2017 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro Review: Old-School Off-Road Goodness, Done Right

Welcome to Critic's Notebook, a quick and off-the-cuff car review consisting of impressions, jottings, and marginalia regarding whatever The Drive writers happen to be driving. Today's edition: the 2017 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro.

Cr-r-r-rick-ick-ick-ick-ick. The brakes chattered away as the engine growled to life, and suddenly, we were moving uphill. Handing almost full control over to a computer on a technical off-road trail deep in California's San Gabriel Mountains is a very unnatural feeling, and the demonic grunts and groans emanating from my 2017 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro weren't helping. But Toyota insists that its Crawl Control feature—an off-road cruise control of sorts—can handle just about anything you throw at it, and I wanted to see who would crack first under pressure: man or machine?

As it turns out, neither. I wish I had a better story for you, but it ends with the 4Runner practically coasting over some deep, offset ruts and crawling its way up the ascent without drama. I won't lie—it felt like cheating. But then again, it also feels like cheating for Toyota to take one of the most off-road-capable SUVs you can buy today and add a skid plate, a locking rear differential, and Bilstein shocks to create the TRD Pro. What else can compete out of the box? Not much.

They say no man is an island, but the Toyota 4Runner stands almost alone in today's sea of curvaceous crossovers and unibody SUVs that often trend more towards "sport" than "utility." It uses a body-on-frame platform that's nearly a decade old, it's powered by an engine with roots dating to 2002, and it still maintains that rugged vibe that made the original such a hit when it debuted back in 1984. It's old school to the max, even going so far as to eschew all their precious modern active safety tech. Heck, they'd probably ditch the backup camera if it wasn't required by law.

Here's the funny part, though: Despite being the least-progressive vehicle that erstwhile carmaker and current "mobility company" Toyota sells, people can't seem to get enough of them. We bought a staggering 128,296 4Runners last year in America—a record for the model—and this year's sales are already outpacing 2017. Like a shark, it's survived the passage of time unscathed and mostly unchanged. Evolution? That's for things that haven't figured it out yet.

Still, Toyota is testing the limits of its "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" philosophy. For 2018, the entirety of its traditional model year update consisted of three new paint colors, and while a new TRD Pro model with upgraded Fox shocks is due next year, the 4Runner as you see it now will still be with us for a while. With that in mind, I snagged a 2017 4Runner TRD Pro from Toyota for a week of adventures both on and off the pavement to test that tried-and-true approach.

The Pros

  • What's in a name? In the case of Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro, a lot of off-road goodies that make it one of the most capable SUVs you can buy turnkey from the showroom. The base model's body-on-frame construction does a lot of the heavy lifting, but the TRD Pro trim gains a special suspension with tuned Eibach springs and remote reservoir Bilstein shocks that raise the ride height by an inch up front and two inches in the rear, as well as an aluminum skid plate and 31.5-inch Nitto Terra Grappler all-terrain tires. It's not as extreme as a Ford F-150 Raptor, for example, but it's still a very impressive factory package, especially in a midsize SUV.
  • Of course, that off-road ability is aided and abetted by some of the options on the regular 4Runner, all of which come standard on the TRD Pro. There's the rear locking differential, a Multi-Terrain Select system to modulate the traction and stability controls, the company's ABS-braking-based limited slip technology (A-TRAC), and the aforementioned Crawl Control—not to mention the truck's four-wheel-drive transfer case with low range, operated by a traditional gear lever in the TRD Pro. Very little in the way of natural obstacles can stop this truck.
  • You can debate the gimmickry of Crawl Control and Multi-Terrain Select, but they work surprisingly well when pushed to the limit. It all adds up to a great do-it-all vehicle that can hang with the built rigs at an off-road park and blend in with the more civilized traffic on the ride home (minus the copious mud spatters).
  • It's just as capable once you get back to dry pavement, too. Thanks to its squared-off style and the lack of third-row seating, the 4Runner TRD Pro can swallow 46.3 cubic feet of junk behind the rear seats. Fold those down, and the flat load floor gives the 4Runner a mighty 88.8 cubic feet of cargo space. That's more than a lot of three-row crossovers out there, which are objectively far less badass (though admittedly, far more economical) than the 4Runner. And all the bonus points to Toyota for maintaining the roll-down rear window, which helps it handle long loads and makes it feel like you're puttering down the trail in an open-air porch.
  • The design is...polarizing, but I'm mostly a fan of how it matches the off-road ethos of the truck. Even though the giant maw up front is accentuated by the blacked-out bumper on the TRD Pro, the aggressive approach angle (33 degrees) and exposed skid plate immediately let you know the 4Runner means business. It's always a pleasure to see the 4Runner's iconic slanted C-pillar, which must be one of the longest-running automotive design features still in production today. And that roll-down rear window necessitates a flatter back end, which keeps it from blending in on a road full of blobs and jelly beans.

