Anyone who thought the latest generation Toyota 4Runner was a gentrified “girl’s SUV” should take a second look. The 4Runner stands tall in today’s collection of mid-sized SUV’s as one of the last available with rugged body on frame construction.

Many of its competitors have given in and redesigned their SUVs with unibody derivatives of car chassis like the new Jeep Cherokee, Dodge Durango, and Ford Explorer. While the latter still like to be called SUV’s, they have really moved more toward crossover status.

The fifth-generation Toyota 4Runner, introduced for model year 2010, gains minor option revisions for 2011. The 4Runner was completely redesigned and re-engineered for the previous model year. Its adaptable interior and unique cargo area make the newest 4Runner smarter, more comfortable, and more versatile than ever.

The newest 4Runner is available in a variety of configurations and in three models: a well-equipped SR5, top-of-the-line Limited, plus a Trail grade shown in our photos for maximum off-road capability. Optional third-row seats allow for up to seven-person capacity.

Drivetrain configurations include rear wheel 4×2, part-time 4×4 and full-time multi-mode 4×4 with a locking center differential. All models are equipped with a 4.0-liter V6 teamed to a five-speed ECT-i automatic transmission. A manual transmission is no longer available.

The 2011 4Runner ‘s 4.0-liter V6 that generates 270 horsepower and 278 lb.-ft. of torque. Through the use of advanced engine management that includes dual independent Variable Valve Timing with intelligence (VVT-i), the new 4.0-liter engine gained power over the previous 4Runner’s V6 and even V8 engines, yet is more efficient than either. The new 4.0-liter fuel economy ratings rival car-based platforms at 17 mpg city and 23 mpg highway for 4×2 models (22 mpg highway for 4×4).  Maximum towing capacity is 5,000 pounds.

A double-wishbone independent front suspension, combined with a variable-flow rack and pinion steering, makes for precise control on demanding roadways. Coil springs over gas shocks are used at all four wheels for a comfortable ride and controlled handling. The four-link rear suspension minimizes axle hop and assures a smooth ride for back seat passengers. Large diameter wheels and tires not only improve off-road performance, but also enhance the 4Runner’s rugged demeanor.

The Limited comes standard with an X-REAS suspension system that further improves performance, comfort and control. X-REAS automatically adjusts the damping force of shocks when driving over bumpy surfaces, or when cornering. The system uses a center control absorber to cross-link shocks on opposite corners of the vehicle, substantially reducing pitch and yaw by offsetting opposing inputs. With X-REAS the new 4Runner corners flatter, smoother, and handles choppy pavement more easily.

What many people do not know is that the newest 4Runner shares the same platform as the Toyota FJ Cruiser. Extensive frame and body reinforcements have been added, using high-tensile materials to add strength without adding weight. The SR5 and Trail 4×4 models have a traditional two-speed lever-operated, part-time four-wheel-drive system with neutral position.

The 4Runner Limited is equipped with full-time, four-wheel-drive system with a locking center differential and a three-mode, center console-mounted switch. The new 4Runner is also equipped with a stronger rear differential than the previous model, with a larger ring gear.

To enhance grip, the A-TRAC traction control system is standard equipment on all 4×4 models. The system can distribute driving force to any one wheel in contact with the ground, making terrain irregularities and slippery patches transparent to the driver. An electronic-locking rear differential is standard on the Trail grade. Axles house 3.73 gears.

An array of advanced features, formerly only available in the Toyota Land Cruiser, further boosts off-highway capabilities. The Trail grade offers Toyota’s Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS) as an option. KDSS significantly improves terrain-following ability by dynamically disconnecting stabilizer bars to allow for more axle travel, and better suspension articulation in slow, difficult terrain.

Toyota’s Crawl Control (CRAWL) feature is standard on the Trail grade. CRAWL is an adjustable electro-mechanical system that can be tuned to match the terrain by selecting any of five speed levels. The system helps maintain an appropriate speed to keep the vehicle under control and minimizes the load on drivetrain and suspension components. The CRAWL feature helps make traversing difficult terrain easier and safer. With the transfer case shifted into low range, CRAWL regulates engine speed and output (along with braking force), to propel the vehicle forward or in reverse at one of the five low-speed settings. This allows the driver to maintain focus while steering over rough level ground or steep grades, without having to also modulate the throttle or brake pedals.

