2016 Toyota 4Runner

An unpaid, unprofessional review…

Have you ever bought anything you really longed for only to hate it later?  That statement should catch most of us.  Now, what if the something was a $35k automobile?  At least some hands should go down, but it happened to me and my shiny 2016 Trail Edition 4Runner.  The maiden road-trip in this vehicle left me wondering if I made a horrible mistake.  Now wait, it ends well, but if you are considering a Toyota 4Runner, you must know that it is a heavy set of hiking boots.


I think I read every damn review on the internet regarding the 4Runner before buying mine, and they are all wrong.  They all miss the 3 fatal flaws in the 5th Gen 4Runner.   It took me about 15 miles to detect the first flaw, the buzzing brake pedal.  Once I discovered that the brake pedal buzzes every 2nd or 3rd press, I can’t fathom how I missed that on my test drive(s).   It turns out that the brake booster is not vacuum powered like cars have been for decades.  The pressure boost is created by an electric pump and this pump only turns on when needed.  For the driver, it means a strange buzz in the brake pedal roughly every other time you apply the brake.  Slow down, be quiet, turn down the radio, and you can hear it.  It’ll have you counting brake presses…ok this will be a nice stop but next one…shit can I just drive thru that light!

The brake pedal isn’t alone; the second flaw affects its skinny neighbor to the right.  If you read enough about Toyota you will find out those runaway cars a few years ago weren’t really all related to bunched up floor mats.  There were indeed some quality issues with the gas pedals.  Gone are the days of cables and robust mechanical pedals.  Now when you put your foot down, it’s just a plastic assembly with a spring and sensor.  Some of these could get stuck in the down…haul ass…position.  The backlash of this legal conflagration is that my new Toyota gas pedal is stiff as fuck.  I mean really hard to press and lacking in holding friction.  Couple this with a goofy angled shape to keep it from hanging on the floor mat and it’s kinda miserable.  You feel that stiff spring and sharp point working on your foot.  After about 30 miles you are ready to risk cruise control in the rush hour stop and go.

So we’ve covered two major flaws affecting two major human-vehicle interfaces, care to guess the third?  Yes, the third flaw affects the most major of interfaces, the steering wheel.  The steering in my 5th Gen is agonizingly stiff.  I mean, it takes two hands to spin it around in the parking lot.  Diving into a fast right hand turn, better make sure you grasp one of those grip bumps at 10 and 2 or the wheel will slip out of your hand.  My first Toyota was a 1992 Hi-Lux with no power steering at all.  This 4Runner makes that look luxurious.

Our maiden road trip in the new 4Runner was early, about 2 weeks and 1000 miles in, and we were headed all the way to Colorado from Texas.  I really wasn’t sure about the 3 flaws.  Would I get used to them, would things loosen up after a little break in?  Well, you don’t use the brakes much on long trips, and thank God for cruise control, but the steering…  That was a pain in the neck, literally.  Turns out if you have a crummy vertebrae in the neck region, well this sort of upper back pain is exacerbated by long stents of moderate effort by your arms.  I really had to fine tune my seat position for this trip to keep my neck from hurting.  I think it is directly related to all the normal, tiny corrections you make while driving that take more effort than they should.  So there we are, 2 week old, $35,000, 4Runner of my dreams, and I’m wondering, oh what have I done!

Now, how are things after 7000 miles and several months, are the fatal flaws truly fatal.  Well, turns out not really.  The brake pedal still buzzes, but I don’t really notice.  Seriously, at normal speeds the buzz blends in with the rumble and vibrations of the road.  The brakes are powerful and still free of any sort of rotor pulsing so I give them a pass on the buzz.  That little intermittent duty pump will probably last forever.  The skinny pedal on the right is still on the stiff side, but I think break-in has produced some holding friction.  Most of my daily driving is around town without cruise control and I don’t notice anymore.  This is a good sign, and surely it is carefully designed to never stick down and try to kill me.

The steering, well it deserves its own paragraph as it is the thing that caused me a real-life, physical, pain in the neck.  I decided to solve the problem by putting some more air in the front tires.  The factory recommendation is 32 psi front and back.  I decided to try 35.  It was like flipping a switch.  Quite a remarkable improvement, so I then tried 37.  I think that does the trick.  You wouldn’t confuse this with the over boosted steering of an old Cadillac, but it’s livable.  You can spin the wheel with the heal of your hand.  You can dive into that turn one handed without fear of slipping and ending up in someone’s yard.   The tires themselves are rated for 50 something psi so no fear of blowing one up.  I even tried a “chalk test” to see if they wearing heavy in the middle and they appear to be quite even.  I’m sure the engineers who designed the traction control are cringing, but I don’t care.  A little less front traction leads to understeer which is stable and good for rear-drive anyway.  More importantly it makes my 4Runner feel 2000 lbs lighter!

tire-test2-sm     tire-test-sm

So do I like my new 4Runner?  I’d say after 7000 miles of getting to know its quirks, and breaking in this heavy leather boot, YES!  It’s smooth, quiet, and surprisingly efficient for an aerodynamic brick on wheels.  Our family of four fits beautifully, with comfortable seats, and a huge cargo hold.  Turn up the stereo and roll down all 5 windows on a nice day.  Though it will rarely leave the pavement, it most certainly can.  It’s got off-road capability far in excess of my courage and willingness to scratch the paint.  Don’t listen to non-sense about lack of power and speeds in the gear box.  Behind that somewhat stiff gas pedal is gobs of power, just push it down.  Compared to its peers, the 4.0L still makes quite a lot of honest power low in the revs.  The 5 speed auto is well behaved and its ratios perfectly chosen.  Those Colorado mountain passes were no match for 4 gear and 3000 rpm, and it’s smooth enough you might forget to put it back in 5th.  So what is this 4Runner?  Is it the real deal, a high-quality family wagon, designed to last, damn near indestructible?  Is it like a heavy set of hiking boots that hurt your feet at first, and then become your best friend?  I sure hope so.