Ace of Base: 2017 Toyota 4Runner SR5

A great advantage to being one of the world’s largest automakers is that one can afford to wait for a bet to pay off. Witness this body-on-frame fifth-generation 4Runner, introduced to an apathetic and SUV-adverse public in the dark days of the 2009 as a ’10 model. It is still sharing showroom space with Corollas and Camrys today. Contrast this to Kia that introduced its body-on-frame SUV – the Borrego – at around the same time. It landed in the market with a dull thud and quickly resigned itself to the automotive dustbin of history in North America.

The 4Runner’s fortunes are on the upswing assisted by consumers consuming SUVs with all the restraint of a record producer with a garbage bag full of cocaine and a garden hose. Toyota sold more 4Runners in 2016 than at any other time in the last dozen years despite the brand’s glacier-like design cycle and the 4Runner being largely unchanged since the turn of the decade.

Back then, Toyota offered the 4Runner with a 157 horsepower inline-four, which must’ve accelerated at the pace of continental drift tasked with carting around two tons of body-on-frame SUV. Today’s shoppers will find a 24-valve 4.0-liter V6 making 270 hp as the 4Runner’s sole engine offering. Four-wheel drive is a $2,220 option, but Toyota sees fit to pack a limited-slip diff into the rear axle of 4Runners whose power is sent only astern. A gnarly 30-degree approach angle (hello, Ford Raptor) and 9 inches of ground clearance promise off-road chops so long as the Ace of Base customer remembers they only have a brace of driven wheels. Quarter-inch skid plates lurk under the chassis.

Yes, I poked fun at the age of this thing, but the design has worn well in these jaundiced eyes, showing off a rugged stance likely to frighten the two-tone paint off its youthful C-HR cousin. Economies of scale make sure the cheapest of Runners come equipped with projector beam headlamps and LED rear lamps, just like the fancy TRD and Limited models. Every 4Runner is shod with 265/70R17 meats.

Air conditioning with vents for rear passengers, natty power-sliding liftgate window (just like the Bronco, Mark!), and backup camera are all present and accounted for, as they should be for a sticker of $33,710. Nearly 90 cubic feet of cargo space greet household movers and kitchen cabinet builders when they fold down the rear seats. A third row is optional. You don’t need it. A quintet of 12-volt ports keeps all hands empowered, with a 120-volt outlet and a USB port tossed in for good measure.

Toyota’s Entune system with a 6.1-inch screen, satellite radio, and eight speakers shows up in the base 4Runner, with wireless-this and handsfree-that taking charge of the tunes and calls. Sadly, the killjoys at Toyota seemed to have deep-sixed the Party Mode button a couple of years ago.

It’s worth noting a base 2WD 4Runner is only $1,215 dearer than a loaded 2WD CR-V, or — staying in the same showroom — $1,040 less than a 2WD top-of-range RAV4. Viewed through that lens, I can suddenly understand the 4Runner’s increased sales numbers.

Loaded jellybean soft-roader or base body-on-frame bruiser? For roughly the same cheddar, I know which one I’d choose. How about you?

Not every base model has aced it. The ones that have? They help make the automotive landscape a lot better. Any others you can think of, B&B? Let us know in the comments. Naturally, feel free to eviscerate our selections.

The model above is shown with American options and is priced in Freedom Dollars absent of delivery and other fees. As always, your dealer may sell for less. Unless they’re selling a lot of them, in which case they probably won’t.

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