When we were told that AUTONOTAStv would be among the first to review the 2016 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro in the Pacific Northwest region, we knew it was a special occasion. This wasn’t just any 4Runner, and this wasn’t just any location. Toyota sent us the most off-road-worthy 4Runner they have built to date, knowing full well that awaiting us just 30 minutes outside of Seattle were the monumental Cascade Mountains. We took the opportunity to not only cruise around town in daily-driver scenarios, but also take on the rough terrain and natural beauty of this majestic region.
EXT: For 2016, the 4Runner lineup has undergone very few exterior design changes. Most of the uniqueness we noted in our 4Runner was specific to the TRD Pro trim level. The Quicksand color, as Toyota calls it, was immediately striking. The color accomplishes two things: 1.) For those owners who, for whatever reason, rarely take their vehicles to the carwash, the color hides dirt well. 2.) Owners of a Quicksand 4Runner can be sure their vehicle looks like very few other 4Runners on the road.
With its black grille and downward slanted headlights, the TRD Pro’s front end stares at you like a hungry beast. The fog light air inlets are almost reminiscent of gills, which makes for a shark-meets-wolf experience when admiring the TRD Pro’s looks. The 17” matte black TRD wheels give this particular 4Runner a sense of seriousness. Coupled with the Nitto Terra-Grappler tires, it is obvious that this is a purpose-built vehicle. And what is that purpose? To devour terrain.
The TRD Pro’s stance and flared fenders give the vehicle an athletic appearance from any angle. One can tell purely from design that when the TRD Pro arrives, it’s coming to play hard. Overall, the vehicle’s exterior is aggressive yet the lines are sophisticated. If military-spec had a bit more style, the Quicksand 4Runner TRD Pro would be it. Other 4Runner owners in the Seattle area certainly noticed our 2016 TRD Pro, as we received a couple thumbs up on the road during our week-long review!
INT: The dark and utilitarian interior is perfectly at home in this particular trim level. There is no need for wood or shiny accents in this off-road weapon. The few plastic pieces give the impression of brushed aluminum, which aligns nicely with TRD Pro’s design language. Not to mention, the red stitching adds a sport-oriented flair to the comfortable and supportive black leather seating.
One complaint we did have about the TRD Pro’s interior was the lack of illumination, especially within the front center console. The center console proved to be a challenge at night when reaching for cell phones, cups, etc. We would have enjoyed a simple ambient light strip above the console’s storage units.
Comfort and style in the TRD Pro are, of course, supplemented by utility. There is no lack of storage, seating configurations, outlets, etc. There is even a 120V outlet in the rear trunk space of the vehicle, which we found particularly useful when having to emergency-charge a laptop during our photo shoot.
Upon getting behind the wheel, it becomes quickly evident that the TRD Pro belongs off-road. Between the hi/lo gear selector, multiple hill and traction settings, and rear differential lock, simply sitting in this 4Runner gives the driver a sense of added capability.
Before heading out to the mountains, we spent a few days in the city with the TRD Pro. Potholes and road surface imperfections were, not surprisingly, almost unnoticeable thanks to the TRD-Tuned Bilstein® suspension. That is not to say that road feedback was numb, in fact it was quite the contrary. The TRD Pro felt quite connected in daily driving; road-feel was translated nicely up through the tuned suspension, into the steering wheel and right to our fingertips. Such excellent feedback was highly welcomed, and almost shocking. However, with a vehicle like this, which is designed to manhandle any road surface, it makes perfect sense that TRD would tune their suspension to such an amazing caliber. Our 4Runner floated over city streets but always managed to feel connected and never detached from the driver.
Ergonomics and infotainment were integrated nicely into the driving experience. All controls were within arm’s-length and intuitive to use. Instrumentation was easy on the eyes and clearly communicative. Bluetooth connectivity never failed while placing or receiving calls. Toyota’s Etune® App Suite is off to a very good start, in terms of functionality and features. The apps can practically function as a personal concierge. However, apps aside, the display screen itself – which seems to be fitted to every product in Toyota’s lineup – was difficult to read at times. The LCD screen tended to be affected by glare and the screen’s size called for squinting at times. Our 4Runner could benefit from a larger, slightly more driver-angled screen.
