumper are also chrome trimmed.  The SR5 and Limited models have supplementary turn signals in the side mirrors, along with puddle lamps.

The 2011 4Runner is thoughtfully equipped with a long list of standard interior features and systems to create a comfortable travel space, providing convenient operation in everyday use.  The front seats have a greater range of adjustment than before, both in height and front to rear.

A bright, highly visible instrument cluster houses the large speedometer, tachometer, fuel and coolant temperature gauges, plus a combination meter that offers multiple functions.  Within easy reach is an overhead console that organizes the off-road control buttons into one location.  The center stack features large, easy to use switches and buttons organized into climate control and audio functions.  A compass indicator, outside temperature display, miles to empty and time of day LED line is at the top of the center stack for easy viewing.  A manual air conditioning system is standard on SR45 and Trail models; the Limited features an automatic dual zone climate control system with air vents behind the center console.  The center console on the Limited features the gated shifter, dual cupholders, deep storage box with padded top, heated seat switches, and rear window one-touch up/down button.  The Limited’s beefy, tilt/telescoping/leather wrapped steering wheel feels perfect in your hands.  All controls are within easy reach and fully illuminated for safe nighttime travel.

For second-row passengers, a sculpted front seat-back shape provides additional knee space.  The second-row seats which include a pull-down center armrest and dual cupholders, individually recline up to 16-degrees in four-steps.  Third-row seating features a larger, more supportive seating area than the previous model.  A 40/20/40 second-row seat configuration with a one-touch walk-in function makes access to the third row easier.

A rich leather-trimmed interior is standard on the Limited and optional on SR5.  The interior sports newly designed interior color schemes, using black (Limited only), and Sand Beige.  Graphite and Sand Beige fabric is standard on SR5.  The Trail models are equipped with graphite color water-resistant fabric seats.

Toyota designed the new 4Runner’s cargo space to work harder and smarter.  Fold-flat second-row rear seats provide a level load floor, and it is not necessary to remove the headrests to fold the seats flat.  The available third-row seat is split 50/50 and folds flat, as well.  The seats can be folded from the side, or at the rear, using separate one-touch levers.  With this new arrangement, more cargo space is available without removing seats, and longer items can be conveniently carried.

A Smart Key system featuring keyless entry with push-button start/stop is standard on the Limited.  The system allows you to unlock or start the vehicle by carrying the keyless remote.  The cargo door window has jam control, like the moonroof and power side windows.  An optional pull-out cargo deck is capable of carrying up to 440 pounds, to make loading heavy items easier and to provide seating for tailgating and campsite relaxation.  For models with the sliding deck, a 6.4 liter capacity storage box behind the rear seat provides additional storage.

The SR5 base audio system has an AM-FM-CD player with eight speakers, providing quality sound throughout the cabin and is XM satellite radio capable with a SDARS tuner.  Standard audio on the Trail model and optional on the SR5 is an AM-FM-MP3 CD player with eight speakers, integrated XM satellite radio, USB port with iPod connectivity, hands-free phone capability and music streaming via Bluetooth Wireless Technology, plus steering wheel audio controls.

Standard audio on the Limited model is a premium JBL audio system that has a six-disk in-dash CD changer and 15-speakers for outstanding audio performance.  For models equipped with the optional navigation system, a four-disc CD changer is used, and XM satellite radio, Bluetooth and iPod with MP3 control functions are included.  The navigation system includes a large seven-inch monitor.

Standard on all audio systems is a unique ‘party mode’ audio setting that is ideal for tailgating, raises bass response and shifts sound balance to the rear of the vehicle.  Party mode is in addition bolstered by rear liftgate-mounted speakers and they function with or without party mode selected.

Standard 4Runner Limited features include heated side mirrors, chrome accented door handles/roof rack, lower rear bumper, tow-hitch receiver with 7 & 4 pin connector, leather-trimmed, power-adjustable front bucket seats, rear privacy glass, dual map lamps, intermittent wipers/washers with rear wiper/washer, power tilt/slide moonroof, cruise-controls on the steering wheel, power one-touch up/down windows, power door locks, auto-dimming rearview mirror, backup camera, front and rear 12-volt/120-volt power outlets, storage slots in each door, grab handles at the top of each door and on the passenger-side A-pillar, dual lighted vanity mirrors, and floor mats in the front/second-row/cargo area.

Standard safety features include front seat driver/passenger airbags, TAP side and knee airbags, active headrests, all row roll-sensing side curtain airbags, 3-point safety belts for all seven seats with front pretensioners/load limiters, LATCH lower anchors for child seats and Safety Connect for one-year subscription that alerts Toyota when a crash is detected by the airbags deploying.

The all-new 2011 Toyota 4Runner Limited is an excellent choice for those consumers with an active lifestyle or for those who just want the versatility and functionality that only a sport utility vehicle presents.

The base price for the Limited model is $39,685.00 and only $43,484.00 fully loaded including destination charges.



  • Wheelbase: 109.8in.
  • Total length: 189.9in.
  • Total height: 75.8 with roof rack
  • Total width: 71.5in.
  • Ground clearance: 4X2-9/4X4-9.6in.
  • Approach angle: 25-degrees
  • Departure angle: 24-degrees
  • Headroom: f/m/r-38.6/38.6/34.3in. with moonroof
  • Legroom: f/m/r-41.7/32.9/29.3in.
  • Turning circle: 37.4ft.
  • EPA passenger room: 97.3cu.ft./128cu.ft. with 3-rows
  • EPA cargo volume: rear seats up-7.2cu.ft./rear seats down-89.7cu.ft./third row down-46.3cu.ft.
  • Total interior volume: 144.5cu.ft.
  • Fuel tank: 23-gallons
  • Curb weight: 4,805lbs. 4X4 Limited
  • EPA mileage: 17mpg/city, 22mpg/highway
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