Toyota Kicks Up Some Dust with the All-New TRD Pro Series of Off-Road Vehicles
Get ready to go where even roads fear to tread with the adrenaline-pumping TRD Pro Series from Toyota. Already favorites among serious off-roaders, the 2015 Toyota Tundra, Tacoma and 4Runner will get even more capable with these new, aggressive off-road packages designed by the experts at Toyota Racing Development (TRD).
Rising from the Desert
The TRD Pro Series arises from Toyota’s storied off-road racing heritage, with numerous victories in the grueling Baja 500 and 1000 endurance races. Born from this experience in the desert, Toyota’s terrain-conquering vehicles will help serious off-roaders go places they never dreamed possible.
Serious Specs for Serious Off-Roaders
The new factory-installed TRD Pro Series is aimed squarely at extreme off-roading enthusiasts who push their trucks and SUVs to the limit.
Available on 4X4 models of Tundra, Tacoma and 4Runner, all TRD Pro Series vehicles will be equipped with:
TRD Bilstein shocks with remote reservoirs
TRD-tuned front springs
TRD front skid plate
Unique front grille with “TOYOTA” badging (pays tribute to early iconic Toyota models)
TRD floor mats
TRD shift knobs
A hot new color, Inferno, is joined by Black and Super White, cool classics for off-road rigs.
Tundra Like No Other
In addition to the shared features, the Tundra TRD Pro will be equipped exclusively with:
TRD-tuned springs with 2” lift for the front of the vehicle
Decreased spring rate to improve ride quality over harsh terrain
All-black 18-inch alloy wheels with Michelin ORP tires
TRD dual exhaust system
TRD PRO quarter panel bed stamping
Unique interior seat color with red stitching
Unique instrument panel ornament insert
Building on the best-selling compact pickup in the industry, Tacoma TRD Pro beefs up and adds a little hot sauce with:
TRD-tuned springs with 2” lift for the front
Decreased spring rate
16-inch black beadlock-style wheels
BFGoodrich® All-Terrain LT265/75R16 tires
Black TRD PRO badge
Rock Star 4Runner
Adding to its rock-crawling prowess, 4Runner TRD PRO will be exclusively equipped with:
1.5” lift for the front of the vehicle
1” of additional wheel travel
All-new 17-inch TRD all-black alloy wheels
Black TRD Pro badges
Black front and rear lower bumper accents
Street Cred On and Off-Road
The TRD Pro Series is the most-advanced yet in a long line of TRD packages for Toyota trucks that dates back to 1998 when the first Off-Road package was introduced for Tacoma.
TRD has been an in-house engine and chassis developer for successful Toyota racing activities around the world for nearly four decades. It also develops motorsport-derived accessories for Toyota, Lexus and Scion street cars and trucks. TRD’s U.S. operations were first established in 1979 and are headquartered in Costa Mesa, Calif., with an additional facility in Salisbury, N.C.
The TRD Pro Series will start getting down and dirty in the fall of 2014.
Original Toyota Off-Road Game Returns!
Be the first to take the TRD Pro Tundra, Tacoma and 4Runner off-road and online by playing, Super Off Road™: TRD Pro Edition Presented by Toyota.
Choose your favorite TRD Pro model and put them to the test on the toughest, muddiest, most grueling online off-road track. Score power-ups, challenge friends and compete to beat the leaderboard. Visit www.ToyotaSuperOffRoad.com for more information.
New TRD Pro Series Kicks Up Dust for Off-Road Enthusiasts
Their “minds are always racing.” In their 35 year existence, Toyota Racing Development – U.S.A. (TRD) has lived by their mission “to deliver an authentic high-performance experience by adding value to create passion and enthusiasm.”
For 35 years and counting, TRD has been an integral component in Toyota’s success in the U.S., not only in numerous motorsports racing victories, but in the area of high quality performance parts and accessories. TRD has continually provided Toyota’s car and truck customers with high quality performance parts, enabling countless enthusiasts the opportunity to seek the ultimate in on- and off-road performance.
The success of TRD, in professional racing and the creation of retail performance parts, can be attributed to constantly keeping their focus on “Authentic Performance.” This attitude helps prevent the TRD team from drifting into an area of “appearance without substance.” This focus over 35 years has led TRD to numerous Toyota motorsports victories in an array of racing series’ including Indy Car, USAC, desert off-road, NASCAR (Camping World Truck, Nationwide, and Sprint Cup) and IMSA and Grand Am sports car racing.
The same focus has earned TRD the reputation of one of the leading developers of motorsport-derived retail performance accessories, including wheels, exhausts, suspension parts, brakes, superchargers, body kits and much more for Toyota, Lexus and Scion cars, trucks and sport utility vehicles (SUV).
