Toyota followed in the footsteps of the Big Three U.S. automakers and has used Texas as the stage to introduce its newest truck product..
General Motors, Ford and Chrysler have known for years that the state of Texas, and particularly the State Fair of Texas, are great venues for public introductions of new trucks and sport utilities, primarily because Texas also is the biggest truck market for those companies.
Toyota rolled out the all-new 2003 4Runner sport utility at the State Fair, which holds an auto show on the fairgrounds each year that attracts millions of visitors.
The 4Runner and hundreds of other new vehicles are on display at the fair.
The redesigned 4Runner, including an entirely new chassis and the brand’s first V-8 engine, marks the first major re-do of this vehicle since its debut in the mid-’80s, and it is long overdue.
Many of us who write about autos had thought Toyota would dump the 4Runner from its lineup once the company introduced the car-based, midsize Highlander SUV last year. Instead, Toyota invested hundreds of millions of dollars in creating a new generation of the 4Runner, its first sport utility vehicle.
This won’t be the only application of the 4Runner chassis platform, however. Shortly after the new 4Runner begins arriving in dealerships in late December or January, a very similar model will begin showing up in Lexus showrooms as the 2003 Lexus GX 470 — the third SUV in the Lexus lineup. We’ll probably also see it used as the basis for a revised Toyota compact pickup, in line with Toyota’s practice up to now of using the same chassis for the Tacoma pickup as the 4Runner.
I never was a big fan of the original 4Runner, primarily because it was built on the same chassis as the compact Toyota pickups, and therefore had limited interior space and a high, flat floor that was not well-suited to a passenger vehicle.
In the early ‘90s, when the Ford Explorer came along and revolutionized the SUV segment, Toyota (like just about every other big manufacturer) created the first four-door version of its formerly two-door-only sport utility, and that model has continued with nothing but basic interior and exterior enhancements or refinements since then.
The new 4Runner looks a lot nicer than its predecessor, with a much roomier interior, a much more luxurious feel and — for the first time ever — the choice of a V-8 engine.
The original 4Runner came only with a four-cylinder engine (remember, it was essentially a closed-in compact pickup); a V-6 was added later.
When the newest 4Runner rolls into dealerships in December, initially only the V-8 engine will be available — the same I-Force 4.7-liter powerplant used in the Tundra pickup, Lexus LX 470 and the new GX 470.
With 235 horsepower and 320 foot-pounds of torque, this engine will allow the new 4Runner to tow up to 5,000 pounds.
A bit later in the model year, Toyota will introduce a new 4.0-liter V-6 engine as the base 4Runner powerplant. It will be rated at 245 horsepower and 283 foot-pounds of torque — more horsepower than the V-8, but considerably less torque.
For most people, the V-6 probably will have all the power they need, but for those who want to haul trailers or heavy loads, the extra torque of the V-8 will come in handy.
Also to be introduced into the 4Runner line for the first time is a five-speed automatic transmission — also used in the Lexus LX 470 and GX 470.
Toyota is to be commended for creating the new 4Runner to be even tougher than the vehicle it replaces, rather than creating another fluffy car-based SUV.
This new 4Runner is a real, solid truck, with the standard body-on-frame construction of heavy duty trucks and sport utilities — including a box-ladder frame with nine steel cross members.
As a safety feature, the 4Runner’s gas tank will be mounted between the steel frame rails.
The 4Runner has grown some with this newest generation, which means it will have a roomier cabin. Overall, it is seven inches longer and four inches wider than the model. That helps give it both improved ride comfort and better off-road capabilities.
It still will be available with a true off-road-capable four-wheel-drive system with high- and low-range gearing, and with a standard torque split of 60 percent power to the rear wheels and 40 percent to the front.
A driver-controlled locking center differential splits the torque evenly between front and rear for off-road conditions requiring maximum traction.
There are several high-tech features included on the new 4Runner.
Among them are electronic braking, computerized downhill assist and a computer-controlled hill-start assist system.
With the downhill assist, the vehicle holds itself to a speed of about 3 mph on steep downhill grades with no input from the driver (foot off the brake, transmission in low, transfer case in low range).
The hill-start assist allows the vehicle to stand still on an uphill slope without input from the driver — no brakes needed, although Toyota engineers say you wouldn’t want to walk away from it sitting there like that.
This system helps to prevent the vehicle from rolling backward while you are attempting to climb a steep, slippery hill — a great feature to have while negotiating muddy or sandy off-road trails.
Inside, the new 4Runner is as luxurious as a car, with seating for five adults and ample cargo space behind the second seat. Leather upholstery and wood interior trim will be standard on the top model.
Three trim levels will be offered: the base SR5 model, the midlevel Sport, and the top-of-the-line Limited. The SR5 and Sport models will come with 16-inch wheels, while the Limited will get 17-inch wheels.
Toyota expects the majority of sales to be of the Sport model.
No prices have been announced yet, but expect the 4Runner to continue to be priced between the car-based, midsize Toyota Highlander SUV and the full-size Sequoia — probably a base price range of about $29,000 to $37,000.
Toyota is trying to get the new 4Runner into dealerships before Christmas, but at the State Fair, officials said it could be late January before they begin flowing into stores in any volume.