2012 Toyota 4Runner: The Last of a Dying Breed?

2012 toyota 4runner sr5 4wd

Since its introduction in 1984, the Toyota 4Runner has been the go-to machine for the serious off-roader. When the Toyota 4Runner was redesigned in 2010 it stayed true to its rugged roots for the 2012 model year, though it adds a more comfortable ride and other creature comforts to make it much more liveable than previous generations.

As many competitors switch their historically rugged SUVs to uni-body, car-based frames, Toyota has come under fire for continuing 4Runner production with a passé truck-based chassis. It seems that as its peers evolve into more civilized road going machines, the 4Runner represents the last of a dying segment of true body-on frame 4x4s.


As is the case with its truck-based chassis, the 4Runner’s powertrain is an area where it lags behind its competitors.  The 4.0-liter V6 that makes 270 bhp and 278 lb-ft of torque sits underneath the hood.  And it is paired to an antiquated 5-speed automatic. While returning much-improved fuel economy numbers (17/22 MPG according to the EPA) over the previous generation’s 260-hp V8, the unimpressive acceleration is still a concern.

I’ve found the 4Runner’s transmission to be a little numb, as well. In around-town driving, I often hear the transmission hunting for gears, revving to very high RPM’s before finally selecting the appropriate gear. However, if you do much hauling, this 5-speed gearbox will transmit ample torque to tow up to 5,000 pounds.  It also has the low gear ratios that are great for climbing over anything from rocks to tree stumps.

toyota 4runner sr5 4wd

Ride and Handling

Surprisingly, during the year I’ve spent with my 4Runner, I have had few complaints about the way it drives. I had expected a rough, raw ride that would shorten my spine a few inches over potholes, but I was surprised at how smooth the truck is. The suspension soaks up uneven roads with ease, leaving the passengers feeling like they are almost floating, even at highway speeds.

All of this changes, however, when the new 4Runner sees some curves. For lack of a better word, the cornering in this Toyota truck is a frightening experience, and it’s probably due to its 9.6-inch ground clearance and the compliant suspension. Body pitch and roll is just as you’d expect in a body-on-frame SUV, and the vehicle leans considerably, constantly feeling top-heavy and unstable.

The 4Runner’s brakes are grabby and have great pedal feel, but even with moderate braking, the front of the truck dives and can make it uncomfortable for occupants. To prevent this, I’ve found myself feathering the brake in spurts as I come up to red lights, but in a car that costs nearly $40,000, I would expect more stability.


2012 toyota 4runner interior

The 4Runner’s boxy exterior dimensions carry over to its sparse and masculine interior. After conquering the vehicle’s huge ground clearance, occupants immediately find themselves surrounded by hard, durable plastics in a no-frills environment. As has been the case with Toyotas of the past, all interior controls are oversized and intuitive.  The giant “A/C” button doesn’t leave much up to question, and the stereo buttons are clearly marked and easy to operate. Toyota says that these features allow operation of the controls even with gloved hands, appealing to the 4Runner’s outdoorsman clientele.

A two-tone, cloth-upholstered interior is standard on the base SR5 4Runner, as are 4-way power-adjustable front seats – both features that allow for plenty of comfort on long trips. Lumbar support is decent, and driver and passenger head and legroom is exceptional for a mid-size SUV.  At 6’5”, I have no trouble fitting comfortably into the driver’s seat while leaving ample room for the passenger sitting behind me.

Trunk and storage space are also strong points for the 4Runner. An already full-size trunk can be extended with a 60-40 split rear folding seats, and several small nooks and crannies in the trunk space add room for tools, food, and the like. One of the most useful features is the 120-volt, wall-style electric plug that sits on the right side of the trunk, making the 4Runner a pretty mean tailgating machine.

2012 toyota 4runner sr5 4wd front

The Bottom Line
The 2012 Toyota 4Runner remains a very tough and capable SUV whose off-road abilities, especially with the optional 4-wheel drive system, are undeniable. However, for most who rarely venture off of the tarmac, the 4Runner’s relatively poor fuel economy and truck-like handling may prove too uncivilized. Despite improvements to the truck that make it more tolerable, a few competitors may be smarter buys for the city-dweller; the car-based frames and 6-speed automatic transmissions found on the Ford Explorer and GMC Acadia offer more comfort and stability without sacrificing much-needed space.

But for those who want the joy of spirited off-roading, the adrenaline rush of scaling treacherous cliffs with ease, and decent on-pavement performance all for under $40,000, the 2012 Toyota 4Runner SR5 does not have much competition.

On the TFLcar scale of:

  • Buy It!
  • Lease It!
  • Rent It!
  • Or Forget It!

I would definitely give the 2012 4Runner a Buy It! Despite its bulky dimensions and not-stellar fuel economy, the 4Runner is essentially in a league of its own for off-road capability. It offers Land Rover toughness for roughly half of a Land Rover’s sticker price, and for those of us who love conquering the great outdoors, the 4Runner is an easy purchase.

Please enjoy this TFLcar video snowy Rocky Mountain review of the 2010 Toyota 4Runner

frank kosarek
Frank Kosarek

Frank caught automotive fever early in life. Hailing from a long line of car fanatics, Frank was able to recite the year and model of every car that passed him by age five. His passion and love for the automobile have only grown since then.  When not thinking about cars, he is reading, writing, learning, or dreaming about them. His area of expertise comes in the realm of German and Italian cars, of which Porsche is a favorite.  Frank currently resides in the heart of NASCAR country in Charlotte, North Carolina, with his family. He thoroughly enjoys driving exotic cars in the beautiful Carolina weather.