2011 Toyota 4Runner Review and Prices

Last Updated: Mar 7, 2011

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2011 Toyota 4Runner Buying Advice

The 2011 Toyota 4Runner is the best SUV for you if you haven’t “crossed over” and still want a truck-based, go-anywhere vehicle.

The 2011 Toyota 4Runner drops its four-cylinder engine and gains a brake-override system designed to prevent unintended acceleration. Good riddance to the four-cylinder, which furnished slow acceleration and even slower sales. That leaves a V-6 as the only engine for this otherwise unchanged seven-seat midsize SUV. The 4Runner underwent a major re-engineering for model-year 2010, changing enough to qualify as an all-new, fifth-generation model. In essence, 4Runner returned to its roots as an SUV that backs up its rugged looks with serious off-road ability but without sacrificing any important amenities. The 2011 4Runner continues that path, though if you rarely venture into the wilds, you may wish to go the more street-friendly crossover route.

Should you buy a 2011 Toyota 4Runner or wait for the 2012 Toyota 4Runner? Thanks to last year’s redesign, the 4Runner is still early in its life cycle, so there’s no reason to wait. Buying a 2011 4Runner allows you more time to enjoy the current styling before the next update, likely around model-year 2013.

2011 Toyota 4Runner Changes back to top

Styling: The 2011 Toyota 4Runner carries over styling that morphed from soft-shouldered to square-jawed for 2010. The look emphasizes 4Runner’s throw-back nature, to a time when SUVs had truck-type body-on-frame construction. That was before the civilizing influence of the “crossover” craze. Now, most SUVs – from the compact Honda CR-V to the roomy Toyota Highlander – use car-type unibody construction. In truth, a design in which body and frame essentially are one unit is beneficial to most SUV owners. People who use SUVs as family station wagons are better served by the refinement and weight-saving fuel efficiency of unibody construction. For severe off-road driving and heavy-duty towing, however, the separate body-on-frame design carries advantages of strength and durability. With DNA traced back to 1980s Toyota pickup trucks, the 4Runner has always been body-on-frame. The 2011 model rides the same 109.8-inch wheelbase (distance between front and rear axles) as the 2003-2009 fourth-generation 4Runner. Body dimensions are little changed from that model. And it continues to offer seating for five or seven. But the current bluff-sided, blister-fendered styling is inspired by the Toyota Land Cruiser, internationally respected for its all-terrain tenacity. The tough-guy theme continues inside, with blocky shapes and big knobs instead of the gentle contours and delicate switchgear of the previous 4Runner. The 2011 4Runner lineup returns three models. The SR5 is the base version. Next is the Trail model and true to its name, its front and rear bumpers are shaped to more easily clear off-road obstacles. The top-of-the-line Limited goes all town on you with chrome-plated front-grille inserts and fancy alloy wheels.

Mechanical: The 2011 Toyota 4Runner will rely only on its V-6 for power. Toyota’s declared the previously available four-cylinder a failed attempt at lowering prices and saving gas. The four-cylinder came on line with the redesigned 2010 4Runner and Toyota says was the choice of only 1 percent of 4Runner buyers. With a modest 157 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque attempting to motivate a 4,295-pound SUV, the 2.7-liter furnished weak acceleration. And because it was offered only with a provincial four-speed automatic transmission, throttle response was slushy. Moreover, real-world fuel economy was hardly better than the V-6’s. The four-cylinder was available only in the SR5 model and only with two-wheel drive (2wd). All 4Runners now have a 4.0-liter V-6 again rated at 270 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque. It uses a five-speed automatic transmission, but still labors to move this SUV with much verve. Torque – the force that actually generates pulling power – is key when you’re in an SUV that tips the scales at 4,400 pounds with 2wd and weighs as much as 4,805 with four-wheel drive (4wd). Toyota decided to shelve 4Runner’s available V-8 with the model-year 2010 redesign, but its 306-pound-feet of torque is missed. The 2011 4Runner SR5 and Limited models are available with both 2wd and 4wd, while the Trail model again comes only with 4wd. Most crossovers are based on front-wheel-drive engineering and typically employ light-duty all-wheel-drive systems that automatically transfer power to the rear wheels if the fronts begin to slip then resume front-drive as traction is restored. The trucky 4Runner defaults to rear-wheel drive and uses traditional 4wd to transfer power rear-to-front. In fact, the system in the SR5 and Trail models is a throwback setup in which the driver activates a floor lever to engage 4wd. It’s a so-called “part-time” system, for use only off road or in extremely slippery conditions. The 4Runner Limited uses a “full-time” 4wd setup that can be left engaged on any surface; it’s activated by a center-console-mounted switch. Both systems feature separate low-range gearing for severe off-road conditions. (See “2011 Toyota 4Runner Prices” below for more details.)  The only other model-year 2011 mechanical change is addition of system designed to thwart unintended acceleration by applying stopping power when the brakes and throttle are applied simultaneously. All 4Runners have alloy wheels and a full-size spare tire. The SR5 and Trail models have 17-inch wheels while the Limited comes with 20s. Overall, 4Runner is very refined and rock-solid, but feels compromised by its commitment to body-on-frame design and off-road prowess. Unless you’ll frequently exploit its rugged talents, a crossover SUV is the better bet for everyday driving.

