Last month, Toyota turned me loose with the keys to a 2015 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro for a road trip to the Overland Expo. To say I was just a little excited about the opportunity would be a bit of an understatement. To fully understand why, and to put this entire article into some perspective, I need to give you a little bit of back story.
As a proud owner of a ’07 Toyota FJ Cruiser TRD Edition, the FJ Cruiser has amazed me at what it could do as a factory 4×4. From bombing across the desert in Baja to climbing muddy and slippery inclines of the Pacific Northwest, my FJ has always done everything I’ve ever asked of it without fail. My main limitation has always been driver experience, not the vehicle.
That being said, as much as I love my FJ Cruiser, I have always shared the same complaints about the FJ as other owners. Those are visibility, passenger/cargo space, and fuel economy. While you eventually learn to parallel park, back up at night, and change lanes using the Force, you never escape the fact that you wish you had a little more storage space for that camping trip or Sunday Costco run. That, and the fact that you’re always wondering if you should top off the tank before you hit the road.
Since 2014 is officially the last year of the FJ Cruiser, many current FJ Cruiser owners have started to wonder where they go from here when it comes time to buy a new vehicle. If you ask Toyota, the choice is simple. Buy a 4Runner. That’s an easy statement for Toyota to make considering there aren’t a whole lot of other options when it comes to SUVs in their lineup. However, as a current FJ owner, I can tell you that they’re right. The new 4Runner, especially the TRD Pro, is everything you love about the FJ Cruiser and then some. Let me explain why …
For starters, the ride quality is exceptional. I picked up the 4Runner TRD Pro from Toyota’s headquarters in Torrance the day before we left for Overland Expo. While driving it home, I quickly noticed how smooth the ride was on both the Los Angeles freeways and surface streets – two things that are known for potholes and misery. The upgraded combination of Bilstein shocks (larger pistons and shafts, remote reservoirs in the rear) and TRD turned springs provided a very smooth ride. It was remarkable enough that I commented to my better half that I wouldn’t mind commuting in the 4Runner on a daily basis.
The next morning, I picked up a friend who was joining me on the road trip to Overland Expo. We set out across the hot desert towards northern Arizona. The 4Runner tore up the open highway at 75+ miles per hour. The leather seats were incredibly comfortable, the air conditioner kept the cabin chilled perfectly, and the instrumentation and driver controls were easy to access and intuitively placed. All in all, the seven plus hour trip flew by. Coming from driving an FJ Cruiser, I smiled as we passed gas station after gas station knowing there was plenty of range left in the tank.
When we did finally stop for gas at some random exit in the desert, we noticed a small dirt road heading out of the back of the property. With a full tank of gas, we jumped back in the 4Runner and punched it down the dirt road. This was the first time we’d taken the 4Runner off-road and it finally felt like we let the caged animal free. With horsepower on tap, she roared to life and was ready to go!
Through the whoops and ruts, the TRD springs and Bilstein shocks worked in concert and kept the ride ultra smooth. Even when we pushed the 4Runner harder, it felt like it was just getting warmed up. When I looked over at my friend, I noticed the grin from ear to ear. It was the exact same grin that I had on my face. While we could have gone for forty miles down that nameless dirt road, we knew we had to get to Overland Expo. We turned around and headed back to the super slab to continue our drive.
When we arrived at Overland Expo, word had already got out that MOTUS was showing up with the TRD Pro. We were quickly greeted by some Toyota enthusiasts who were eager to check out the 4Runner firsthand. The most common question we had were what were the differences between the TRD Pro and the Trail, which was quickly followed by how much would it hurt their pocketbook.
At the time, Toyota hadn’t settled on a price for the TRD Pro so talking about price was pure speculation. The common consensus was, even without the actual price, many wanted to buy a Trail and built it up themselves because it would be less expensive. The same conversation comparing the two versions of the 4Runner happened all weekend long. Keep in mind, the question wasn’t if they were going to buy a new 4runner, but rather which 4Runner they were going to buy. The topic was almost as prevalent as those who either loved or hated the new Inferno color. Not that it will factor into your own buying decision, but I personally love it and would pick it over the black or white any day.
