- The Washington Times - Friday, January 24, 2003

Toyota's 4Runner is entering its fourth generation with the 2003 model, and the vehicle offers a fresh perspective on an old standby, with new styling, improved horsepower and more cargo room.
This best-selling import in its class boasts a 17-year history of respect as a cargo and passenger carrier on the paved road and off and occupies the middle spot in Toyota's utility lineup, in between the full-size Land Cruiser and the pint-size RAV4. It stands next to another midsize in the class, the Highlander.
Sharing a platform with the new Lexus GX470 and DNA with Toyota's truck-based sport utility heritage, 4Runner combines creature comforts with SUV capabilities.
While drawing on its two-decade heritage, the Toyota 4Runner also borrows new technologies for its current iteration, from its limited-slip differential to a bevy of traction-control systems and an available sport-enhanced suspension system.
The new 4Runner is available in three trim levels: SR5, Sport and Limited. Customers at all trim levels can choose between a 4.0-liter V-6 or 4.6-liter V-8; the V-6 can be matched with rear-wheel 2WD or multimode 4WD and the V-8 with rear-wheel 2WD or full-time 4WD. The six cylinder is mated to a four-speed automatic, while the V-8 gets a five-speed automatic with overdrive Toyota's first use of the five-speed automatic in a light truck. The exterior is crisp and modern, with an architectural look that counters the rounded fenders and back ends of 4Runners past. Styling cues in the front include a grille with bold, color-keyed horizontal slats. On SR5 models, bumpers, fender flares and body cladding are gray metallic; the Sport edition gets a silver-painted grille and door handles. Limited models receive a more refined treatment, with color-keyed front and rear bumpers, cladding, grille, door handles and side-view mirrors. Running boards are standard on all versions, and are illuminated on Limited 4Runners.
Like its GX470 cousin, 4Runner is equipped with next-generation all-wheel drive, which the company calls a 'total off-road management system." The system includes an alphabet soup of ride- and safety-enhancing acronyms, including anti-lock brakes (ABS), Active TRAC (traction control on 4WD models), Downhill Assist Control (DAC), Hill-start Assist Control (HAC), Brake Assist (BA), Vehicle Skid Control (VSC on 2WD versions), Electronic Brake force Distribution (EBD) and Adaptive Variable Suspension damping (AVS).
When in 4WD low range and with DAC activated, the system controls throttle or brakes to keep the vehicle straight while going down a hill. HAC helps prevent the vehicle from rolling backward or slipping sideways during transition from a stopped position to climbing an upgrade. The system is automatically activated when the transmission is in any forward gear.
In addition to these technologies, Toyota's latest sport utility has an X-REAS sport suspension system, a first in the midsize segment. Standard on the Sport edition and optional on the Limited, the system includes a cross-linked compression chamber design that operates via a central control, which contains a free piston that pushes against a low-pressure nitrogen charge.
An orifice below the piston passes small motions across the vehicle from front to rear, creating increased overall vertical shock damping and improving handling on the highway, especially with more aggressive driving situations.
On SR5 and Limited models, the standard suspension is a double wishbone in the front, with a four-link rigid type suspension in the rear. A rear air suspension is available on Limited models, equipped with a V-8 engine for improved ride and performance when towing or hauling heavy loads. Inside the cabin, one improvement is immediately noticeable: substantial increases in passenger shoulder room and hip room and cargo capacity. A large center console includes storage room, a flip-out tray and fold-out trash-bag holder. Power windows and locks are standard on all models, as are tilt and telescoping steering wheel and a rear center console with cupholders. The cabin also has two 12-volt power outlets.
Although it borrows much of its electronic gee-wizardry from its city mouse cousin, the Lexus GX470, 4Runner retains its country mouse flavor. What exactly does this mean?
You will feel like you're in an SUV. While its ride is smooth and its handling is competent in all areas, you will experience more jounce on uneven pavement and more body roll in tight corners on the road.
When you want it to do work not just look at the view in the back country, you'll have more competency to navigate the tough stuff and to carry heavy loads without bottoming out on the bumps.
The SR5, Sport and Limited trim levels offer three levels of features and finish for 4Runner's cabin. SR5 has a black and silver trim, cloth seats, automatic climate control and manual eight-way adjustable driver's/four-way adjustable front passenger's seat. Sport adds a leather-wrapped steering wheel with integrated audio and cruise control, silver-topped shifter knob and sporty cloth-trimmed seats.
Revolutionary in its upgrades, but evolutionary in retaining its character, the new 4Runner isn't for everyone, but will please many especially those who are looking for a true SUV.


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