Keeping the faith: Toyota 4Runner stays true to its off-roading heritage

The world of sport-utility vehicles has undergone a tremendous transformation over the past decade or two.

From their truck-based forebears, many have shifted away from traditional body-on-frame platforms toward car-based vehicles, resembling tall station wagons more than the stout, off-road-worthy rock hoppers of the past.

Along with a number of Jeeps and Nissan’s Xterra, Toyota’s popular 4Runner continues to hold down the fort for those who demand a vehicle capable of taking on rugged off-road terrain in search of outdoor adventures in remote locales.

Not than the 4Runner has stayed frozen in the past. From its genesis as simply a Toyota pickup truck with a fiberglass cover over the bed and a rear bench seat installed, the 4Runner has grown in size, comfort, amenities, power and, yes, price.

But while its toughness remains, the 2013 version isn’t ashamed to reveal a softer side. Our Limited 4×4 test vehicle came packed with enough luxury and convenience goodies to rival a high-end sedan.

From voice-activated navigation, automatic climate control and heated power-adjustable leather seating to a power moonroof, 15-speaker audio system with subwoofer and keyless entry with push-button start, this SUV is packed with stuff modern buyers seek out, no matter what type of vehicle it is.

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At the same time, 4Runner maintains its rough-‘n’-tough abilities with 9.6 inches of ground clearance; a locking center differential; Hill Start and Downhill Assist Control; and 20-inch alloys mounted with chunky all-terrain tires.

Toyota 4Runner 2010The 4.0-liter V-6 delivers plenty of grunt through a solid-shifting five-speed automatic to all four wheels for both on- and off-road contingencies.

One nice surprise is the 4Runner’s highway behavior: It’s remarkably docile and smooth at interstate speeds.

The cabin, while quite comfortable, seems a little down-market with its overreliance on hard black plastics, but maybe that just enhances the vehicle’s pragmatic nod to utility.

4Runner’s butch, angular styling broadcasts its intentions as an off-roader born and bred, and it more than lives up to that visual promise. The surprise is how well it also delivers comfort, decent handling and on-road performance.

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