2018 Toyota 4Runner TRD Off-Road Premium: Unkillable, Old-School SUV Charm [Review]

2018 Toyota 4Runner TRD Off-Road Premium
2018 Toyota 4Runner TRD Off-Road Premium [Photo: Toyota]
The 2018 Toyota 4Runner TRD Off-Road Premium is one of those cars that just keeps rolling through the ages. In a world strewn with modern crossovers, the 4Runner stands out. It’s one of the last SUVs out there that still has a body-on-frame construction, and it’s available with just one powertrain. The model’s last full redesign can be traced back to 2003, with a significant update for the 2010 model year. Since then, the fifth-generation 4Runner has gotten a facelift, but it’s still largely the same truck. And yes, it is a truck. It’s built like a truck, it rides like a truck, and it drives like a truck. With a big, 4.0-liter V6 and a five-speed automatic that’s truly archaic by modern standards, the 4Runner hangs out with a shrinking old-school crowd. But is that such a bad thing?

2018 Toyota TRD Off-Road Premium: Sticking to Basics

Driving the 4Runner will immediately remind you what SUVs were like in the good old days. Despite its $42,690 asking price, the 2018 Toyota 4Runner TRD Off-Road Premium lacks some of the basic features you’d expect in a modern SUV. It’s 2018, after all. So does the 4Runner have modern safety features, like blind-spot monitoring? No, it doesn’t. Can you get lane-departure warning, automatic emergency braking, or adaptive cruise control. Nope. You get a steering wheel, accelerator and brake pedals, windows, and mirrors. Beyond that, you’ll have to figure it out.

In short, there’s not a big safety net to keep you out of trouble. It does feature Toyota’s Star Safety system, which includes passive safety features such as Traction Control, Stability Control, ABS, and Brake Assist, and a fair amount of airbags, but that’s it. You do also get navigation and touchscreen infotainment with Toyota’s Entune system, but no Android Auto/Apple CarPlay support.

The 2018 Toyota 4Runner TRD Off-Road Premium sits just below the hardcore TRD Pro model and above the base SR5. If you’re looking for more of an urban animal, you can opt for the Limited spec instead, which swaps out the 17-inch wheels for some nice 20-inch alloys. The TRD Off-Road lacks the Pro’s Bilstein shocks and specially-tuned front springs, TRD-stamped skid plates and black painted wheels. However, it has everything else you need to go far, far off-road, when the mood takes you.

Powertrain and dynamics

All 4Runners come with a 270 horsepower, 278 lb-ft torque 4.0-liter V6. No direct injection or forced induction tricks here. Its five-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly on the road, but don’t expect great fuel economy. At an EPA-rated 17 City/20 Highway/18 Combined MPG, it’s better than expected (I averaged 17.5 MPG), but its older transmission holds the 4Runner’s highway economy back against competitors with 6-speeds or more.

2018 Toyota 4Runner TRD Off-Road Premium
The 2018 Toyota 4Runner features a naturally-aspirated, 4.0-liter V6 as its sole powerplant. [Photo: TFLcar]
As an old-school, off-road SUV, the 4Runner suffers the drawbacks you’d expect when sticking to the pavement. It feels numb all around – from the ride to the steering and brakes. While the brakes are effective once you convince them to stop the car, the front-end dive is alarming if you’re coming over from a modern car or crossover. As a conventional SUV, the Toyota 4Runner is way behind the pack, thanks to its traditional roots. Toyota didn’t design this 4Runner as a pure pavement performer, though. It’s meant to trek off the beaten path. And off-road, folks, is where the 4Runner absolutely shines.

Bringing the Off-Road Goods

Full disclosure, I did not have the opportunity to fully test the 4Runner TRD Off-Road Premium’s limits. Winters in Colorado aren’t a great time for whimsical off-roading unless you’re seriously well-equipped and have another vehicle along. However, I did take the 4Runner to some lighter (dry) trails outside Nederland, Colorado, where I could test the truck’s off-road kit.

The dirt roads rising gradually out of Nederland were no challenge to the 4Runner. Its Bridgestone Dueler H/T 684II tires are road-biased tires, but they do offer reasonable grip on light off-road duty. As the elevation rose and the temperature dropped, the journey started to get icy.