The Trail grade also features a Multi-Terrain Select system that dials in wheel slip control to match the terrain. In loose terrain such as mud and sand, more-than-normal wheel slip is permitted, allowing wheel-spin to work in the vehicle’s favor. On bumpy moguls, or solid rock, wheel slip is minimized and the system acts more like a limited slip differential. The Mogul setting is for any extremely uneven terrain, such as V-ditches, slopes, and ridges, uphill or down.

All 4Runner 4×4 models feature standard Downhill Assist Control (DAC). This feature augments the low-speed ascending ability of low-range by helping to hold the vehicle to a target speed with no driver intervention. All models also come standard with Hill-start Assist Control (HAC), which provides additional control for off-road driving by helping to hold the vehicle stationary before starting on a steep incline or slippery surface.

All 4Runners feature rugged bumpers and wide fender flares. Aluminum alloy wheels are 17-inches in diameter on SR5 and Trail models and 20-inches on the Limited, and include a full size spare.

The Trail model we feature in our photos is designed to maximize off-road performance with superior approach and departure angles, high ground clearance, and an array of functional upgrades for the most demanding active outdoor enthusiast. It is distinguished by a unique hood scoop, unique 17-inch wheels, black side mirrors, front and rear bumper guards and dark smoke treatment on the head lamps and tail lamps.

The Limited and SR5 grades add to the muscular design with special touches that provide a premium appearance. The front end includes a chrome-plated grille insert, fog lamp bezel and front bumper molding. Front and rear overfenders and side skirts are color-keyed. The side molding, roof rack and rear bumper are also chrome trimmed. The SR5 and Limited grades have supplementary turn signals in the side mirrors mirrors, along with puddle lamps.

The 2011 4Runner is thoughtfully equipped with features and systems to create a comfortable travel space, providing convenient operation in everyday use. The front seats have a greater range of adjustment than the previous model, both in height and front to rear.

A bright, highly visible instrument panel houses speedometer, tachometer, voltage, fuel and coolant temperature gauges, plus a combination meter that offers multiple functions. An Eco-Driving feedback system allows the driver to monitor fuel consumption in real time. Within easy reach of the driver is an overhead console that organizes the off-road control switches into one location. A compass indicator and outside temperature display add functionality. A manual air conditioning system is standard on SR5 and Trail grades; the Limited features an automatic dual zone climate control system.

For second-row passengers, a sculpted front seat-back shape provides additional knee space. The second-row seats, which include a center armrest, individually recline up to 16 degrees in four steps. Third-row seating features a larger, more supportive seating area than the previous model. A 40/20/40 second-row seat configuration with a one-touch walk-in function makes access to the third row easier.

A rich leather-trimmed interior is standard on the Limited grade and optional on SR5. The interior sports newly designed interior color schemes, using Black (Limited only), and Sand Beige. Graphite and Sand Beige fabric is standard on SR5. The Trail models are equipped with graphite color water-resistant fabric seats.

Toyota designed the new 4Runner’s cargo space to work harder. Fold-flat second-row rear seats provide a level load floor, and it is not necessary to remove the headrests to fold the seats flat. The available third-row seat is split 50/50 and folds flat, as well. The seats can be folded from the side, or at the rear, using separate one-touch levers. With this new arrangement, more cargo space is available without removing seats, and longer items can be conveniently carried.

A Smart Key System featuring keyless entry with push-button start is standard on the Limited grade. The system allows the driver to unlock or start the vehicle by carrying the keyless remote. The cargo door window has jam control, like the moonroof and power side windows. An available pull-out cargo deck is capable of carrying up to 440 pounds, to make loading heavy items easier and to provide seating for tailgating and campsite relaxation. For models with the sliding deck, a 6.4-liter capacity storage box behind the rear seat provides additional storage.

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