Now that I’ve secured the first half of my dream garage, boredom and curiosity brought my mind to what would perfectly compliment the S2000. I’ve always been partial to the Toyota Century and its understated opulence, while Land Cruisers are never far from my mind. But the local fleet company solved the issue right quick: it dropped off a Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro. Within a day I knew it’d be hard to give back.
I’ve already owned a third-generation 4Runner—rusty and leaky. Mine had a killer roof basket that I never used but loved anyway. It’s one vehicle placed firmly in my “regret selling” column. And I’d already driven a 2020 4Runner TRD Pro on trails in Moab and up to the top of a 13,000-foot mountain in Ouray, Colorado. I knew it was a great, capable vehicle. But I didn’t love it. It’s old, the interior is lame, and at about $50,000 as-tested, it was expensive.
But on a day off, I made it out to some unmaintained access roads about 90 minutes from my home in New York. The 4Runner cruised effortlessly on the highway, with far better road manners than a Wrangler. Once I got to the gouged, muddy roads up north, though, I began to really love the Toyota.
I’ve done a lot of rock crawling and technical stuff in TRD Pros, but that formed much of an emotional bond with Toyota’s body-on-frame offerings. Low-speed trail work is fun and engaging, it just doesn’t make me love a vehicle. You spend so much time focusing on the potential catch points of the bodywork that you’re actively thinking about limitations. On a desolate, muddy road in the middle of nowhere, though, I could romp on the 4Runner and trust it to take abuse. It thundered over two-foot holes and splashed through deep water, never really pushing itself hard.
When I found a rocky trail, it plodded over the jagged boulders and through the slippery mud without any complaint. None of this was extreme terrain, but I was flying solo in an area with questionable cell reception. I wanted to have fun, not fill out Toyota Press Fleet Damage forms. Besides, our own Chris Perkins had already torture tested an identical 4Runner and found it handled everything with ease.
More importantly, this is how I’d enjoy my own 4Runner. An easy escape pod from the city, smooth over highways, fun on the loose stuff, and competent on the rocks. Take it easy, I’m not trying to show off. Park it deep in a forested area, set out on foot for some much-needed freedom and reflection. In the time of COVID, escape sounds incredible.
In this role, I find the 4Runner far better than its competition. Make no mistake, the Jeep Wrangler would leave the Toyota for dead on a trail. I just don’t want to drive on home. In daily trips on the highway, the Wrangler is buzzy and busy and irritating, actively reminding you it’d rather be on rocky trail.
a car parked on pavement near a forest: MAC01798.JPG© Mack Hogan MAC01798.JPG
The 4Runner accepts me for who I am. I’m a faker. I don’t want to give up the comfort of an independent front suspension when my life is defined by airport runs and 8-hour drives to see my parents. The 4Runner handles supermarket duty like a normal car; it’s comfortable, leather-lined, and comes with a decent stereo. It’s by no means the $50,000 SUV with the best road manners, but unlike the Jeep it’s never going to annoy me. And when I finally do break free from routine and make it out of the city, it’s more capable than I am, anyway.