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2013 Toyota 4Runner Trail 4x4 V-6 Road Test

The 2013 Toyota 4Runner Trail 4x4 V-6 handle all types of terrain with ease.

What It Is
A full-size SUV with full off-road capabilities
Best Thing
It doesn't sacrifice comfort for capability, and is remarkably quiet. Fuel economy isn't bad, either
Worst Thing
Suspension is stiff and can be jarring if not in the right setting for specific road conditions
Snap Judgment
The 2013 Toyota 4Runner may not be as luxurious as a Range Rover or other off-road capable vehicles, but it offers the same level of performance for half the price


When you think of off-roading, your first thought is never, "Hey, let's go to some remote part of Pennsylvania and see what we can find." What you do think about are places filled with rocky terrain, steep hills, and elements that will take your vehicle to its limit. Driving through the back woods of Northern Pennsylvania on a family get-away isn't something you would think would call for an off-road vehicle, but those roads can be hard to handle when you turn off the highway. They require a vehicle that can handle different terrain while still managing to get decent gas mileage, as gas stations are few and far between.

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The 2013 Toyota 4Runner Trail 4x4 V-6 was the perfect vehicle for this task. The family road trip to our lake house at Duck Harbor Pond kicked off at Newark International Airport, complete with enough luggage to overwhelm anyone. Although we didn't get to test the limits of what the 4Runner, we did push it pretty far. Our trek took us through highways, gravel roads, steep hills, some streams and rocky terrain, all of which would be hard to get through without a vehicle capable of performing off-road. We discovered that if you need a vehicle that can go off-road when you need to, and still perform comfortably on pavement, the 4Runner offers up a pretty compelling compromise.

What We Drove

We drove the 2013 Toyota 4Runner Trail 4x4 V-6, which has a base price of $37,155. Ours came out to a total $39,026 before the $845 delivery charge. Our test 4Runner came optioned with the $995 Display Audio with Navigation and Entune package, which included a touchscreen infotainment system, backup camera display, satellite radio, and Bluetooth. Other options included a $154 cargo cover, $60 hitch ball mount, $437 running boards, and $225 carpet floor mats and cargo mat.

Standard features included rear privacy glass, fog lamps, overfenders, mudguards, black utility roof rack with rail system, a tow hitch receiver, as well as air conditioning with a filter, water-resistant fabric-trimmed seats, power adjustable front seats, power moonroof with sunshade, keyless entry, power rear window, auto-dimming rearview mirror, backup camera, front and rear 12 volt and 120 volt power outlets, and a sliding rear cargo deck.

Safety features included the star safety system, traction control, vehicle stability control, brake assist and smart stop technology, driver and front passenger advanced airbag system, side and knee airbags, active headrests, all row roll-sensing side curtain airbags, and a LATCH system.

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The Commute

From the long stretch of highway roads between Newark International Airport and the unpaved, rocky roads leading into Equinuk, Pennsylvania, the 2013 Toyota 4Runner found no obstacle it couldn't overcome. Luggage for four adults for over a week fit perfectly in the back with room to spare, the seats were comfortable and provided plenty of head and legroom for all passengers in the front and back, and although the suspension was rather stiff, those in the back slept peacefully until we hit some winding roads.

The interior of our 4Runner was attractive and functional without being overly cluttered. The infotainment system was easy and intuitive, featuring a touchscreen display with large buttons and knobs, as well as voice command features. Destinations were easily input in the navigation, as well as syncing smartphones for hands-free connectivity and streaming audio. One thing that gave us some difficulty was the actual audio output. It seemed like a speaker was blown up front, but we later came to find out that the 4Runner is equipped with "Party Mode," which has all audio coming out of the back speakers for when the tailgate is open for camping, off-roading, or other activities. When we turned that off, all audio was crisp and clear, and most importantly, audible.

One of the biggest surprises was the real-world fuel economy figures. Combined, the 2013 Toyota 4Runner is rated at 18 mpg. Throughout the entire trip, average mpg didn't dip below 19 mpg, and hovered right around 19.5 mpg, with half of the driving on the highway, and the other was rocky back roads that required four-wheel drive. Conserving fuel economy wasn't even a thought while driving along, and we pushed it when going up steep hills and uneven roads. We honestly expected fuel economy to suffer because of the rough driving conditions and were pleasantly surprised when we only needed to fill up once for the entire trip.

