2012 Toyota 4Runner Review and Prices

Last Updated: May 27, 2012

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2012 Toyota 4Runner Buying Advice

The 2012 Toyota 4Runner is the best SUV for you if you’re loyal to the fading breed of body-on-frame SUVs.

The 2012 Toyota 4Runner gets audio and connectivity upgrades and is newly available with automatic-deploying running boards. The 2013 4Runner remains a tall-riding wagon with seating for up to seven and a skill set that runs from off-road clambering to on-road coddling. It’s frankly better at the former, so unless you regularly drive where there’s no pavement, a lighter-duty crossover is probably your better bet in an everyday SUV.

Should you buy a 2012 Toyota 4Runner or wait for the 2013 Toyota 4Runner? Not much reason to wait. The 2013 4Runner isn’t likely to receive any new features that would warrant passing on the 2012 model. This year’s updates fill one of the few gaps in this SUV’s resume. Remaining is a need for more power than 4Runner’s V-6 can deliver. Toyota, however, isn’t apt to make it available with a V-8. That would steal some thunder from the GX460, the upscale version of the 4Runner the automaker markets through its premium Lexus division.

2012 Toyota 4Runner Changes back to top

Styling: The 2012 Toyota 4Runner is a visual repeat of the 2011 4Runner. This is a square-rigged wagon with a bulldog nose and bulging fenders. The styling compliments 4Runner’s classic-SUV engineering, in which a wagon body is attached to a separate truck-type frame.

Body-on-frame construction suits the rigors of off-roading and trailer towing. But it’s fallen out of fashion in favor of crossover SUVs that combine body and frame into a “unibody” structure similar to that used on cars. Unibody construction is space-efficient and its weight savings benefit fuel economy, ride, and handling. Toyota’s product portfolio is diverse enough to accommodate both the 4Runner and the softer-natured 2012 Toyota Highlander, a midsize seven-seat crossover SUV with no off-road pretense but friendlier on-road manners.

The 2012 4Runner continues with four side doors and a liftgate that’s the only one in any sort of midsize SUV with a power-down rear window. Size wise, the 2012 4Runner falls roughly in the middle of the midsize-SUV class.

Roughly 50 percent of midsize SUVs can accommodate more than five passengers and the 2012 4Runner is again among these. It has two front bucket seats, a three-passenger fold-down second-row bench, and an optional fold-down third-row bench sized most appropriately for young children.

The 2012 4Runner’s interior design reflects its exterior character, with blocky shapes and oversized control knobs. This SUV’s off-road-ready ride height makes getting in or out a chore, one Toyota addresses for model-year 2012 by making available automatic running boards. These side steps power out from below the side doors to provide a foothold into and out of the SUV then slide back when the doors are shut.

Once aboard, 4Runner’s cabin is hospitable enough if you’re sitting in the first two rows and especially if you’ve ordered the leather upholstery and tapped into the nice array of available amenities.

The 2012 4Runner lineup again consists of three models: base SR5, the Trail off-road specialty model, and the top-of-the-line Limited luxury model. The 2012 4Runner Trail model is visually distinguished by front and rear bumpers contoured to more easily clear off-road obstacles. The 2012 4Runner Limited model gets chrome grillework and 20-inch alloy wheels that are fancier than the other models’ 17s.

Mechanical: The 2012 Toyota 4Runner mirrors the mechanical features of the 2011 4Runner. It carries over a 4.0-liter V-6 and five-speed automatic transmission as its sole powertrain. Horsepower remains 270 and torque 278 pound-feet. (Torque is crucial in a heavy vehicle such as the 4Runner; think of torque as the force that propels you forward and horsepower as the energy that sustains momentum.)

Toyota wisely discontinued 4Runner’s available four-cylinder engine in model-year 2011. At 157 horsepower and 178 pound-feet torque and linked with an archaic four-speed automatic transmission, the four was sorely overmatched.

The V-6 makes for a livelier 4Runner, though still not one that passes slower traffic with authority or makes you forget it’s saddled with 4,500-4,900 pounds of body-on-frame SUV. Tow ratings for the 2012 4Runner remain a middling 5,000 pounds for all versions. Two key 4Runner rivals, the 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee and 2012 Nissan Pathfinder, offer V-8s with a minimum of 388 pound-feet of torque for better all-around acceleration and at least 7,400 pounds of trailering ability.

The 2012 4Runner’s road manners continue to make concessions to its traditional-SUV design. The body-on-frame weight, tall-sidewall tires, long suspension travel, and slow steering conspire to dull reactions when you want to turn. The truck-tough solid rear axle can’t match the typical crossover’s all-independent suspension for ride comfort and control. And 4Runner’s bluff body shape compromises directional stability in strong crosswinds.

