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Monday, January 5, 2015

Review: 2014 Toyota 4Runner

Does your family take a lot of road trips? If, like me, you like to rent a car to take a long range road trip, then maybe it’s time to look for a new car that will see you around town and also be ultra-comfy for long hours inside it. Right about now is a great time to go car shopping, especially if you’re willing to look at a previous year’s model to save even more money. 

Over the holidays, I had the opportunity to drive around town in a 2014 Toyota 4Runner, which is about as different from my normal car as is possible. Did I enjoy it? Let’s just say that I was very sad to have to hand over the keys once the week was over. The rugged truck-like SUV sat gleaming in my driveway and seemed a bit intimidating at first. The 4Runner sits quite tall and, as you know, I am super short. At 5’1”, most things seem pretty big to me. Luckily, the 4Runner has a helpful step running down both sides to assist in climbing in and out (as well as a handy dandy handle inside the driver’s side door, which almost no other cars have). Being short, this made a world of difference to me, especially since I tried several times to get in and out without using it. It just didn’t work for me. Once inside, I loved the height I was able to see from, because it enabled me to see the road better and other cars around me.

What I loved right off the bat once I got into the 4Runner, besides the beautiful interior and all the buttons and knobs on the dashboard (because I love finding out what they all do by pushing them all) was the fact that I could adjust the seat easily. One knob electronically makes the seat go up or down as well as forward or back with just the touch of a finger. No pulling that one lever behind your legs and scootching or shoving yourself back to make the seat work for you to actually be comfortable to drive.

The hatchback is very roomy and could easily fit several suitcases, a cooler for food stuffs (and if you have one of those that keeps stuff warm or cool, there are outlets in the back to plug it in) as well as anything you purchase along the way on your trip. I didn’t have any trips planned over the holidays, but we were able to test out the available space on Christmas Eve when we headed to my in-laws with gifts for everyone. At least 5 families come together every year on the 24th and exchange gifts, which means we pack up 5 or more large gifts as well as smaller gifts for the children, along with several casserole dishes of food for the potluck. All of this fit in less than half the space in the hatchback. It seems we may have come back with more than we started with, and it all easily fit in the back with no trouble.

Photo credit: Toyota.com

One of the cooler aspects of the 4Runner is that it has a cargo deck. If you have larger items that are heavy and difficult to get in and out of the back without hitting the rear bumper, you can slide the deck out (super easy with one hand) over the back bumper/step, load the item(s) on it, and then slide it back into the car just as easily. This also works well for short people in order to get things from further in without having to crawl inside to reach them.

My parents and I drove to Vancouver, Washington on the 25th from Portland. Though not that far, it was still a good 40 minutes each way and it was perfectly comfortable for everyone. My dad, who often complains about lack of legroom said he had more than enough and was able to stretch out. Even though I hardly ever sit in the back of my own car, I always sit back there just to see what it’s like for passengers before I make a purchase.

Photo credit: Toyota.com

I’ve spent enough time as a back-seat passenger to know that even 10 minutes in a cramped and uncomfortable seat sucks, but the Toyota 4Runner was not a problem at all, so if you have the kids back there, they can keep all their stuff for activities in the back with them without giving up all their legroom. And if they are the sort that complains that someone is taking up their space, the backseat has a pull-down armrest and cup holder between the seats that can be purposeful and also creates a wall for them to keep their spaces separate.

Got a larger travel party? The Toyota 4Runner has optional third-row seating. On the other hand, if you’re using it to haul cargo, or found an awesome vintage dresser on your romantic getaway and need more room, the seats fold down for more storage. I love a car that is multifunctional and can mold to what you need it to be.

Now, I’ve often taken vacations in the car where we had a lot of stuff packed in the back and it was hard to see out, or the kids were waving around in the backseat, impeding the vision of the driver out the back. The windows all around the 4Runner are large and give good visibility, as are all the mirrors, but when backing up and having issues seeing behind you, you have a sweet back-up camera that allows you to see the road directly behind you. This was especially useful for me when backing out of my driveway, because our street is not that wide and even in a smaller car I worry about hitting a neighbor’s vehicle parked in front of the home across from us.