The Grocery Run

There aren't many towns near our destination that had grocery stores, but the one that we did find proved to be an easy challenge for the 4Runner. After buying two weeks' worth of groceries for four people, the SUV swallowed up all the bags in the back with room to spare. There is even the sliding rear cargo deck that let us load all the groceries onto a platform and slide it in to the back, so you don't have to lean the cart against your vehicle if you can't hold on to it.

Because of its height, it may be hard for shorter passengers to enter and exit the vehicle easily. It did have running boards for an extra step, making it a little easier to get in and out. However, if there is a passenger with mobility issues--or smaller children--this is not the right vehicle. There was an abundance of room for the front and rear passengers, with leg and headroom for taller passengers to sit comfortably. The backup camera offered extra eyes when backing up and navigating out of tight spots in between trees or other vehicles. The cloth seats were comfortable, with enough padding that they never became too soft after long rides.

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As the roads were very hilly and gravelly, the 4Runner had a tendency to downshift on its own when going downhill when the brake was pressed. Although this could definitely be a useful feature when off-roading, when driving down the highway, it can be a hindrance. Because of this, speed was reduced significantly and even accelerating wouldn't cause it to shift up until it was back on level ground. It didn't do this every time, but it was frequent enough to take notice.

The Weekend Fun

The standard Toyota 4Runner is the perfect vehicle for beginner off roaders, or even for those who just do more driving on uneven roads. The 4Runner Trail model adds some extra off-road equipment for more seasoned off-roaders. The suspension, though stiff, was manageable and provided a sense of security when taking on a difficult challenge. If you plan on staying on the pavement more than on the dirt, the base SR5 or high-end Limited models may be better as a daily driver, since they offer a softer suspension. However, although the Trail model feels more suited to dirt paths than paved roads, it's plenty comfortable and surprisingly quiet.

In order to get to our destination, we had to drive through loose gravel, roads filled with potholes, and hills with steep inclines and declines. When using the off-road equipment, all worry flew out the window. It was capable and could handle anything we threw its way. Going through streams was no trouble, and even in slightly deeper water, the 4Runner performed just as a true off-road vehicle should.

The first few hours of driving were on hilly highway roads, where the V-6 engine came in very handy. Despite the size of the 4Runner, it was easily maneuverable and comfortable for all passengers in the front and back row. As soon as the terrain changed, so did the attitude of the vehicle. Normally, we have a dinky sedan that you have to drive at two miles an hour because of the horrible road conditions where the paved road ends and the gravel road filled with potholes begins. In the 4Runner, it was as if there was no difference. It gripped the road with ease, whipping around corners with no tire slide - it didn't even manage to wake up the people sleeping in the back seat.

As a road trip vehicle, the 2013 Toyota 4Runner was a great choice. It held all luggage and other personal items with room to spare, was comfortable enough that passengers fell asleep, despite the road conditions, and the fuel economy was better than expected. It had no problem switching from two-wheel drive to four-wheel drive when the situation called for it, and the off-road controls were easy to use and turn off when back on regular roads.

Summary

The 2013 Toyota 4Runner was impressive. At just under $40,000 for the Trail model we drove, all the features and capabilities are top notch. The off-road capabilities rival more expensive brands, and are just as strong. Gas mileage is up from what it used to be, making this a solid choice, even for city dwellers. If you're thinking that maybe the price is high, the base model offers many of the same features and still delivers the level of performance you would want from a vehicle like this. The only thing that takes away from the overall package is the stiff suspension, which is just part of the Trail model. If you like the idea of a rugged vehicle that can go from pavement to dirt without any effort and don’t mind that its isn't as smooth of a ride as you might find with the Toyota Highlander, the Toyota 4Runner deserves a look.

Spec Box

Price-as-tested: $39,871
Fuel Economy
EPA City: 17
EPA Highway: 21
EPA Combined: 18
Cargo Space: Easily accommodates a number of large suitcases without hindering visibility
Child Seat Fitment, Second Row: Excellent
Estimated Combined Range: 414
Intellichoice Cost of Ownership: Average

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