4Runner’s old-school-SUV philosophy pays dividends once you leave the pavement, however. Unlike crossovers, which typically are based on front-wheel-drive engineering and employ light-duty all-wheel-drive systems, 4Runner’s authentic-SUV design defaults to rear-wheel drive (2wd) and uses four-wheel drive (4wd) to share power with the front wheels. Four-wheel drive is optional on SR5 and Limited models and standard on the Trail model. The 4Runner SR5 and Trail models have a rather elementary 4wd system in which the driver pulls a floor lever to engage the front wheels. This so-called part-time 4wd is only for use off-road or in extremely slippery conditions.

“Full-time” 4wd is reserved for the 4Runner Limited model. This more sophisticated 4wd system can be left engaged on any surface and is activated by a center-console switch.

Regardless of system, all 4wd 2012 4Runners again invite real off-roading thanks to separate low-range gearing, fuel-tank skid plates, and Toyota’s Active Traction Control (A-TRAC) system. Trail models, meanwhile, continue with advanced terrain-matching software and hardware. (See “2012 Toyota 4Runner Prices” below for details.)

Features: It might not drive like a car-type crossover, but the 2012 Toyota 4Runner doesn’t lack for many modern conveniences.

Audio and connectivity upgrades headline the additions for model-year 2012. The SR5 model joins the Trail and Limited with a standard USB iPod interface and Bluetooth hands-free mobile phone linking and music streaming. The 2912 4Runner SR5 and Trail models now come with standard SiriusXM satellite radio capability with a 90-day trial subscription included. And all 4Runner audio systems again have a “Party Mode” setting that biases tailgate-mounted speakers for outdoor listening.

Newly standard for the 2012 4Runner Limited and optional for the SR5 and Trail is Toyota’s new Entune infotainment system. This incorporates a voice-activated navigation system with a 7-inch dashboard touchscreen; a navigation system had been an option exclusive to the Trail and Limited models. This year’s system includes HD Radio with iTunes tagging and the ability to convert incoming text and email messages to speech.

The Entune component is a collection of popular mobile applications and data services, with three years of complimentary access. Entune operates through a smartphone is connected to the vehicle using Bluetooth wireless technology or a USB cable. Entune’s features are operated using the vehicle’s controls or, for some services, by voice recognition. Entune offers mobile apps for Bing, iHeartRadio, MovieTickets.com, OpenTable, and Pandora Internet radio. Entune data services include a fuel price guide, sports scores, stocks, traffic and weather.

The automatic running boards are a new option for 2012 SR5 and Limited models. Toyota believes the reduced ground clearance they entail is incompatible with the Trail model’s off-road focus.

Returning as standard on all 2012 4Runners is air conditioning, a tilt/telescope steering wheel, power locks, and power windows – including that power tailgate window. Remote keyless entry, cruise control, and 10 cup and bottle holders also are standard.

4Runner’s second-row folding bench seat is split 40/20/40 and has a reclining backrest. Seven-passenger seating is available in SR5 and Limited models via an optional 50/50 split/folding third-row bench. Also available for easier loading and tailgate parties is a slide-out cargo-floor tray that supports up to 440 pounds.

The 2012 4Runner Limited model returns with keyless entry and pushbutton start standard; it also features Toyota’s X-REAS suspension that automatically adjusts shock-absorber damping over bumps or when cornering.  

Leather upholstery with heated power front seats are standard on the Limited and optional on the SR5; the Trail model continues with water-resistant fabric upholstery. Other equipment standard or optional depending on model includes a power tilt/slide moonroof, and a rear-view monitor that displays on the inside mirror.

All 2012 4Runners again come with antilock four-wheel disc brakes and traction and antiskid systems for better control in stops, take-offs, and sharp turns. Front passengers get knee airbags, and all three seating rows get head-protecting side curtain airbags. Toyota’s Safety Connect with automatic collision notification and stolen-vehicle locator services is available by subscription.

2012 Toyota 4Runner Prices back to top

Base-price range for the 2012 Toyota 4Runner is $31,900-$41,440. (Base prices in this review include the manufacturer’s mandated destination fee. Toyota’s fee for the 2012 4Runner is $810. Toyotas sold in some Southeastern and Gulf states are supplied by independent distributors and may carry different destination fees.)

Starting price for the 2012 Toyota 4Runner SR5 grade increases about 2.5 percent over model-year 2011 levels, to $31,900 with 2wd and $33,640 with 4wd. (Note that the discontinued four-cylinder 4Runner was offered only as a 2wd SR5 model and started around $28,300.)

The 2012 Toyota 4Runner Trail model is priced from $37,565, an increase of 0.5 percent over model-year 2011.

Base price for the 2012 Toyota 4Runner Limited is $39,405 with 2wd and $41,440 with 4wd, an increase of 0.5 percent over 2011 Limited prices.

More than a few SUVs – including a few crossovers – have styling that snarls “off-road ready.” But 4wd 4Runners will never be accused of being paper tigers. Hill-start assist returns as standard downhill assist is again standard on SR5 and Limited 4wd models. All 2012 4wd Toyota 4Runners continue with a generous 9.6 inches of ground clearance and standard A-TRAC, which can sustain momentum on irregular or slippery terrain by distributing driving force to any wheel in contact with the ground.