The Cons

  • Fancy trimmings aside, the 4Runner TRD Pro is still a decade-old truck, and it's hard to hide that in some areas. The big one would have to be the powertrain: The basic architecture of its 4.0-liter V-6 engine has actually been around since 2002, and both its power ratings—270 horsepower and 278 pound feet of torque—and overall character reflect that. Though it's rated to tow 5,000 pounds, it sounds and feels stressed under load, and the five-speed automatic transmission is even more dated than the six-speeds Chevrolet is still stuffing in some of their SUVs. It gets pretty lousy fuel economy, too: 17 mpg around town and an optimistic 20 on highway, and those numbers plummet even further off-road.
  • The interior is also a bit of a let-down, despite its relative comfort. Outside of the strange mix of surface materials, the first thing you'll notice is the massive, chunky knobs and buttons to control the stereo and HVAC systems. Functional, yes. Aesthetically pleasing, no. You can make an argument that the 4Runner's interior is designed with its outdoorsy clientele in mind—the big knobs make it a cinch to adjust things while wearing gloves, for example—but the new Jeep Wrangler proves there are ways to preserve that while dialing back the utilitarianism (and fake carbon fiber) a bit. And the 6.1-inch, low-resolution touchscreen that anchors the infotainment system still has no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto support.
  • Speaking of tech, there's very little of it on the 4Runner TRD Pro apart from its off-road gizmos. The platform is so old that Toyota can't add any of the active safety tech that's become the norm these days—things like lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, and blind spot alert. The biggest concessions to modernity are optional front and rear parking sensors. Granted, it's a blessing not to have to deactivate all that stuff when going off road. But riding on that cushy Bilstein suspension and those plush tires, the 4,750-pound 4Runner TRD Pro likes to wander on the road, even with a steady hand.
  • Fire is hot, water is wet, and body-on-frame trucks still handle like pigs. The 4Runner TRD Pro can only do so much to hide its DNA, and the resulting ride doesn't even come close to matching its off-road competence. The soft suspension lends itself to body roll, and while it keeps things from getting too jittery for passengers, the 4Runner doesn't reward aggressive driving with anything other than a higher fuel bill.
Making friends.

The 2017 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro, Ranked

Performance: 4/5

Comfort: 3/5

Luxury: 2/5

Hauling people: 4/5

Hauling stuff: 4/5

Curb appeal: 4/5

“Wow” factor: 4/5

Overall: 4/5

Skid plate did its job.

The Bottom Line

The Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro sits at an interesting spot in the market. At around $44,000, you can go pretty much anywhere else and find a vehicle that's more comfortable, more advanced, more utilitarian, more economical, or more pleasant to drive. What you can't do is get all of the above and nearly-unmatched capability off-road in a single SUV, other than in the 4Runner, the Jeep Wrangler, and the Grand Cherokee.

