#1 – 2003 Toyota 4Runner Limited

I wanted to start these road tests with an exotic or interesting car, but the whole idea was to take a look at cars that I would not normally drive, and what better way to do that then to start with a Toyota. Which is also an SUV. As someone who likes small European sports cars, this is out there.

The model I drove is a 2003 4Runner in the Limited trim level which includes 4WD and a 4.7L V8 engine. I like V8s, we’re off to a good start. Also during my preliminary research, I found out that this vehicle is branded as the Toyota Hilux Surf in the rest of the world, so it has a good pedigree. (Go check out some episodes of Top Gear on BBC/BBCAmerica if you don’t know why the Hilux is so revered. The Polar Special is probably my favorite example.)

The 4Runner weighs over 2 tons, which I don’t think is too unusual for an SUV, but the V8 seemed to pull it just fine. I put my foot down and the SUV moved forward with some pep. I should mention that this was a used car with about 147k miles on the odometer, and I have no clue how well the previous owners maintained the car.

I wasn’t able to take the car for a proper road test to try out the brakes, but they stopped it well enough. I would’ve liked to see how they respond at speed…because as far as driving dynamics went, this thing felt like a boat. The driver’s seat feels very high above the road, and you don’t feel bumps in the road. Also when turning, you leeeeean. And then leeeeean the other way when you straighten out.

I don’t think most people will be taking their 4Runner on an autocross course, so as long as they understand that then we’re all good. Just watch out for people driving aggressively on the highway, they might think their luxury V8 yacht is a jet-ski, and it’s not. (Going back to the previous paragraph, it’s a possibility that this car could need suspension work so that may have explained some of the mushiness that I noticed.)

And now on to the interior. I got in the cabin and the first thing I could think of was: “This car is designed for men.”

Before I go any further on that thought, let me explain something about my taste in, well, everything. I have a cell phone that both male and female reviewers have said is “aimed towards the male market.” I look at this phone and I see a cell phone with red buttons and red accents. I am a female, and I really enjoy red and black. This is apparently unusual. Also in case you can’t tell, I really like cars, I like taking things apart, and I fly model airplanes as a hobby. Most things that are marketed to men I see as neutral so it’s not something I say often.

Back to the Toyota. The trim on the inside of the car was supposed to look like black granite, and all of the knobs were designed to look like big chunky gears. (The picture doesn’t do any of this justice, sorry) All of the controls felt very smushed in, like someone just said ok, we have 26 square inches, fit as many buttons in as you can. But I didn’t have much time, I’m sure that over time one would get used to where everything is. It also has one of those horrible, not-linear automatic gear shifters. (I suppose I should learn what those are called, especially considering their prevalence these days.)

Aside from that it was a standard car. Leather seats, rear legroom was great, cargo area had some nifty features to help keep you and your stuff (and in the case of the previous owner, your dog) organized.

I did appreciate how someone, somewhere decided to make sure I knew that the door cubby was only for bottles, and not for glasses. (There are cupholders for that you heathens.) There was also a handy cheat sheet on the sun visor telling you under what conditions to mess with your differential. (Kicking myself for not getting a picture of this)

Lastly, my favorite part of this car. In my time of working at a car dealership I have noticed that car brands often have little features that aren’t a big deal, but are great for convenience. I would list some of these here but I need to save something exciting for future posts, so I’ll just say that what Toyota did here is amazing.

Yes, there is the normal sun visor that folds down and can also go sideways, but there is also a secondary visor that you can fold down to cover the top of the windshield while the primary visor is covering the side window. I have terribly sensitive eyes and wear sunglasses even when it’s cloudy so this is the kind of thing I can get behind. Maybe other manufacturers do this too, but hey, I’m new to this game so I’ll just have to wait and see.

So that’s the 4Runner. My horizons have been expanded already. Next up, try to find the Lexus equivalent, I guess that would be the GX?

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