The 2012 4Runner Trail model’s standard equipment list suits serious off-roaders. It includes an electronic-locking rear differential and Toyota’s Crawl Control. A sort-of terrible-topography cruise control with five driver-selectable speeds, Crawl Control automatically maintains slow, constant progress to maximize driver confidence and minimize suspension and drivetrain loads.

Also standard on the 2012 4Runner Trail model is Toyota’s Multi-Terrain Select. This automatically dials in an appropriate amount of wheel slip to sustain progress in sand or mud, over dry rock, or on other challenging surfaces. The 2012 4Runner Trail model is again available with Toyota’s Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System. This disconnects 4Runner’s stabilizer bars to allow greater axle travel and better suspension articulation for improved performance on irregular terrain.

2012 Toyota 4Runner Fuel Economy back to top

EPA fuel-economy ratings for the 2012 Toyota 4Runner are 17/23/19 mpg city/highway/combined with 2wd and 17/22/19 mpg with 4wd.

These ratings raise two observations of note. First, at a rated 18/22/19 mpg, the four-cylinder alternative to the 2011 4Runner’s V-6 wasn’t present so much to boost fuel economy as to create a lower price of entry.

Second, 4Runner’s body-on-frame mass contributes to curb weights of 4,400-4,805 pounds, depending on model. By comparison, V-6 versions of the similarly sized unibody Highlander weigh 4,045-4,464 pounds, though fuel economy ratings are not dramatically higher, at 18/24/20 mpg with 2wd and 17/22/19 with all-wheel drive.

2012 Toyota 4Runner Release Date back to top

The 2012 Toyota 4Runner went on sale in autumn 2011.

What's next for the 2012 Toyota 4Runner back to top

Based on Toyota’s track record of seven-year lifecycles for trucks, the 4Runner would close out this fifth-generation design in calendar 2015, and be all-new for model-year 2016. Toyota is likely to continue minor detail changes in features and trim along the way.

2012 Toyota 4Runner Competition back to top

Nissan Pathfinder: This body-on-frame SUV counters 4Runner point-for-point with five- or seven-passenger seating, tough-guy styling, and off-road oriented 4wd systems. It arguably handles better than the 4Runner, and still offers a choice of a V-6 (266 horsepower, 288 pound-feet of torque) or a V-8 (310 and 388, respectively. Fuel-economy ratings for the V-6 are 15/22/17 mpg with 2wd, 14/20/16 with 4wd; the V-8 comes only with 4wd and rates a sobering 18/18/14 mpg. The 2012 Pathfinder, however, represents a last hurrah of sorts: in a radical change, Nissan recreates Pathfinder for model-year 2013 as an all-new crossover SUV with front- and all-wheel drive and V-6 power only. The shift in focus is away from off-pavement capability and toward suburban family service.  The 2012 Pathfinder is priced from $30,115 with the V-6 and from $44,795 with the V-8.

Jeep Grand Cherokee: Exhibit-A that off-road excellence doesn’t require body-on-frame construction is Jeep’s flagship SUV. Fully redesigned for model-year 2011, the 2012 Grand Cherokee retains a fortified unibody structure and teams it with a range of 4wd systems, including one with state-of-the-art terrain-response in the vein of the 4Runner Trail model’s Multi-Terrain Select. Grand Cherokee skews upscale, too, with Euro-flavored design inside and out, premium-quality cabin appointments, and a handling-tuned suspension. The V-6 models have 390 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque and rate 17/23/19 mpg with 2wd and 16/23/19 with 4wd. They start at $28,120. The V-8 versions have a Hemi, rate 14/20/16 with 2wd and 13/20/15 with 4wd, and start at $29,815. Unique in this grouping is the Grand Cherokee SRT8 sport model with a 470-horse Hemi-V-8, 12/18/14-mpg rating, and a $62,085 starting price.  

Ford Explorer: This is a popular choice in a comfortable seven-seat crossover with traditional-SUV styling and all the off-pavement capability most drivers will ever need. Explorer was fully redesigned for model-year 2011, shedding its body-on-frame design and available V-8 engine for a Taurus-based platform. A V-6 is standard, has 290 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque, and rates 17/25/20 with front-wheel drive and 17/23/19 with all-wheel drive. These Explorers are priced from $28,995. In a glimpse into the future of crossover powertrains, Explorer is available with Ford’s EcoBoost turbocharged four-cylinder. This optional engine has 237 horsepower and 250 pound-feet. EcoBoost Explorers come only with front-wheel drive, rates 20/28/23 mpg, and start at $29,990. On road refinement is Explorer’s objective, but AWD models come standard with a Ford’s Terrain Management System that automatically adjusts to suit a multitude of slippery conditions.

2012 Toyota 4Runner Next Steps