By Nick Smirnis
I recently put to the test one of the most iconic off-road toys
of the modern era--the 2018 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
4Runners are known for resale, rugged exteriors, and most importantly for taking abuse like a prize fighter. The latest generation of Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro epitomizes this legacy. The TRD Pro features a unique front grille with “TOYOTA” lettering that recalls the manufacturer’s early off-road vehicles. Its upgraded Bilstein suspension and a set of Nitto Terra Grappler tires also allude to its ancestry. But it goes much deeper than just aesthetics. In a world of CUVs, the 4Runner stays true to its body-on-frame construction. It also features a lever-type transfer case that might seem arcane to some uninitiated modern vehicle owners.
To make the 4Runner TRD Pro more at home in serious off-road environments, it is equipped with 1/4” thick aluminum skid plate which I can say with confidence, I never put to the test despite taking this SUV through articulating offset mounds, breakovers, steep grades with loose boulders and some departure and approach angles that made the competitors groan as the drivers scraped through the off-road test track.
The 2018 model goes further than any of its predecessors, leaning into the modern era with some new technology while preserving its safari roots and more recent reputation for being the “Toughest SUV on Earth.” This year, Toyota took its multi-terrain select technology a step further by adding a Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS) and a Crawl Control feature that has to be experienced to be believed. I expected the 4Runner to be a fun and balanced off-road platform that is attractive even to inexperienced off-road enthusiasts, but my expectations were far surpassed by these features and its general good manners after my preliminary test.
The KDSS allows for further articulation based on traction control sensor inputs so that it not only transfers power according to traction, but can actually adjust the suspension for better grip in real time. The KDSS kept the SUV remarkably level. I wasn’t sliding off the seat, I didn’t lean on my seatbelt, and I didn’t feel the car strain at all.
The Crawl Control feature works in five different settings or speeds. Once engaged, it automatically modulates the throttle, meaning that I controlled the speed of the vehicle using the knob near the rear view mirror with no driver input from either pedal. I’ve seen similar systems before, but I was surprised at how well behaved the 4Runner was. It didn’t jump, nor could you couldn’t feel the traction control shifting around even as we moved from side to side during the articulating offset mounds. It was truly effortless.
After I had become the Crawl feature’s biggest cheerleader, I discovered something not only utilitarian, but also a lot of fun: The Crawl Control feature works in reverse. So, after I went nose up on what can only be described as a cliff that the 4Runner TRD Pro scaled with Spiderman-like acuity, I thought to myself, what if I didn’t know what was on the other side of this breakover? A nasty tree stump? A bed of cacti? Of course, I knew the trail by this point, but I seized the opportunity to test out the Crawl Control in reverse. Just as easily and confidently as it danced through the articulating mounds, it slowly backed down the mountain while I provided only steering input on the wheel. What would have been a nervous and violent decent if I had just shoved it in reverse and tried to do the two step with break and throttle, was a piece of cake. This feature could come in handy the next time I was using the dirt boat launch or backing out of that steep icy driveway that the Realtor gave so many assurances about.