Behind The Wheel: 4Runner sales up as gas prices deflate

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With its rugged off-road prowess and reputation for reliability, Toyota's stalwart 4Runner sport utility vehicle is enjoying a sales revival, thanks to low gasoline prices.

Sales in the U.S. of the 4Runner, which ranks in the bottom third in fuel economy among gasoline-powered SUVs with 17 mpg in city driving and up to 22 mpg on highways, are up nearly 25 percent so far this year. This follows a strong 2015, when 4Runner sales surpassed 97,000 and grew by 26 percent over the previous calendar year.

The 4Runner's durability attracts buyers with active lifestyles — camping, mountain biking, skiing. The tough-looking 4Runner has kept its truck-like construction, and though its four-link rear axle and coil-spring suspension aren't necessarily modern, they're tried-and-proven for off-roading.

Climbing ability

Drivers can climb and descend steep hills because the 4Runner's short front and rear overhangs keep bumpers and tailpipes from slamming into the slopes, and high ground clearance helps the 4Runner straddle rocks. Plus, the four-door SUV comes standard with valuable features, such as a full-size spare tire.

The starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $34,710, though there are several trim levels and with two- and four-wheel drive.

Every 2016 4Runner comes with a 270-horsepower V-6 and five-speed automatic transmission that provide towing capacity for up to 5,000 pounds of trailers, boats and other gear, as well as an integrated tow-hitch receiver and wiring harness. There are also standard traction control and skid plates that shield major components, such as the engine and fuel tank, from off-road damage.

ALG named the 2016 4Runner best in resale value among off-road utilities this model year, topping the Jeep Wrangler and Jeep Grand Cherokee. Both Jeeps were rated worse than average in reliability by Consumer Reports, while it listed the 4Runner as much better than average in reliability, and predicted reliability for the 2016 model is listed as excellent.

The test 4Runner — a Trail Premium model with four-wheel drive — needed a big step up to get inside, and headroom of 38.6 inches was less than expected due to a sliding moon roof and shade.

On the outside, the burly-looking 4Runner accentuated its power with a large hood scoop and 17-inch alloy wheels. A standard rearview camera gives the driver clear views of what's behind.

Five seats are standard and provide good comfort. An optional third row adds two more seats, but legroom back there is only 29.3 inches and is best for children.

Generous cargo space of 47.2 cubic feet exists behind the second-row seats; it grows to 89.7 cubic feet when the seats are folded.

The 4-liter, double overhead cam V-6 gave strong pull to the 4Runner as torque peaks at 278 foot-pounds at 4,400 rpm.

The tester averaged only 18.5 mpg, for a range of 425 miles on a single tank of regular gasoline. But with today's average gas prices, it would cost $41 to fill up the 23-gallon tank.


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