While pickup trucks like the Ford Raptor and the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 offer the same special abilities, the 4Runner is a simpler choice. Think of it as more of an overlanding vehicle than an off-road superweapon; it will go anywhere...within reason. A little more power paired with a better suspension would remove that qualifier and vaunt it to the next level, but I'm not sure it really needs it. Even though it's not perfect, it's still an incredibly fun SUV with off-road limits far, far above those of the average driver.

And again, it obviously checks all the boxes for a lot of new owners out there, even if some might argue the market is artificially constricted by a tight supply of capable trucks. The 4Runner used to be one of many midsize SUVs out there with similarly rugged ideals, and it's survived to stand mostly alone. Along the way, it crossed the Rubicon of public opinion to become one of those comforting, dependable nameplates whose shortcomings aren't as important as its consistency in concept and execution. Toyota knows what's at stake here.

It certainly helps that they're all manufactured at Toyota's Tahara plant in Japan, which is the most computerized automotive factory in the world and the source of the famously reliable Lexus LS. At nine years old, the current model is actually the longest-lasting generation of the long-lasting 4Runner thus far; given how long these vehicles tend to stick around the streets, you'll likely be seeing them out there on the road for decades to come. Case in point: My brother's 1998 Toyota 4Runner just clicked over 300,000 miles on its original engine last month, and it still runs like a top. If it ain't broke, why fix (or replace) it?

The 2017 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro, By the Numbers

Price (as tested): $42,400 ($43,794 including destination)*

Powertrain: 4.0-liter V-6 engine; 270 horsepower, 278 pound feet of torque; five-speed automatic transmission; part-time 4WD with low-range transfer case and an electronically-locking rear differential

Fuel Economy: 17 mpg city/20 highway/18 combined

Approach/Departure Angles: 33 degrees/26 degrees

Ground Clearance: 9.6 inches

Cargo Capacity: 46.3 cubic feet, 88.8 cubic feet with the second row folded

Curb Weight: 4,750 pounds

Number of desert pinstripes acquired after a day of off-roading: 3

*2018 models start at $42,875

Volvo Launches Investment Fund Aimed at Tech Startups

It's a long way from Gothenburg to Silicon Valley, but Volvo hopes to gain greater influence in the tech sector with a new investment fund. The Volvo Cars Tech Fund is aimed at startups, and will emphasize what Volvo calls "strategic technology trends," including artificial intelligence, electrification, autonomous driving, and mobility services.

Volvo believes it can provide startups with important resources beyond just cash. The automaker said it can help accelerate the process of bringing new products to market, and provide startups with access to the Chinese market through its parent company, Geely.

This isn't Volvo's first foray into the tech sector. Last year, it opened an office in Silicon Valley and purchased the assets of Luxe, a U.S.-based valet service. The company hoped both moves would help build up the infrastructure needed to develop app-based mobility services. General Motors and others have launched their own services in order to combat tech companies like Uber and Lyft.

Other automakers are using investment to cultivate technologies and businesses they see as valuable. Daimler runs a program called Startup Autobahn that has backed more than 130 startup pilot projects, and the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance recently launched a capital fund focusing on similar technologies to Volvo's tech fund. Toyota launched its own tech-focused investment fund last year.

The Abarth 124 GT Is a Carbon-Roofed Special Edition

Ahead of the Geneva Motor Show, Abarth is showing off a special edition of its Miata-based 124 Spider dubbed the 124 GT. The GT's headline feature? A removable, carbon-fiber hardtop.

Weighing just 35 pounds, this special Abarth's woven roof apparently improves torsional rigidity, further upping this car's canyon-carving chops. Unlike the retractable hardtop found in its Miata RF badge-sibling, the 124 GT's cap is of the patiently-unlatch-and-keep-in-the-garage variety. Abarth says taking the top off should take just "a few minutes." Once detached, the roof can't be stored anywhere inside the 124 GT so unless you're cool with permanently leaving it on and treating this car like a coupe (which isn't a bad idea, actually), condo-dwellers need not apply.