I have hardly ever driven anywhere without music and the 4Runner made listening to my tunes awesome. Besides having a fancy touch-screen stereo (also the GPS and rear-view camera) that lets you choose your favorite stations as preset, so you can jump between them, but you can also scan the dial and change the volume from your steering wheel, so while you’re driving, you never have to take your eyes off the road. Safety!

We also tested out the Bluetooth features, by connecting the radio to our smartphone playlist. It sounded just as crisp as the radio stations we were listening to. Like to talk to others while driving? I do sometimes, but I also know that sometimes the phone rings at some of the most inopportune times. Make or take a call while your phone is hooked up to Bluetooth with the touch of a button on your steering wheel or on the audio screen. We made a call and it was super clear, which I was not expecting. You know when you’re at home and put your speakerphone on and it sounds like you’re in a tin can? The 4Runner speaker was crystal clear and the person we were talking to said it sounded great on their end as well.

Photo credit: Toyota.com

It rained the entire week I had the car, so I didn’t get a chance to use the moonroof, but I loved that you could have it covered up, so it was like a normal car roof inside, but you could also slide the cover off to be able to see outside and get more light inside. During a break in the rain, we did open it to see how well it worked and it slid back noiselessly.

Oregon winters can be cold even though we don’t often get snow. It was not an option to use the heaters in the 4Runner, because it was bitingly cold on several of the days I has driving it. This means I also had the chance to turn on the seat warmer while driving around town. I like that they have a dial that adjusts the heat to the perfect level of warmth for you. The passenger can adjust theirs differently to yours, so you’re both happy. Eric loved this feature. I didn’t think I would, but I really did, because you don’t realize how quickly it can help you warm up when you’ve been outside and are super cold.

I went to a couple places I’d never been to before and made use of the built-in GPS. Not only did it get me there, but it also had a pleasant voice, too. I especially was happy that the directions helped me keep my eyes on the road by telling me where I needed to go and where to turn by giving me the name of the road and then telling me that I would need to take the next left or right turn ahead. It wasn’t intrusive like I’ve had some issues with in the past and she was easily heard over the volume of the radio. Once I had reached my destination, it turned itself off and didn’t yell at me when I took a slight detour to grab a sandwich at the drive-thru as if I was purposely going out of the way instead of following directions. (You know what I mean: “make a u-turn when possible!”) Having a GPS built-in would be fantastic for road trips, because there’s nothing to plug in or put away and you can’t forget it at home. You also never have an excuse for getting lost. It was easy to use without instructions and takes the guesswork out of putting in addresses as well, because it will only show you the next letter or number that it could be, so you don’t misspell words and confuse it and yourself.

I had a really busy week that included going here and there around town, but if you like to go offroading, the 4Runner has a multi-terrain function to help you get over more rugged terrain than potholed roads in the city.

All in all, the 4Runner was a very comfortable car with a beautiful interior and exterior. I got compliments from everyone I showed it off to, plus it road super smoothly, had a lot of extra functions inside that I would use if I owned it. For those of you who do take a lot of road trips and need room to stretch out, want something that will be comfortable for short or long drives and will help you out wherever you go, then you might look into snagging yourself a deal at a Toyota dealer near you.

More info:
Engine: 4x2 or 4x4 4.0L V6 5-Speed Automatic; 4x2 or 4x4 Premium 4.0L V6 5-Speed Automatic 
MPG (city/highway): 17/22 
Towing power: 4Runner tows up to 4,700 lbs., and the V6 engine pumps out 270 hp and 278 lb.-ft. of torque 
Price: From $32,000

Check out Toyota online for more information on this and their other great vehicles, or connect with them on social media: Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | Google+ | Instagram

What feature of the 4Runner would you like the most on a long road trip?

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