This review is intended for people that might come here that might be looking to buy a new 4runner. Hopefully they can use the search function and find this useful in some way.
I know the regulars here are informed and literate but I must say it anyway: This is all just my opinion.
So, lets get on with it.
The vehicle tested:
2011 Toyota 4Runner Trail Edition
All options available including KDSS, JBL Nav etc.
LT285/70/17 D BF Goodrich A/T KO
5th Gen Baja Rack
Who is testing it:
I have been off roading and camping all my life. I have driven and owned Land Cruisers, older 4Runners, Jeeps etc and driven them both on and off road. I have pretty good knowledge of what things are and are not important in a purpose built vehicle like a Trail Edition, and what features I personally like and dislike in a vehicle for off roading and camping. Again, my opinion and you can take it or leave it.
How it was tested:
The vehicle was tested over the coarse of an 11 day off and on-road camping overland trip. The route presented the vehicle with all types of terrain including; mud, clay, sand, rocks, pavement, single width twisty roads, open expanses of desert roads, snow, rain, and pounding wind.
We got around and beat the living hell out of this 4runner before we even got the plates. We left with around 1,500 on the odometer and it now reads somewhere around 5,500.
First, the good:
KDSS. I won't be going into the specifics of how this system works, but here is a video:
KDSS, simply put, is awesome and you should get a 4Runner with it equipped. Period. Sure, it lets the wheels fully articulate over off road obstacles like rocks and such, but what it does on the pavement in between your off road excursions makes it priceless. I was very surprised how composed the 4Runner was around the hairpins and switchbacks of HWY 1 along the California North Coast. With the vehicle fully loaded inside and a heavy box and jerry cans up top, the body roll was very small even on the off camber sweeping turns found on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona. Off the pavement traction was very good on uneven rocky terrain and crossing large ditches. Just remember, it is still a SUV, not your wife's Boxter S.
The stock suspension: I was very pleased with the stock suspension overall. It does have some nose dive issues, some of which were solved with the bigger and stiffer BF Goodrich A/Ts but it isn't completely gone. It is a SUV after all, so I can live with it. But it really starts to shine where the pavement ends and the dirt begins.
I found the stock suspension to be smooth on desert roads of Northern Nevada and California and equally as competent on the rocky trails of Utah and Arizona. On the rocky dirt roads of Nevada the suspension tracked very well at speeds around 45mph and soaked up unexpected bumps and ruts without batting an eye and without me losing any of my teeth. The stock ride height is pretty good compared to its competitors and was sufficient in navigating the more rocky parts of trails without any trouble. 3 inches or so would give you more forgiveness when sticking to the high points isn't possible, but hey it is still very capable stock. Not having the plastic running boards found on most SUVs (and even other 4Runner trim packages) was a big help in this regard. The stock suspension probably won't put you on the cover of a 4x4 magazine, but it will impress you I am sure.
The Power and Tranny Despite its lack of huge towing capability, the 4Runner can really get up and go when you need it to. Even after 4k miles it would still surprise me. The 4.0L V6 coupled to the transmission equipped with the "S" or sequential shifting makes for a great combo on and off the road. While navigating trails the sequential gear box comes in handy and does well for keeping the power close at hand while keeping your speed in check. On twisty mountain roads I was able to downshift on approach to bends and upshift on exit, keeping the brakes to a minimum.
I also like having the "old school" 4WD short shifter instead of the full-time 4WD. This is just one of the things that makes this 5th Gen think of my 60 series Land Cruiser.
A 6 speed would have been nice like the Land Cruiser because of some of the gaps in gear ranges but oh well.
JBL Nav / Stereo (with Sub-Woofer) I know that the sound has got mixed reviews, but I think it is quite good when adjusted. As a musician I am a fanatic about sound quality. The speakers on my computer alone cost about the same as two 4Runner payments. And, I think the sound is good for what it is. The key I have found is quality recordings. If you are encoding or making mp3s to play via a hard drive do so at a high sample rate and use a quality file to encode from. If you have any questions about this you can PM me.
Speaking of which, the usb port in the glove box is fantastic. Not only will it play music from your ipod or iphone, but it will charge it as well. There is also an aux input located at the bottom of the center stack for any other music device you might have. I personally use a high-speed thumb drive in the glove box to hold all of my music and it works brilliantly.
The bluetooth call quality is very good and much better than my mom's Land Cruiser. The same goes for the voice recognition.
The navigation is generally competent even on back roads and forestry roads, and will tell you what road you are on, but unless you are zoomed all the way in, it won't show the road. Sometimes it doesn't show the road at all. I wouldn't recommend relying on it for any 4x4 adventures. To be safe, keep a hand held gps or a notebook with gps software to keep you on the right track.
Power Inverter This came in handy every day. We charged our phones constantly during the trip and also charged our notebook daily using these plugs. There is a plug in the cargo area and a plug in the center counsel, and there is a groove in the center counsel to allow a cord to come out while the lid is closed. The limit of 400w kept us from using it for more powerful appliances, but it does the trick for just about anything on a camping trip. If you have a question if your device will draw too much power, just check it for markings showing the power draw. For example, we found even the smallest cheapest coffee maker to draw way too much power for it. The downside is that it turns off every time you turn the car off or start it, so you have to turn it back on constantly. There is a mod on this forum on how to make it be on all the time, but I have not elected to do that.