On top of the new top (see what I did there?), this special edition 124 also comes with 17-inch OZ wheels that are 6.6 pounds lighter than standard and gunmetal-painted mirror caps.

Under the skin, things are unchanged. Like the normal Abarth 124 Spider, the GT features a 170-horsepower, 1.4-liter, Fiat four-cylinder bolted into what is basically a Mazda MX-5 in Italian robes.

It's unclear whether the 124 GT will be available in the U.S. so The Drive has reached out to the company for clarification. We'll update this story if we hear back.

Formula 1 Drivers Mixed on New Halo Safety Devices

Earlier than any could have predicted, controversy about the "halo" head protection device has begun to subside.

It may be thanks in part to teams like Sauber and Williams, whose integration of the halo makes it even look good. Even if fans are no longer as salty about the halo as they were two weeks ago, concerns remain. What if drivers can't see the starting lights? Or flags waved by marshals? Can they still get out fast enough? If there is anyone with the answer to these questions, it would be the drivers themselves, and several have spoken out with their opinions on the device.

"To be honest, I am not a huge fan of the look," said Williams' Lance Stroll in a press release. "However, it is going to help save lives. If I am in the car and it is going to help reduce the chances of being injured, I will definitely take that device and that is what the halo is doing."

Stroll's teammate, Sergey Sirotkin, has taken a similar stance.

"The halo is good, to be honest we’re quite used to it after running with it in the simulator," stated the Russian, in the same press release. "It’s definitely more difficult to jump in and jump out of the car but once you’re in it, you don’t care."

Red Bull Racing's Daniel Ricciardo is more indifferent than most drivers about the halo, stating to Motorsport, “It might sound silly, but I don’t notice it."

"Getting in the car and getting out obviously you do, but on track it seemed fine. I followed a couple of cars today and it seemed alright. We did the starts, we thought to see the start lights could be difficult, but so far it seems fine," he said.

Fernando Alonso made similar statements, alluding to the fact that drivers have focuses more important than their own cockpits while driving. Max Verstappen has spoken against the halo, but only from an aesthetic perspective, and not of his experiences within the cockpit.

Opinions between Force India's drivers, however, are not uniform.

“I’ve tried it a few times and didn’t have any major issues with the visibility," stated Sergio Perez, in a team release. "It’s just a different feeling when you are in the car, but something you adapt to quite quickly. It’s impressive when you realize just how strong it makes the car. Those safety benefits are important.”

His teammate, Esteban Ocon, is finding adaption to the halo difficult, though he is accepting that it's here to stay.

“I am not used to it yet. I have only tried it once with Manor back in 2016 and it will take some time to get used to it. However, it’s the same for everybody; we just need to learn to drive with it. It certainly impacts on your visibility because it’s a big change, but the safety benefits are important. I know some of the fans don’t like it, but I think they will get used to it quite quickly.”

Carlos Sainz Jr. became the first to add fresh criticism of the halo, speaking of challenges gauging downpour due to the way the halo prevents water from falling into the cockpit, in his own interview with Motorsport.

“Today when it started to rain a bit, but you could not see it on the visor. The halo was not allowing the raindrops to go on the visor. So you were not really seeing if it was raining or not," he said. "You were just feeling it with your hands and your arse. This kind of rain [sic] that sometimes really bothers us drivers, because you don’t know if you can actually push 100 percent or not, you just have to guess it with the pitwall and see how much rain there was."

BMW Teases What is Probably the 8 Series Gran Coupe

We've already seen plenty of the upcoming BMW 8 Series in both concept and camouflaged guises, but it looks like the German automaker has even more of the new 8er in store.

Taking to Twitter, BMW has teased a mysteriously long, Aston Martin Rapide-like four-door supposedly headed to the Geneva Motor Show next week. Judging from its silhouette, this will likely be categorized as another one of those four-door coupes, or "Gran Coupes" as BMW likes to call 'em.