Features: Rediscovering 4Runner’s muscular off-pavement personality doesn’t mean forgetting about comfort. Every 2011 4Runner comes with remote keyless entry, air conditioning, power locks, and power windows – including a power tailgate window. Tilt/telescope steering wheel, cruise control, 10 cup and bottle holders also are standard. So is a satellite-radio audio system with a “Party Mode” setting that directs extra power to tailgate-mounted speakers for outdoor listening. Trail and Limited models add steering-wheel audio controls, a USB interface for iPods, and Bluetooth phone and music-streaming connectivity. The second-row folding bench seat is split 40/20/40 and has a reclining backrest. Seven-passenger seating is available on SR5 and Limited models via an optional 50-50 folding third-row bench. Also available is pop-up cargo organizer as well as a slide-out cargo platform that eases loading and serves as a table your tailgate party; it supports 440 pounds. The 4Runner Limited also has keyless entry and pushbutton start. Leather upholstery with heated power front seats is standard on Limited and optional on SR5; the Trail gets water-resistant fabric upholstery. Other equipment standard or optional depending on model includes rear obstacle detection or a rear-view monitor that displays on the inside mirror. A power tilt/slide moonroof is optional on SR5 and standard on Limited models. And optional only on Trail and Limited models is a voice-activated touch-screen DVD navigation system with a 7-inch dashboard monitor. All 4Runners come with antilock four-wheel disc brakes for better control in stops, traction control for better grip in take-offs, and antiskid control to mitigate sideways slides. A system of eight standard airbags includes knee airbags for driver and front passenger and head-protecting side curtain airbags for all three seating rows. Available by subscription is Toyota’s Safety Connect with automatic collision notification and stolen-vehicle locator services.

2011 Toyota 4Runner Prices back to top

The 2011 Toyota 4Runner base price range is $30,335-$40,495. Compared to model-year 2010 pricing, this represents an increase of up to $350 on some 4Runner models, but also a decrease of $115 on others. And of course it excludes model-year 2010’s least expensive 4Runner, the four-cylinder SR5, which started at $28,300, including an $800 destination fee. (All prices in this review include the manufacturer’s mandated destination fee. Toyota’s fee for the 2011 4Runner is $810. Note that Toyotas sold in some Southeastern and Gulf states are supplied by independent distributors and may carry different destination fees.)   

The 2011 Toyota 4Runner SR5 is priced from $30,335 with 2wd and from $32,075 with 4wd. The 2011 Toyota 4Runner Trail starts at $36,615. Starting price for the 2011 4Runner Limited is $38,460 with 2wd and $40,495 with 4wd.

Among key options, leather upholstery is included in $2,790 Premium Package for the SR5 and the navigation system with back-up camera costs $2,420 on the Trail model and $1,420 on the Limited. The power moonroof adds $850 to the SR5. The third-row seat costs $805 on the SR5 and $1,015 on the leather-upholstered Limited. And the sliding cargo deck is available on the SR5 and Limited for $350.   

Toyota isn’t shy about touting 4Runner’s truck-based origins, but insists this SUV also provides plenty of coddling. Coil springs over gas shocks are used at all four corners.  Suspension is double-wishbone independent in front, with the solid rear axle located by a four-link setup. In addition, the Limited grade comes standard with Toyota’s X-REAS suspension that automatically adjusts shock-absorber damping over bumps or when cornering.

The 4Runner’s off-road credentials include engine and fuel-tank skid plates on all models and a healthy 9.6 inches of ground clearance on 4wd versions. All 4wd 4Runners also have Toyota’s Active Traction Control (A-TRAC) system. A-TRAC can distribute driving force to any one wheel in contact with the ground to sustain momentum on irregular terrain and slippery patches. An electronic-locking rear differential is standard on the 4Runner Trail model. For enhanced control on ascents and declines, hill-start assist is standard on V-6 4Runners and downhill assist is standard on SR5 and Limited 4wd models.

From there, things get really serious. The 4Runner draws on Land Cruiser kit for an array of advanced off-road features. Standard on the Trail model is Toyota’s Crawl Control, an electro-mechanical system though which the driver can match difficult terrain by selecting any of five speed levels. The system automatically maintains constant, slow progress to keep the vehicle under control and minimize the load on drivetrain and suspension components.

