Toyota last redesigned its midsize 4Runner sport utility vehicle for 2003, making a V-8 engine available for the first time. At that time, Toyota wanted to make the truck-based 4Runner larger, roomier and more fuel-efficient, yet still retain its offroad capability.
For 2005, the V-8 gained 35 horsepower. In V-6 models, a five-speed-automatic transmission replaced the prior four-speed unit. A backup video camera was included on 4Runner Limited models equipped with a navigation system.
A face-lift for 2006 gives the 4Runner a new grille, bumpers, fog lamps, headlights and taillights, and redesigned lower cladding and overfenders. The Sport Edition gains a smoked chrome grille, and new 18-inch alloy wheels and a memory feature for the driver's seat are standard on the Limited. Audio systems have a mini-jack connector for an external audio source, like an MP3 player. Options include a navigation system and a rear-seat entertainment system with a 9-inch screen.
Three trim levels are available: SR5, Sport Edition and Limited. Four-wheel-drive-equipped 4Runners feature Downhill Assist Control that restricts speed when going down a steep grade. Hill-start Assist Control works to keep the SUV from rolling backward on an upgrade.
Built on a 109.8-inch wheelbase, the 4Runner measures 189 inches long overall and stands 68.5 inches tall. Body-on-frame construction uses full-length boxed-section frame rails. The rear liftgate contains a power window.
Standard SR5 equipment includes 16-inch tires, multireflector headlights and taillights, and an integrated towing hitch. The Sport Edition features a hood scoop, a sport suspension and 17-inch tires. The Limited includes illuminated running boards.
Without the available third-row seat, the 4Runner seats five people on front buckets and a three-place, fold-down 60/40-split rear bench. Seven occupants fit inside models equipped with a third-row seat.
Leather upholstery, heated front seats and a power-adjustable driver's seat with a memory system are standard in the Limited. For 2006, power-adjustable front seats are standard in the Sport Edition and SR5 V8. Cargo-area backup mirrors mounted in the rear pillars allow the driver to see oncoming vehicles when backing out of a parking stall.
Under the Hood
Using new testing standards developed by the Society of Automotive Engineers for 2006 models, Toyota's 4.7-liter V-8 is rated at 260 hp and 306 pounds-feet of torque. The 4.0-liter V-6 produces 236 hp. Both engines team with a five-speed-automatic transmission. Rear- and four-wheel-drive models are available.
All-disc antilock brakes are standard. Seat-mounted side-impact airbags and side curtain-type airbags with rollover sensors are optional. Toyota's Vehicle Stability Control electronic stability system is standard.
Performance is a big plus when the 4Runner is equipped with the available, quiet V-8. From a standstill, a tap of the gas pedal sends this SUV practically lunging ahead. Acceleration while passing and merging is wholly confident.
The 4Runner steers easily and with a reasonably good feel, which is a cut above the truck-based SUV norm. Handling skills also rank above average. For this type of vehicle, the ride is pleasantly soft — not really cushy, but the suspension absorbs quite a few bumps. The Sport Edition feels a bit tauter, and its ride quality is a tad stiffer.