Given how far away the wheels are from each other and the Hofmeister kink that bears a striking resemblance to the one found on the Concept 8 Series, we predict that this is very likely the 8 Series Gran Coupe.

A four-door 8 Series isn't totally unexpected given the company's current product plans. If the 2 Series is getting a Gran Coupe, why wouldn't the flagship get one as well?

Or perhaps, it's some sort of left field Tesla Model S rival with a completely original nameplate. Like a Porsche Mission E but, y'know, made by BMW. Whatever this ends up being, we like what we see. Hopefully, however, BMW will remember to throw some door handles on this thing before it reaches production.

For more on BMW's mystery car, be sure to check in with The Drive next week when the Geneva Motor Show kicks off.

Here’s What Indian Motorcycles Has Planned for Daytona Bike Week

If you’re a motorcyclist living in a climate with harsh winters, you might not recall the sound of water, nor the touch of grass, but I have good news. Daytona Bike Week is right around the corner and it’s a great place to get hyped for riding season.

Indian Motorcycles just announced its schedule events for Bike Week and there are a few things you won’t want to miss if you can make it there. Indian’s display on Main Street will include demo rides for 2018 models, custom bike displays, an exclusive rider’s group experience, and more, according to an Indian representative in an email to The Drive.

Daytona Bike Week 2017

“We are thrilled to offer attendees a dynamic and unique Daytona Bike Week experience, including an exclusive look at Carey Hart’s custom bikes, the Scout FTR750, FTR1200 Custom and all of our 2018 models,” said Reid Wilson, Senior Director – Marketing and Product Planning for Indian Motorcycle in a press release. “Daytona also marks a special time: The return of American Flat Track and a chance to watch the podium-sweeping Indian Wrecking Crew and new crop of privateers who have turned to the Scout FTR750 for this highly anticipated 2018 season.”

I have seen the Indian Scout FTR1200 Custom concept with my eyes at the IMS Chicago motorcycle show. It is beautiful. If you’re at Bike Week, you must go check it out and politely ask Indian to bring it to production. Tell them The Drive sent you.

Indian’s main display will be located at the corner of Main St. and N. Wild Olive Ave. It will be open daily from March 9 through March 17 from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Demo rides will take place on International Speedway boulevard and all you need to ride is a valid motorcycle license and your riding gear, both of which you’ll probably have on you anyway. Demos run daily from March 10-March 17 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

This could be you.

The 2018 season opener for American Flat Track racing is happening at the Daytona International Speedway on March 15 at 6 p.m. If you get there early, starting at 4:30 p.m., you could meet the Indian Wrecking Crew: Bryan Smith, Brad Baker, and 2017 champ Jared Mees, which wrecked the competition last season.

If you’re part of the Indian Motorcycle Riders Group, you can get an exclusive tour of the Daytona track and have a VIP meet-and-greet with the Wrecking Crew. You even get VIP parking and complimentary tickets to the race.

If all of that Indian goodness makes you unable to resist buying one, you can head over to Indian Motorcycle of Daytona Beach at 290 North Beach Street to get your next American cruiser or just go for an individual demo ride.

Indian Motorcycles is one of the most exciting brands to watch in the industry and Daytona Bike Week is a great opportunity to get acquainted with America’s first motorcycle company.

Listen to This Straight-Piped 2018 Toyota Camry XSE Growl

The 2018 Toyota Camry was conceived as a direct response to those who called its predecessors boring, packing a lot more aesthetic panache and a much-improved driving experience. One owner, however, has taken the "family car gone wild" thing to new heights.

Fitting straight pipes to a 2018 Camry XSE V-6 apparently makes for a midsize sedan that the visually impaired could easily mistake for a bona fide supercar. Take a listen to this.

For a car historically known for being a top choice for cab drivers and grandmothers everywhere, this doesn't sound bad at all.