Cargo Area There is very ample cargo area in the rear and even more with the back seats down. We found it to be quite good and even fit both of our cargo boxes with one back seat still up when we got into a pinch. Toyota reports the cargo volume at 46 cubic feet. Far more than the 200 Series Land Cruiser (they must have made this measurement with the 3rd row seating down), and the FJ Cruiser.
Seating I was a little skeptical of the "water proof" fabric seating but I was very surprised on how comfortable it is and durable. It also has a way of gripping and keeping you in place on curvy roads and bumpy twisty off road trails.
Locking Rear Diff and A-Trac
This came in handy at least 3 times in some very slippery mud and clay on our trip. In one situation it was the only thing keeping the vehicle from sliding completely off the road and down into the Utah wilderness (aka a cliff). A pair of great features right there.
Sliding Cargo Tray I was excited about this when we bought this vehicle, and I was sad to find that it is worthless. When packing a lot of gear like we were (especially with the seats down) it is inevitable that some of your gear will be partially on and off the cargo tray. Well, don't expect to then use the sliding tray without leaving your gear in disarray. Loading this car makes that feature worthless. I will be building a box with drawers for the back hopefully before our next trip.
Plastic Quality The car has A LOT of plastic on it, both inside and out. Strangely it seems like the plastic on the inside is more durable than the plastic on the outside. For example the rear bumper scratches if you even look at it harshly, and Toyota didn't even bother putting a protector on top. On the Trail Edition, the wheel arches are dressed in a similar black plastic that is very prone to scratches from branches, and other things. They probably wouldn't even withstand the soft hand of a newborn baby. But what makes them even worse? The front mud flaps are not long enough to keep gravel from dirt roads from flying up and hitting the rear trim. The result is very very deep pitting.
It should also be noted that this same gravel hits the paint as well. Not good considering the paint also seems to scratch very easily.
The Off Road Traction Control...um..stuff
- It has been noted before that the off road "bells and whistles" are either hard to use or a bit confusing. I found them to be almost worthless.
- Crawl Control: If you need a slow speed on tricky climbs or descents then 4-low and the gear box in "S" mode does the trick. This off road cruise control makes way to much noise and rides the breaks far too much for me.
- I found the Multi Terrain Select to be a lot more of the same. With it on there was a lot of noise without a lot of results other than louder noises when there was the least bit of slip, and the ABS kicking on almost every time I stepped on the brakes. I was as specific as possible in my "terrain selections" and still couldn't stand it. Again, 4-Low and "S" mode is where it is at. Need a little more? Lock the rear diff. I always kept A-Trac on while in 4-Low with the Diff-Locked. The fact that I have to even explain any of this just adds to why I don't like it.
Gauge of Body Metal and Exterior
Some of the body panels seem to be a little thin. Most apparent is the hood that starts wobbling like a virgin at a titty bar at 50mph, and even worse if it is windy. Before we went on our trip, my wife was driving next to me on the freeway and told me she could see the hood wobbling. People must think my hood is just about to fly off...great. I might mention it next time I am at the dealer, but I doubt there is anything they will be able to do. Honestly, it is a little embarrassing.
Overall I found the 5th Gen 4Runner Trail to be a very capable off road and overland vehicle. We bought it as a cheaper alternative to a 200 series Land Cruiser, and even though they might be known as the little brother to the LC in North America I found it to be a lot better for our purposes. And, as I said before, other than the thinner body panels, reminds me a bit of a 60 series Land Cruiser. It is not obese feeling as the new LCers are, and feels much more able and utilitarian like the 60 series. They even feel to be about the same size. I can see why the 4Runner is the choice for an honest off road vehicle over the Land Cruiser. Plus, the new LC is ugly. Like the new Sequoia it lacks a "line". The design is a bit amebic and lumpy, and it kind of looks like a beached whale.
We also, cross shopped the Trail Edition with the Land Rover LR4 HSE and Lightly Used LR3 HSEs. We didn't get a Landy because I am not as big into luxury as I am into capability. The LR4 and LR3 are capable vehicles, but I was not willing to pay the extra price for things I don't need or want like seat warmers. I have had vehicles with seat warmers, I don't like my undercarriage to be bathed in sweat only to be frozen when I step back out into the cold. Also, there is the "issue" with their reliability. Some might even say that they are the least reliable car in the world, well maybe next to an Alpha Romeo. Also, if you have a break down or mechanical problem in some little town in the middle of nowhere, good luck getting it fixed.
With a little bit of effort the Trail Edition could be a LR4 killer right off the showroom floor. In my opinion optional factory leather would go a long way, and adjustable/lockable ride height would finish her off. Sure, people would still buy the Landy because of the "luxury" name but utilitarian types like myself wouldn't ever look twice at a new Disco 4.
I predict the 4Runner will continue to be more of the go-to off road vehicle in Toyota's North American lineup while the LC slowly descends into Escalade territory. Maybe they will someday bring the current 70 series to North America, then all that will change. And I, will be changing vehicles. See what I mean here. Yes, that is a factory snorkel...
The FJ Cruiser would have been a good choice as well but at the end of the day it is a 2 door vehicle. I could have dealt with the small rear doors, but the fixed windows broke the deal. We travel with our dog and he like the window down. So, it was a no go.
Long story short, the 4Runner Trail is a fantastic vehicle. I had my doubts in the beginning but I am glad we bought it over our other options. If you are unsure, go drive one (if you can find one) or perhaps another trim level, then go drive a 4door Rubicon, X-Terra, or anything else. The only new vehicle I can think of that might tip the scales is a Mercedes G Wagon, but that is well over twice the price of the Trail. Trust me, you will end up at the Toyota dealer.