I will confess, I enjoy a comfy sport utility vehicle as much as the next guy. And these days, that’s about all you get in an SUV, comfort. Oh, they all play on the image of ruggedly butch off-road machines that will take you to the far side of the Rockies for a session of mountain biking, and then through a car wash for an evening at the opera. Well, truth to tell, most are better suited for the opera, and if you did take them into the Rockies, you’d better follow along behind with a Jeep because that’s how you’ll get home.

But the Toyota 4Runner was always one of the tough ones. It was like a Land Cruiser in a quart-sized container. And let’s be honest, even the Land Cruiser has gotten so big, heavy and luxurious that the number of owners who will actually take a chance on beating it up in the Wild West could meet annually in a room at Motel 6. The 4Runner was based on the tough little Toyota pickup, the Tacoma, but the latest couple of generations of the 4Runner have been on a separate platform that is longer, wider and altogether more sophisticated.

It also has a tough new options package, the TRD Off-Road and Off-Road premium, which is the truck we drove.

And that’s good since the last generation was getting decidedly creaky compared to some of the lovely new competition from GM, Jeep, Ford and even Mitsubishi and Nissan. But the new model has the style, room and trimmings to compete in either utility or luxury with any of them. Add to that mix the traditional Toyota attention to detail and quality and the new 4Runner store will be many shoppers first stop.

What they’ll find is a chiseled new shape that uses Tundra grill styling cues and a beefy overall look that is in turns both tough and sleek. Inside, a clean, functional looking instrument panel faces the driver with all the requisite gauges in three round pods. Our TRD Premium edition was well optioned with automatic climate control, Entune sound system, power everything including a roll-down rear window in the tailgate. Power from the V6 is transmitted through a new 4-wheel-drive system that automatically apportions power to each of the 17-inch wheels. The 4.0-liter V6 in our test truck cranked out, 270 horsepower and 278 ft. lbs. of torque, which is the figure most important in off-roading as it translates to sheer grunt.

Driving the new mid-size Toyota is a pleasure, the power flows like beer at a political convention and the ride around town almost sedan-like. The active suspension with the TRD package gives you whatever ride you need whenever you need it. What gentle off-roading we were able to do showed me that you don’t need to beat a truck like a rented mule to get good performance in the boonies anymore.

So, has our old favorite tough truck hit middle age and softened up like an aging action hero? Not at all, thank goodness. Toyota has once again proved that the iron fist in the velvet glove is the best formula for a truck. So go ahead, get it dirty. Believe me, I wouldn’t give you that advice about very many SUV’s today. But in the case of the new 4Runner, it would be a shame to keep it clean.


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