There are only a few SUVs left these days that utilize body-on-frame construction for serious off-road capability. Not only is the 2015 Toyota 4Runner one of them, but it also offers three-row seating, a spacious cargo hold and Toyota’s prime reputation for reliability. If you’re hoping to find all of those attributes in one vehicle, the 4Runner stands alone in this price range. It won’t give you the fuel efficiency or drive comfort of a car-based crossover, but the 2015 4Runner stays true to its roots as an SUV that’s ready for almost anything.
Even in base SR5 trim, the 4Runner is primed for off-road action. Standard equipment includes items like mud guards and skid plates, while four-wheel-drive models add a dual-range transfer case, hill-start assist and hill-descent control. The Trail trim adds advanced electronic aids for more precise off-roading, but the big news this year is the range-topping TRD Pro trim level, which boasts beefier tires, high-performance Bilstein shocks and distinctive styling elements. Bottom line, any 4Runner can bust trails with the best of them, and there’s more capability than ever for 2015.
If you spend most of your time on the pavement, however, there are better family vehicles available. Specifically, the 4Runner has a difficult time smoothing out potholes in the city with its busy ride, and its fuel economy is woeful compared to most V6-powered crossovers. Oh, and that optional third row we mentioned is best reserved for kids, so if you want adult-sized space back there, you’ll need to look elsewhere.
There are several notable 4Runner alternatives to consider. The 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee is one of our favorites if you don’t need three seating rows, and it offers competitive off-road performance, several engine options, more robust towing capacity, better fuel economy and an upscale interior. The related 2015 Dodge Durango also has more towing capacity and a premium cabin, and it comes standard with a third-row seat. The two-row 2015 Nissan Xterra is relatively basic inside, but it’s quite similar mechanically to the 4Runner, and it’s considerably cheaper. If you can do without all the trail-busting hardware, the 2015 Toyota Highlander offers room for eight passengers, a carlike drive and superior efficiency and acceleration.
But if nothing less than a traditional three-row SUV will do, the 4Runner’s the only game in town. It may be among the last of a dying breed, but the SUVS “B” rated 2015 Toyota 4Runner still has a lot to offer and is one of our top picks for a midsize two-row SUV in our 2015 Buying Guide.
The Toyota 4Runner is designed to provide real utility when the pavement ends. It’s at its best when you’re plugging along on off-road trails, and the numerous upgrades on the Trail and TRD Pro trims only add to the fun. At the same time, the 4Runner is refined enough for the daily grind, though lots of bumps make it in to the cabin as the rugged suspension and big tires jostle you around. The 4Runner’s steering feels a little too light in normal driving situations, but this turns out to be ideal for off-roading, as it results in reduced kickback on gnarly trails.
The 4Runner’s V6 engine is strong enough for most needs, but there’s no denying that you get more grunt from competitors like the V8-powered Grand Cherokee and Durango. The 4Runner’s 5-speed automatic transmission provides well-timed shifts, but we certainly wouldn’t mind another gear to calm the engine on the highway and eke out another miles per gallon or two.
The 2015 Toyota 4Runner is a midsize SUV offered in four trim levels: SR5, Trail, TRD Pro and Limited. The SR5 and Trail are divided into standard and Premium sub-trims. Five-passenger seating is standard, but an optional 50/50-split third-row seat on the SR5 and Limited models raises capacity to seven.
The SR5 comes standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, skid plates, mud guards, a haul hitch, hill-start assist and hill-descent control (4WD only), a rearview camera, foglights, heated exterior mirrors, rear privacy glass, LED taillights, roof rails, a power liftgate window, a windshield wiper de-icer, keyless entry, cruise control, air-conditioning with second-row vents, cloth upholstery, a six-way power driver seat with power lumbar adjustment, a leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and 40/20/40-split folding and reclining rear seats. Standard electronics includes Bluetooth phone and sound connectivity and an eight-speaker sound system with a 6.1-inch touchscreen interface, voice controls, a CD player, HD and satellite radio, an auxiliary sound jack and an iPod/USB sound interface.
The SR5 Premium adds a sunroof, upgraded exterior mirrors, leatherette (premium vinyl) upholstery, heated front seats, a power front passenger seat, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and an upgraded version of Entune with smartphone app integration and a navigation system.
Go with the 4WD-only Trail trim and you’ll get all of the base SR5’s standard features plus unique 17-inch wheels, a hood scoop, silver exterior trim accents, a locking rear differential, selectable terrain modes and crawl control. The Trail Premium model adds the SR5 Premium’s standard features.
The 4Runner Trail models are exclusively eligible for the optional Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS), which automatically disconnects the SUV’s stabilizer bars in low-speed off-road situations to improve suspension articulation over deep ruts and boulders.