The 2018 Toyota 4Runner TRD Off-Road Premium has a shift lever to switch into four-wheel drive, as well as buttons for A-TRAC, locking rear differential, Multi-Terrain Select, and Crawl Control. [Photo: TFLcar]
Fortunately, Toyota equipped the 4Runner to keep you moving forward when the terrain gets nasty. You get a tried-and-true lever to shift into four-wheel drive. Although the 4Runner doesn’t have a locking front differential (it does have a locking rear diff), the A-TRAC traction control system braked slipping wheels when I did start to lose traction on the ice.

Closing in on the old Cross Mine and the ghost town of Caribou, the dirt road ended and the trails became steep and rocky. The first part was dry, fortunately, so I seized the opportunity to test the 4Runner’s low range and Crawl Control. Reaching directly above the windshield, you can use two switches to engage the truck’s Multi-terrain Select and Crawl Control. The former has four modes: Mud and Sand, Rock, Mogul, and Loose Rock. Each mode tailors the 4Runner’s performance to that sort of terrain. Setting it up in Rock mode, I also tried out Crawl Control, which allows you to select a speed from 1 to 5 MPH, where the system takes over controlling your steering and braking. You must use Crawl Control in 4-Low, and it automatically disengages the traction control.

2018 Toyota 4Runner TRD Off-Road Premium
[Photo: TFLcar]
These systems performed flawlessly, at least on lighter off-road duty. Fortunately, with the 4Runner’s 9.6 inches of ground clearance, 33° approach and 26° departure angle, as well as its $1,750 Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System that increases suspension travel at low speeds, I didn’t encounter any obstacles the truck couldn’t handle with ease.

TFLcar’s Take

If you look at the 4Runner as any other car, you may struggle to justify it. It’s plastic-riddled interior, while extremely well put together, doesn’t make the truck feel like a $43,000 product. Its infotainment screen is small by modern standards, and with the exception of the off-road systems, nothing feels particularly refined.

But that’s not the point. The 4Runner TRD Off-Road Premium is a shining beacon of everlasting dependability and rugged charm. That money you spent is all but justified under the skin. 4Runners are some of the longest-lasting cars out there, full stop. This particular model sports fantastic off-road ability. The controls, while inelegant, are chunky and solid. The rear window slides down with the push of a button or the turn of a key on the tailgate – how cool is that? As a boxy SUV, it also provides ample cargo space for all the adventures you’re sure to have.

As a modern SUV, the 4Runner is deeply flawed. But because its flawed, the living experience, at least for me, was remarkable. I was looking forward to driving a 4Runner again, and I wasn’t disappointed. When you look at it in perspective for its off-road ability and charisma, you can’t help but love it. SUV shoppers must agree, as 4Runner sales have increased by a huge margin over the past five years.

The Toyota 4Runner is a rugged, old-school SUV that should get you where you need to go. [Photo: TFLcar]

SPECIFICATIONS: 2018 Toyota 4Runner TRD Off-Road Premium

On Sale: Now
Base MSRP: $39,495
Price as Tested: $42,690 (including desination charges)
Engine: 4.0-liter, naturally-aspirated V6 w/ Dual-VVTi
Drivetrain (Layout): Longitudinally-mounted front-engine, four-wheel drive
Horsepower: 270 hp @ 5,600 RPM
Torque: 278 lb-ft @ 4,400 RPM
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
Suspension: Front: Coil spring independent double-wishbone suspension w/ stabilizer barRear: Coil spring 4-link rigid type w/ stabilizer bar
Brakes: Front: 13.3-inch ventilated discsRear: 12.3-inch solid discs

ABS, EBD, Brake Assist and Vehicle Stability Control

Tires: Bridgestone Dueler H/T 684II P265/70 R17 113S
Fuel capacity: 23.0 gallons
Fuel economy (EPA): 17 City/20 Highway/18 Combined MPG
Drag Coefficient: 0.36


Wheelbase: 109.8 inches
Length:  191.3 inches
Width: 75.8 inches
Height:  71.5 inches (w/ roof rack)
Cargo Volume Seats up (w/ slide deck): 46.3 cubic feet

Seats down (w/ slide deck): 88.8 cubic feet

Ground Clearance: 9.6 inches
Approach Angle: 33 degrees
Departure Angle: 26 degrees
Turning Circle: 37.4 feet
Curb Weight: 4,750 pounds