Eager Pleaser

Toyota 4Runner Sport Edition

Off-road prowess and pavement poise were once mutually exclusive. But the long-standing conflict has been resolved, and life is morepleasant. Case in point: Toyota's 2003 4Runner, an SUV with benevolent behavior.

This fourth-generation 4Runner adheres to the old body-on-frame design, but there are wholesale changes and upgrades. Every dimension is stretched, including the interior. The powertrain lineup now includes an all-new V-6 engine and the 4Runner's first-ever V-8, which has a five-speed automatic. But no manual transmission is offered, and premium fuel is required. Two transfer cases provide shift-on-the-fly from two-wheel drive (V-6) or full-time four-wheel drive (V-8). Both engines offer a low range for slogging through mud.

The 4.7-liter V-8 in our Sport Edition delivered a potent 235 hp and 320 ft-lb. of torque. It reacted smoothly and quickly to a prod of the gas. We clocked 0 to 60 in 7.4 seconds bareback and in 12.8 seconds with a 2,520-pound Checkmate runabout on a single-axle trailer. Braking performance was also exemplary. With no assist from the trailer, the 4Runner halted a combined vehicle weight of 7,000 pounds from 60 to rest in less than 200 feet.

The roads were frozen while we conducted this test, so there was no opportunity to dip tire treads into a lake to gauge up-the-ramp comportment. However, we bombed around logging trails, and the new 4Runner acted at home. On smooth roads, it corners on rails because of its X-REAS chassis system, which interconnects opposite-corner shock absorbers with a fifth center damper to control pitch and roll motions.

The goodie list includes a two-level shelf in the cargo area, a JBL 10-speaker sound system, a 110-volt AC power outlet, and convex mirrors attached to the rearmost roof pillars, which eliminate blind spots once and for all. The Navigation System ($2,475) is also available.

MODEL Toyota 4Runner Sport
Engine 4.7-liter DOHC V-8
Net hp/rpm 235/4800
Net torque (ft-lb/rpm) 320/3400
Transmission 5-speed automatic
Suspension Front control arms, coil springs
Suspension Rear rigid axle, coil springs
Brakes (front/rear) disc/disc, standard ABS
Tires Dunlop Grand Trek, P265/65SR-17 mud and snow
Wheelbase (in.) 109.8
Length (in.) 187.8
Width (in.) 73.8
Height (in.) 71.2
Curb weight (lbs.) 4,480
Towing capacity (lbs., max.) 5,000
Cargo capacity (max. cu. ft.) 144
Fuel capacity (gal.) 23
0-60 mph acceleration (without/with 5,100-lb. towed load, sec.) 7.4/12.8
60-0 mph stopping distance (without/with 5,100-lb. towed load, ft.) 122/199
Observed towing fuel economy (avg. mpg) 11
Price (as tested) $32,769

LAST WORD. Toyota's new 4Runner is the competition's worst nightmare.