If you really want to venture away from pavement to explore the wilderness that awaits — and with assurance that you’re likely to get back home after your adventure — a crossover vehicle with all-wheel drive doesn’t cut it. You need a real sport utility vehicle, one with body-on-frame architecture, significant ground clearance, all-terrain tires, and 4-wheel-drive system that provides high and low gear ratios for maximum traction.
In other words, you need a vehicle such as the Toyota 4Runner, and especially one like the 2020 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro 4×4 V6 that I recently enjoyed for a week.
A note on the word enjoyed: Driving the 4Runner TRD on suburban streets takes some getting used to. Toyota describes the 4Runner as its “family-hauling, boat-towing, hill-climbing SUV,” and newcomers to the model will find it engineered more toward the boat-towing and hill-climbing end of the automotive spectrum than for typical urban or suburban driving.
This SUV isn’t lightning off the line. In fact, it’s 4.o-liter V6 engine pumps out only 270 horsepower, and it doesn’t reach that figure until it’s spinning at 5,600 rpm. It provides only 278 pound-feet of torque — once you achieve 4,400 rpm, not enough to launch 4,750 pounds quickly enough for stoplight drag racing.
And the 4Runner offers just 5 speeds in its automatic gearbox. Basically, this is old-tech in an automotive world in which 300 horsepower and 8-speed autoboxes seem commonplace among vehicles traveling on paved roads.
Ah, but get the Toyota Racing Development’s version of the 4Runner away from pavement and now you’re in its element, negotiating obstacles like a mountain goat while occupants are cocooned in comfort; they sit in comfortable perches while enjoying the vistas, at least when they’re not holding their collective breath as the 4Runner and its driver deal with terrain that can be terrifying for those lacking confidence in the driver’s skill or the vehicle’s capabilities.
My off-pavement exploration in the 4Runner TRD Pro took place about a dozen miles east of The Strip in Las Vegas, back behind Sunrise Mountain in a “natural area” out toward Lake Mead where the Rainbow Gardens and the Lava Butte off-road trails form an elongated loop.
At the trailhead, I bore right onto the Rainbow Gardens route, basically trail wide enough for 2-day traffic — in most places — and which ends with a view of The Strip in the distance.
I returned to the trailhead via the Lava Butte trail, mostly a single-lane trek that takes your vehicle on a low-speed rollercoaster ride up, down and around, and not necessarily for the faint-hearted but ideal for a vehicle such as the 4Runner TRD Pro and its Nitto Terra Grabber All-Terrain tires.
Of course, even such a vehicle as the 4Runner TRD Pro is likely to spend most of its miles on pavement, not off. Toyota launched its mid-size SUV back in 1984, and the current version is part of the SUV’s fifth generation. For the 2020 model year, it comes equipped with an updated safety package — Toyota Safety Sense P — as well as a myriad of optional comfort, convenience and tech upgrades.
Changes for 2020 include a new instrument panel with 8-inch touchscreen and Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Amazon Alexa compatibility. Also new are 2 USB ports for rear seating positions, and push-button engine starting for some versions. 4Runner is available with seating for 5 or 7 occupants, depending on trim package.
4Runner is offered in SR5, SR5 Premium, TRD Off-Road, TRD Off-Road Premium, TRD Pro and 4Runner Premium trim versions, and with 2- or 4-wheel drivetrains. 4Runners with 4WD have 9.6 inches of ground clearance, and with full-size spare tires.
The TRD Pro version received a suspension update for the 2019 model year and for 2020 adds a TRD-branded cat-back exhaust system and new HVAC controls. The TRD Pro also is available in two new colors — Magnetic Gray Metallic and Army Green.
The TRD package includes locking rear differential, multi-terrain select and crawl control, and hill-start assist. Also included are Fox shocks and springs, aluminum front skid plate, all-weather floor liners, high-performance fog lamps, roof cargo basket, power window in the tailgate and trailer hitch receiver, as well as premium audio with “dynamic” navigation and heated power front seats.
Base price for the 4Runner TRD is $49,785. The vehicle I drove for a week also was equipped with a sliding rear cargo deck that makes loading and unloading much easier, running boards that make entry and exit much easier for driver and passengers, a cargo divider and cargo cover. The as-testing price is $52,147.
One thing the 2020 4Runner TRD Pro doesn’t have is the Multi-Terrain Monitor, which gives the driver and under-vehicle, front-wheel’s view like that in the 2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD and which would be very helpful when the driver is traveling alone on off-road trails with no one to help with tire placement in severe sections.
However, the 4Runner TRD Pro does have Downhill Assist, Crawl Control and Multi-Terrain Select systems that allow the driver to choose from among various speed and terrain challenges. In addition to mud/sand, loose rock and rock, there’s even a Mogul selection for extremely uneven ground including ditches, ridges and steep slopes.
What that means is that when venturing away from pavement, the driver can simply steer the vehicle and enjoy not only the experience, but the view as well.
The new Ford Bronco and the Jeep Wrangler might get more attention, but the Toyota 4Runner, and especially in TRD Pro guise, is a great way to travel in comfort on or away from paved roads.
2020 Toyota 4Runner 4×4 TRD Pro V6
Vehicle type: 5-passenger sport utility vehicle, 4-wheel drive
Base price: $49,785 Price as tested: $52,147
Engine: 4.0-liter V6, 270 horsepower @ 5,600 rpm, 278 pound-feet of torque @ 4,400 rpm Transmission: 5-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 109.8 inches Overall length/width: 191.3 inches / 75.8 inches
Curb weight: 4,750 pounds
EPA mileage estimates: 16 city / 19 highway / 18 combined
Assembled in: Tahara, Aichi, Japan
For more information, visit the Toyota website.