The TRD Pro’s 4.0 liter V6 was functional but by no means impressive. Toyota’s 1GR-FE platform is beginning to feel dated and unrefined. We were never really lacking power to overtake or merge, but the 4Runner’s engine always felt as if it was being asked to do something it was not comfortable with. Any revs beyond 3K RPM caused the engine to sound and feel as if it were straining. TRD has done wonders to the 4Runner with the TRD Pro, in terms of suspension, wheels and tires – not to mention that savage-looking skid plate. Why, we ask, can’t they do the same with a re-tune of the 1GR-FE that is specific to the TRD Pro?
Engine performance was definitely not aided by an intelligent transmission. We felt that half of the engine qualms we had could have been mitigated by a smarter transmission. Part of the reason why the 4.0 V6 felt strained at times was because of unintelligent shift points from the 5-Speed automatic ECT-i. Toyota’s Eco Mode tends to plague around-town performance in favor of fuel efficiency. RPMs seemed to constantly hover between 1.5-2.3K, which makes for a dreadful experience when you drop the hammer to pass, as the transmission battles itself between thinking about shifting for efficiency or driver command. Switching to sequential shift mode, which allowed for semi-automatic shifts from the driver, made a world of difference; the transmission was suddenly smarter, as we were telling it when to shift. However, being that it is a semi-automatic mode, we never felt 100% in control of shift points.
After a few days of city driving, we headed out into the countryside with the aim of testing the TRD Pro’s off-road performance. Being that we only had a limited amount of time left with the 4Runner, and most of the off-road trails we knew of in the area were hours away, we paid a visit to our friends at Dirt Fish Rally school for location advice. Dirt Fish is a mere 30 minutes outside of Seattle’s city center, so we figured they would know some great local trails. Sure enough, they did! The trail they recommended is used as a test-bed for tuning on employees’ personal vehicles; in other words, the trail on which we would be taking the TRD Pro was the same trail that rally drivers use to have fun in their own cars! The bolder-crawl experience we were hoping for was gladly substituted by a rally course.
The anticipation of unleashing this weapon on the dirt had been building for days, as we had been traffic light-to-traffic light throughout the city. The TRD Pro instantly felt at home once the rubber touched the dirt. It was as if everything we knew that was great about our 4Runner was suddenly in the spotlight. The suspension? It all of a sudden felt sharper, and more in tune. The steering? More direct and responsive. The rally course was palpable and tactile through every part of the vehicle, as our 4Runner demolished puddles and rocks at nearly 60 mph. Especially noticeable was the difference in transmission compliance. The course never really called for RPM’s exceeding 3K, at least not in our 4Runner. What this translated to was, even in full automatic mode, being in the right gear at the right time. There were a couple of bad shift points but they were never really disruptive to the vehicle’s overall balance. The more time we spent on the rally course, the more fun the TRD Pro became. It truly felt athletic after a few laps, like a rugby forward sprinting through a muddy field.
The 4Runner TRD Pro is happy to exist as a daily driver, because it very well can. Ample storage and utility, seating for five, and great infotainment make for a very livable everyday vehicle. However, the TRD Pro is a purpose-built tool, a tool that allows its driver to own any surface outside of asphalt. We would almost venture to say that owning this particular 4Runner as most SUV owners do – majority of time spent A-to-B in the city – would be a sacrilegious shame. The TRD Pro chomps at the bit to be let loose, un-contained. Any of the 4Runners other trim levels would better suffice as a daily-driven SUV. However, if a real off-road jock is what buyers are looking for, they are in for an unmatched level of excitement with the TRD Pro.
Engine – 4.0 Liter DOHC 24-Valve V6 with VVT-i
Horsepower – 270 @ 5600 RPM
Torque – 278 @ 4400 RPM
Transmission – 5 Speed electronically controlled automatic with sequential mode
Weight – 4750 lbs
Starting Price – $41,550