Craggy West Texas mountains full of bobcats and bears and things that rustle the dry bushes at night no longer concern me.
I figure they should worry about me when I’m in the olive-green 2020 Toyota 4Runner I had recently, a burly, off-road SUV with the flinty-eyed look of an Army renegade.
“What mountain?” I say. “What critters?”
Even over-bearing 18-wheelers moved over when I pulled into the fast lane in the Runner, probably figuring I was late for a veteran’s parade or CIA contractors’ meeting somewhere.
I liked it – and for the first time, came to appreciate the basic, rock-steady 4Runner as a serious competitor to the Jeep Wrangler.
In some rocky corners of Moab, that might seem like blasphemy.
My 4Runner TRD Pro boasted Nitto mudder-style tires, TRD-tuned Fox shock-absorbers and springs, a locking rear differential, plus multi-terrain select and crawl control.
It also glowered at surrounding traffic with an oversized, typically Toyota grille flanked by bulbous, high-mounted headlamps.
Beautiful, it’s not – nor maybe should it be.
On the 4Runner, the excessive blacked-out grille appeared kind of purposeful, abutting a broad hood with a fake vent in the center of it. (Don’t ask me to explain that little contradiction.)
Squared-off, slightly flared fenders front and rear were stuffed with black, slotted 17-inch TRD wheels wearing 235/70 off-road-style tires about 30 inches tall.
Flat sides kind of enhanced the 4Runner’s trail-buster image, as did a massive – for some of us – 20-inch step up into the cab.
Its industrial-strength look was further enhanced by a large black roof-rack and stamped aluminum skid plate.
By the way, the 4Runner truly qualifies as a truck with a heavy ladder-type frame to which the body was bolted.
At first though, I wasn’t impressed by the Toyota’s sluggish, nearly 20-year-old 4-liter V-6 engine and ancient 5-speed automatic transmission.
After all, real off-roaders need some serious bite for those giant tires, but the more I drove the Toyota, the less irritated I got with the hoary engine and transmission – both of which kind of fit the bare-bolts, no-frills 4Runner reasonably well.
With 270 horsepower and 278 lb.-ft. of torque, the 4-liter engine did deliver the sort of low-end power that can be helpful in off-road maneuvers.
The 4,800-pound, four-wheel-drive truck is equipped with a long-travel accelerator-pedal, making it seem slower around town than it actually is.
Push hard and deep into the pedal, however, and the engine will rev gamely to 6,000 rpm, gathering enough momentum for a reasonable 0-to-60 run of 7.7 seconds, according to Car and Driver.
Not that it appreciates being spurred to speed. As an old mill, it thrashed about, emitting plenty of unpleasant noises under acceleration.
In addition, the engine manages only a mediocre 17 miles per gallon in overall fuel economy, a likely byproduct of the Toyota’s gray-bearded five-speed automatic.
Still, both were thoroughly overshadowed by the 4Runner’s surprisingly civilized on-road ride, and I suspect that’s where most buyers will spend the majority of their time.
The Fox shocks and springs did an impressive job of absorbing urban frost-heaves and potholes without harsh bounces or shudders.
While hardly luxurious, the ride felt smoother to me than the last Jeep Wrangler I drove.
Moreover, the steering – though modern numb – was relatively quick and well-weighted, giving the long, tall 4Runner a mildly agile feel.
If you do happen to get into the dirt or mud – even if it’s just at a soccer-field parking lot – you’ll also appreciate the 4Runner’s mostly tough interior.
Granted, the black interior in my 4Runner lacked the hides and carpet you might expect in a $51,000 near-luxury vehicle, but it was functionally attractive.
Best of all in my book, it wasn’t filled with chimes and safety buzzers and layers of techno-gizmos that only a geek can penetrate.
The textured black dashboard in my 4Runner, for example, surrounded an 8-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.
It offered simple buttons for the audio system and knobs and touchpads for the climate system – no computer “pages” to set the radio-channels or the temperature or fan-speed.
I also liked the old-school shift lever protruding from the console for the vehicle’s four-wheel-drive system, allowing a choice of 4-High or 4-Low if needed.
Meanwhile, the minimalist 4Runner’s safety features included pedestrian detection, active cruise control and lane-departure alert.
The vehicle’s main concession to its near-luxury price were seats covered in smooth black leather and trimmed with red stitching.
You also get thick, patterned rubber mats front and back, while leg- and head-room in the back seat of the five-passenger Runner is about average.
The only options on my 4Runner were a hitch-ball mount, $60; and a dashcam, $459.
I’m not an off-roader, preferring instead empty concrete and lots of horsepower in front of me, but I figure I could disappear down a different road just about as easily in the competent, capable 4Runner.
2020 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
- What I liked most: The 4Runner’s compliant Fox suspension pieces, tuned by TRD to be capable on- and off-road.
- What I would change: The SUV’s willing but outdated engine and transmission.
- MSRP: Base price for the TRD Pro 4Runner, $49,765; as equipped, $51,419.
- Official Color: Army Green.
- Fuel economy: 16 mpg town, 19 highway and 17 overall with filler on the left.
- Odometer reading when tested: 7,000 miles.
- Spare tire: Full-sized.
- Weight: Estimated 4,800 pounds.
- Length-width-height: 190.7 inches long/75.8 inches wide/72 inches tall.
- Fuel-tank capacity: 23 gallons.
- Towing capacity: 5,000 pounds.
- 2020 Toyota 4Runner in a few words: A sturdy off-road SUV that may not be pretty, but is almost as competent on-road as it is in the mud and dirt.
- Warranty: Three-year, 36,000-mile overall warranty and five-year, 60,000-mile powertrain protection.
- Final assembly location: Aichi, Japan
- Manufacturer’s website: www.toyota.com
- E-mail me at email@example.com
- Up next: 2020 Honda Accord Touring 2.0T Touring