Fantasy machines don’t all come in lime green with howling 12-cylinder engines stuffed between their 21-inch wheels.
The dream-maker I had recently arrived in a gray the shade of a November dawn, relied on a dated six-cylinder engine for modest power and flashed more plastic inside than a neighborhood recycling center.
But like the Jeep Wrangler, my sturdy 2019 Toyota 4Runner could traverse fast-moving creeks, crawl up desert canyons or slide around in Apocalyptic waist-deep mud.
Not that I had any intention of doing any of that – like most owners. I just found great satisfaction in the fact I could someday. Maybe.
The 7-passenger 4Runner might be a whole lot easier to live with than most of my fantasies.
Even with styling inspired by shipping containers and stuffed with old-school parts, it can serve as a daily-driver, handle all sorts of off-road adventures and misadventures, and push you to seek more.
The dark-gray Nightshade model I had bristled with backwoods capability.
A bold, blunt, blacked-out grille crowded fierce-looking headlamps that curved back into the fenders, capped by a lightly sculpted hood.
Meanwhile, flared, square-cut Rambo-style wheel-wells contrasted with mostly flat sides that slid around to blocky, high-mounted tail lamps.
Those wells provided space for meaty 245/60 tires on 20-inch multi-spoke black wheels that in this application looked absolutely right.
But here’s the deal, kids: Like the Wrangler, my 4Runner’s sturdy old body-on-frame bones come at a thoroughly space-age $49,000 price.
Ouch. And you won’t find much of it beneath the hood.
The 4Runner packed a 4-liter V-6 that pre-dates some of its drivers, now spinning out an unremarkable 270-horsepower and 278 lb.-ft. of torque at a fairly high 4,400 rpm.
Moreover, the engine is coupled to an ancient five-speed automatic that sends power to a full-time four-wheel-drive system equipped with a locking differential.
All of that adds up to some serious off-road chops – but $50,000 worth?
I don’t know. Predictably, the 4Runner’s highway-and-byway manners are less stellar – though like the new Jeep Wrangler, acceptable for daily, three-piece-suit commuting.
Although the suspension was tuned for banging around in the boonies, it still offered a firm, reasonably well-controlled ride that fidgeted frequently but wasn’t harsh.
Better still, the 4Runner’s ride tended to smooth out some at speed, making it a reasonable highway vehicle, especially with a couple of kayaks strapped to the roof.
While awkward and heavy in moderate-speed corners, the bulky Toyota didn’t feel particularly tipsy and generated surprisingly little road noise.
The steering, naturally, was slow and vague, just as you might expect from a truck in the ‘90s.
Likewise, flat-out acceleration was middling at best. But then, who cares in a quasi rock-crawler?
The 4Runner’s V-6 engine shoved the 4,800-pound truck away from stops pretty nicely, but quickly began to strain under acceleration, making it feel slower than it was.
Despite its lethargic nature, though, the 4Runner can chug to 60 mph in a reasonable 7.7 seconds, according to Car and Driver, and would likely do better with a modern transmission that had six or even eight gears.
That was evident in its fuel economy, as well – a mediocre 17 miles per gallon in the city.
First-time drivers might also want to consider getting into the 4Runner with muddy boots so you can better appreciate its bare-bones functionality.
It ain’t a Range Rover, Bubba.
A flat dashboard in textured plastic, for example, rolled down onto a thick piece of trim that led to an outdated center-stack with a 6.1-inch display screen.
However, I’ll give the stack one thumbs-up for its buttons and knobs to control the audio and climate systems.
It slid down to a broad console trimmed in black plastic, while the plastic-heavy black door panels sported padded armrests.
Moreover, unlike those sissy car-based crossovers, the 4Runner provided a real knob giving you the option of 4-High and 4-Low in the four-wheel-drive system.
I got a little huffy because the high-riding 4Runner had only one grab-handle, for the front-seat passenger.
Maybe Toyota was trying to tell me something – like stick to the Yaris, Shorty.
Oh, well. Once inside, though, I found accommodating seats with leather bolsters and perforated centers.
But stuffing seven people into the 4Runner could be a challenge. Leg-room in the second row of seats was limited and the third row appeared strictly for kids.
My 4Runner arrived with more than $2,000 in options, including leather-trimmed seats ($1,365); paint-protection film ($395); carpeted floor-mats and cargo mat ($264); and roof-rack crossbars ($185).
With off-road style vehicles gaining popularity, you have to wonder: Are people planning a mass exodus out of congested, noisy cities?
Beats me. Some do it every weekend. And as long as the rest daydream about it, these vehicles will continue to succeed.
Ride ‘em, disenchanted urban cowboys, I suppose.
2019 Toyota 4Runner Nightshade Edition
- What I liked most: The 4Runner’s supremely confident, capable off-road feel and reasonable highway manners – a thick wagon for Armageddon.
- What I would change: The same thing Toyota would if it could rationalize the expense – the 4Runner’s sleepy, sluggish engine and outdated transmission.
- MSRP: Base price of 4Runner, $35,310; as equipped, $49,373.
- Official color: Magnetic Gray.
- Fuel economy: 17 miles per gallon in town, 20 on the highway and 18 mpg combined with filler on the left.
- Odometer reading when tested: 1,510 miles.
- Spare tire: Full-size spare.
- Weight: 4,767 pounds.
- Length-width-height: 191.3 inches long/75.8 inches wide/70.1 inches tall.
- Fuel-tank capacity: 23 gallons.
- Towing capacity: 5,000 pounds.
- 2019 Toyota 4Runner in a few words: An old-school, still sort of ruggedly handsome mid-size SUV with far more off-road capabilities than most crossovers.
- Warranty: Three-year, 36,000-mile overall warranty and five-year, 60,000-mile powertrain warranty.
- Final assembly location: Aichi, Japan
- Manufacturer’s website: www.toyota.com
- E-mail me at email@example.com
Tags: 2019 Toyota 4Runner Nightshade, Toyota, Trucks, Vehicle Reviews, Nightshade, Special Edition, 2019, SUV