Toyota makes a lot of very well-engineered products—from its rugged, unbreakable Tacoma pickups to the tunable Supra sports car. But it’s the 4Runner that carries the brand’s hard-earned reputation for off-road capability. Redesigned for 2003, the 4Runner is big, smoother and more comfortable than the SUVs it replaced, but its off-road credentials remain firmly in place. A solid rear axle carries loads over rocks, gullies and snow, and suspension articulation helps the vehicle climb obstacles. Electronic strategies optimize off-road performance, including hill start and downhill assist control that manage brakes and engine torque.
A V8-powered four-wheel drive system provides plenty of power and traction. Toyota also offers a two-place third seat for extra passenger room, as well as a GPS navigation system with a rear-view video camera that improves safety when backing up. The SR5 and Sport trims have a CD and cassette player, while the Limited adds a six-disc JBL stereo. A 115-volt AC power port in the center console is handy for recharging cameras, radios and other gadgets.
Critics give the 2004 4Runner high marks for its powerful engine lineup, rugged off-road capabilities and comfortable cabin. They also laud the SUV’s decent pavement performance and generous standard features. It’s no surprise that the 2004 4Runner is one of the best-rounded mid-size SUVs of its era. The only negative is that it’s nearing the end of its useful life. Expect to pay a premium for a well-equipped 2004 model, with a Limited listing close to eight grand.