The 4Runner Trail model also features Toyota’s Multi-Terrain Select. This enables the driver to dial in wheel-slip control matched to a particular challenge. For example, in loose mud and sand, more-than-normal wheel slip is permitted, allowing tire-spin to work in the 4Runner’s favor. On bumpy moguls or solid rock, wheel slip is minimized. The Trail model also is available with Toyota’s Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System as a $1,750 option. This radically improves the 4Runner’s ability to follow rough terrain by disconnecting stabilizer bars, allowing greater axle travel and better suspension articulation.

2011 Toyota 4Runner Fuel Economy back to top

The 2011 Toyota 4Runner’s fuel-economy ratings are unchanged from 2010 V-6 models. The 2011 4Runner SR5 and Limited with 2wd are rated 17/23 mpg city/highway. The 2011 4Runner Trail model, the 4wd SR5, and the 4wd Limited are rated 17/22 mpg.

Discontinuing the 4Runner SR5 four-cylinder 2wd model doesn’t have much effect on fuel economy. It was rated 18/23 mpg, just 1 mpg better than the V-6 2wd 4Runner. And because the four-cylinder had to be worked hard to provide adequate acceleration, the real-world difference in mileage was likely inconsequential. The real savings came with the four-cylinder model’s $2,000-lower base price.

2011 Toyota 4Runner Release Date back to top

The 2011 Toyota 4Runner went on sale in August 2010.

What's next for the 2011 Toyota 4Runner back to top

If Toyota follows its traditional seven-year lifecycle for trucks, the 4Runner would undergo a freshening for model-year 2013. These “mid-cycle” changes typically include minor styling revisions front and rear but leave the main body unaffected. Cabin materials and graphics could also be changed, and new features may be added or existing features expanded to other models.

Despite a renewed emphasis on lighter weight and fuel efficiency, look for Toyota to sustain the 4Runner as a rock-ribbed member of its vehicle portfolio, though perhaps with more of a niche focus as time goes on. An all-new sixth-generation 4Runner would be on track for around model-year 2016.

Toyota has pledged to field a gas-electric hybrid version of every vehicle in its lineup within the next decade or so. The 4Runner would seem better suited to the torque-generating power of a diesel engine, but taking Toyota at its word, there’ll eventually be a 4Runner hybrid. Whether it comes during the current generation or is part of the sixth-generation model remains to be seen.

2011 Toyota 4Runner Competition back to top

2011 Nissan Pathfinder: This midsize truck-type SUV mirrors 4Runner’s appeal with macho styling, five- or seven-passenger seating, and serious off-road ability via part- and full-time 4wd systems. Pathfinder’s only engine is a V-6 (266 horsepower, 288 pound-feet of torque, 14/20 mpg with 4wd) or a V-8 (310 horsepower, 388 pound-feet, 13/18 with 4wd). Base price range is roughly $28,000-$41,000. A big change awaits Pathfinder in the form of a model-year 2013 redesign when it’ll shed its body-on-frame design for a crossover-type unibody, though it probably will retain three-row seating and substantial off-road capability.

2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee: Jeep takes its flagship upscale with a model-year 2011 redesign based on the underpinnings of the Mercedes-Benz ML SUV from its old German owner. Five seats are all you get, but interior appointments are far richer and adoption of an all-independent suspension improves ride and handling. Upscale on-road doesn’t mean outclassed off-road. This is a Jeep, after all, and it is available with such features as a Quadra-Lift air suspension for 11.1 inches of ground clearance and Jeep’s new traction-enhancing Select-Terrain system. Engines are a new V-6 (290 horsepower, 260 pound-feet, 15/20 mpg 4wd) and a Hemi V-8 (360 horsepower, 390 pound-feet, 13/19 4wd). On sale date is mid 2010 and base prices range is $31,000-$43,000.

2011 Ford Explorer: Another one bites the dust… The 2011 Explorer is fully redesigned and abandons body-on-frame construction for a unibody structure based on a beefed-up Ford Taurus platform. The other surprise: a powertrain lineup that eschews a V-8 for a V-6 and an optional four-cylinder. The V-6 has 290 horsepower, 255 pound-feet of torque and a preliminary 17/24-mpg rating. The four-cylinder is from Ford’s turbocharged EcoBoost engine family, has 237 horsepower, 250 pound-feet, and a preliminary 19/30 mpg; it’s available only with front-wheel drive. Three-row seating is standard, suspension is all-independent, and all-wheel-drive versions come with Ford’s Terrain Management System that automatically adjusts to suit a variety of low-traction conditions.

UPDATED BY TIM HEALEY