The TRD Pro comes with most of the Trail Premium’s standard equipment, adding or substituting matte-black 17-inch wheels with special off-road tires, automatic headlights, a TRD-stamped aluminum front skid plate, Bilstein shocks, upgraded front springs, a higher drive height, a unique black front grille and various TRD-themed aesthetic upgrades.
The 4Runner Limited includes most of the Trail Premium’s feature content, but it lacks the mud guards, locking rear differential, terrain-mode selector and crawl control. Its available full-time 4WD system instead employs a locking center differential. Other Limited highlights include 20-inch alloy wheels, adaptive roll-reducing dampers (X-REAS), automatic headlights, front and rear parking sensors, keyless entry and ignition, dual-zone automatic climate control, leather upholstery, ventilated front seats and a 15-speaker JBL sound system and Toyota’s Safety Connect telematics.
Many of the higher-end standard amenities are available as options on lower trim levels, but availability can vary depending on the region of the United States in which you live. Stand-alone options include fixed running boards, automatically deploying/retracting running boards, a sliding rear cargo floor (two-row models only) and roof-rack crossbars.
The interior of the 2015 Toyota 4Runner features gauges and controls that are well laid out and easy to understand, while the gauges are equally attractive and legible. Most owners will be satisfied with the quality of the 4Runner’s cabin materials, which are oriented more toward durability than aesthetics. If you want something a bit more plush, something like the Jeep Grand Cherokee will likely be a better fit.
In addition, all 4Runners come with a touchscreen sound interface placed high on the center stack. Depending on which trim level you’ve selected, the touchscreen brings various degrees of functionality from Toyota’s Entune suite of smartphone-enabled services and apps. All trims except the base SR5 and Trail integrate a navigation system into this interface.
As for passenger accommodations, the standard five-person seating arrangement includes a reclining 40/20/40-split-folding second-row seat. The optional third-row seat is bound to be a tempting option for carpoolers, but you’ll want to make sure your elementary schoolers will actually fit, as this is one of the smallest, tightest third rows of any midsize SUV.
In reality, the real estate in the back of the 4Runner is better suited for cargo. There are a healthy 47 cubic feet of cargo room behind the second-row seats, a number that jumps to an even healthier 89.7 cubic feet with all the rear seats folded down. This is far more space than the Grand Cherokee offers, and more than many large crossovers (such as the Ford Explorer and Honda Pilot) as well.
Standard safety features on the 2015 Toyota 4Runner include antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, front seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, front knee airbags and active front head restraints. All 4WD models feature an off-road traction control system known as A-Trac that helps keep you moving on slippery terrain by redirecting engine torque to the wheel(s) that have traction.
A rearview camera is standard across the board, but front and rear parking sensors are only available on the Limited trim level. The Limited also comes with Safety Connect, which includes automatic collision notification, a stolen-vehicle locator and emergency assistance.
In SUVS brake testing, a four-wheel-drive 4Runner Trail model took 132 feet to stop from 60 mph, which is a long distance by crossover standards but not bad for an off-road-oriented SUV.
In government crash tests, the 4Runner earned four out of a possible five stars overall, including four stars for total frontal impact safety and five stars for total side-impact safety. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the 4Runner its top rating of “Good” in the moderate-overlap frontal-offset, side-impact and roof-strength crash tests, but the small-overlap frontal-offset crash test resulted in a “Marginal” rating (second-lowest). The 4Runner’s seat/head restraint design was rated “Good” for whiplash protection in rear-impact crashes.
The 2015 Toyota 4Runner employs a 4.0-liter V6 engine that produces 270 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque. The transmission is a 5-speed automatic. The SR5 and Limited models are available with either rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, while the Trail and TRD Pro are 4WD-only.
Four-wheel-drive SR5 models have a part-time 4WD system with low-range gearing, while the Limited uses a full-time 4WD system with low-range gearing and a locking center differential. The Trail and TRD Pro models come standard with the part-time 4WD system and also include a locking rear differential, crawl control (for use in low range) and selectable terrain modes. Properly equipped, the 4Runner is rated to haul up to 4,700 pounds.
In SUVS testing, a 4WD 4Runner Trail went from zero to 60 miles per hour in 7.8 seconds, which is about average among competing SUVs.
The EPA estimates fuel economy at 19 miles per gallon combined (17 city/22 highway) for RWD models and 18 miles per gallon combined (17 city/21 highway) for all 4WD 4Runners. Those numbers are typical for a traditional SUV, but well behind those of most V6-powered crossovers.
Outstanding off-road capability; strong V6 engine; ample cargo capacity; optional third-row seat.
The 2015 Toyota 4Runner is a rugged body-on-frame SUV that has more off-road capability than almost any rival, but as a daily driver it’s lacking a bit of refinement.