For the rest of the weekend, we camped out of the back of the 4Runner. I can tell you that I was jealous of the seemingly endless cargo space and the ability to open all four doors to access your stuff. If you’ve never owned an FJ Cruiser, these are a few things you may not fully appreciate. First off, four real doors is a treat. The rear doors of the FJ can be cumbersome and difficult when trying to access your gear, especially when parked next to another vehicle. Second, not having to stack all of your stuff in a massive pile in the back and being able to spread it out in the back is a huge plus. You could easily fit everything you need for a family camping trip in the back, unlike the FJ Cruiser where such a task would require expert level skill in JENGA.
With Overland Expo coming to a close, it was time to pack up the 4Runner and head home. However, we had one last action item to cross off our list before we hit the freeway. Having spent some time in that part of northern Arizona before, there was a small trail I wanted to hit before we got back on the freeway. How could you write an article about a new 4×4 and not even take it off-road?
As we got farther and farther away from the main road and into the pines, the 4Runner TRD Pro made short work of the dirt. It would effortlessly crawl through whatever you put in front of it. Whether it was small boulders in the trail or a downed tree branch, it simply either went around it or over it with ease. I was really impressed with the Crawl control on the 4Runner. Going down a steep decent was worry free as the Toyota did its thing while you simply pointed it in the right direction. One thing that seriously blew my mind was when we stopped on a downhill and put the 4Runner in reverse. With the Crawl control still engaged, it started backing up the hill automatically. The soft, loose dirt wasn’t an issue and you definitely felt both confident and in control behind the wheel.
While I would have been eager to throw some serious obstacles its way, I had to keep in mind that this was a press truck and Toyota didn’t want it coming home with body damage or on a flatbed. All in all, the time we spent off-road felt like we were simply taking it for a leisurely Sunday drive. The steering was responsive and firm and the truck had no challenges with anything we tasked it with. I kept thinking to myself that it was pretty incredible for right off the showroom floor. Think about it. You use the 4Runner TRD Pro as your daily driver to and from work, but when the weekend rolls around it’s game on. It’s ready to go wherever you are!
The whole drive home I thought more about the questions we got comparing the Trail to the TRD Pro. In my opinion, the person comparing the Trail, the TRD Pro, and the cost of a do-it-yourself build are not the same customer at all. We all buy vehicles for different reasons and to meet different needs. We all have different budgets too. While some of us buy them to build up and take to the far corners of the globe, others are simply looking for a way to take the family out for a weekend in the woods. For the person that is looking to build a Trail up to hit those harder trails and do more extreme off-roading, the TRD Pro probably isn’t for you. No doubt you already have a built list three pages long of things you want to upgrade, change, or modify already. However, if you’re looking to buy the best trail ready and capable 4Runner available and head out to the trials that day, you can’t go wrong with the TRD Pro. The only thing you’d need is a full tank of gas and little sense of adventure.
When it came time to turn the 2015 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro back in to Toyota, I had already come to some serious conclusions. First, while it lacked the quirkiness I love about the FJ Cruiser, I love the styling and aggressive new look of the TRD Pro. Second, it was a pleasure to drive both on and off the main roads. The suspension felt like it had an incredible balance for both city life and off-road capability. Finally, and as a FJ Cruiser owner it pains me slightly to say this, it was the full package of off-road prowess and around town comfort. Without a doubt, the 2015 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro is the best, and most capable, 4Runner that Toyota has ever made. Period. If you’re in the market for a new 4×4 or are an FJ Cruiser owner thinking about what to buy next, you should definitely add the 4Runner TRD Pro to your short list. Drive one for yourself and you’ll understand!
Photo Credit: Rodney Wills