Coinciding with their 35th anniversary of business in the U.S., TRD has developed the new TRD Pro Series off-road performance accessories. The new factory-installed off-road performance packages will specially modify Toyota body-on-frame trucks for the 2015 model year including the Tundra and Tacoma pickups and the 4Runner mid-size sport utility vehicle (SUV).
The TRD Pro Series is the latest, but certainly not the last, performance-driven accessories package developed from the racing minds at TRD. Just as TRD-powered race cars and trucks will continue to take checkered flags on various circuits, future generations of extreme-vehicle enthusiasts will be offered the opportunity to realize their dreams of ultimate Toyota rides on dirt and pavement. Stay tuned for more down the road.
Aggressive-looking and attitude-packed, Tundra TRD Pro, Tacoma and 4Runner are here to have some fun. Watch these off-road beasts kick up some dirt, as they crawl and drive over just about anything. Follow along with #TRDpro and learn more at Toyota.com/trdpro.
Motocross stars Josh Grant and Justin Brayton, along with a pair of grumpy old fogies, catch a glimpse of the new 2015 TRD-Pro-edition Toyota Tundra, Tacoma and 4Runner as the trucks blow past a sleepy gas station. Learn more about the trucks, TRD, and Josh and Justin at http://www.toyota.com.
Aggressive-looking and attitude-packed, TRD Pro Tundra, Tacoma and 4Runner are here to have some fun. Watch these off-road beasts kick up some dirt as they crawl and drive over just about anything. Follow along with #TRDpro and learn more at http://www.toyota.com/trdpro.
It's pretty cool to have multiple-time off-road racing champion Ivan "Ironman" Stewart riding along when you're bouncing a Toyota Tundra along a rutted gravel track in the desert. That is, until you misjudge your speed over a gully and -- BANG! -- smack the aluminum front skidplate. "That's just it telling you you've reached the limit," Stewart says. "That's why we have the plate."
Fortunately, the truck can take that sort of treatment. (And no, we weren't the only ones to dent or ding skidplates.) Like the Tacoma and 4Runner also on hand, this Tundra is equipped with a new Toyota Racing Development (TRD) Pro Series package that was revealed at the 2014 Chicago auto show. Available this fall for an as-yet undetermined price, the TRD Pro treatment beefs up the Toyota trucks and SUVs for use on tough terrain like we're tackling half an hour south of the Vegas strip.
The basic recipe is the same for all three Toyota models. New, longer Eibach springs give an increased ride height and suspension travel, while Bilstein shocks keep the ride tolerable both on and off pavement. A new skidplate protects the engine, black wheels dress up the exterior, a special retro Toyota badge adorns the grille, and TRD Pro-specific floor mats and shift knobs outfit the cabin. The three color choices are black, super white, and inferno. "We're taking three of the most rugged vehicles in the industry, and we're taking them to the extreme," explains Toyota Motor Sales marketing vice president Jack Hollis.
The Comfortable One
The Toyota 4Runner doesn't feel particularly extreme as we head down I-15 from Las Vegas. Despite its higher ride height and off-road Nitto Terra Grappler tires, there's nothing unpleasant about driving this 4Runner on pavement. In fact, because the spring rates are softer than in a normal 4Runner, the TRD Pro is actually really comfortable over rough pavement. Soon though, we put the SUV in its natural territory, heading down a dirt road to a tricky rutted trail. Our speeds are never high, but our angles of inclination are, as we creep up and skitter down steep grades, lean at extreme angles around banked turns, and cross V-shaped gullies.
Even in the worst of it, the 4Runner never delivers the sort of harsh impacts that would prompt calls to a chiropractor. We bounce around when the SUV hops over big rocks or pounds through ruts, but they are soft, controlled impacts. The shocks absorb and slow up the suspension before it painfully bottoms out. It feels remarkably gentle given the type of driving we're doing. And with the raised ride height and quarter-inch aluminum skid plate, there's considerably less likelihood of damaging any sensitive bits than in a standard 4Runner.
The Fast One
Our next journey is in the Toyota Tundra, which has a slightly more advanced system than either of the other TRO Pro vehicles. Softer, longer springs increase ride height and overall suspension travel by two inches, bringing the Tundra to 10.5 inches of front wheel travel -- which the TRD guys like to point out is very close to the Ford F-150 SVT Raptor's 11.2 inches. More important are a set of remote-reservoir Bilstein shocks with position-sensitive damping, which can be tuned to provide different levels of damping based on how far the suspension has traveled. For the Tundra TRD Pro, that means Toyota could dial in low primary compression for a gentle ride and off-road compliance, while gradually ramping-up compression as the wheel moves farther to keep the suspension controlled over large impacts. The more the wheel moves, the more the shock absorber resists its travel. "We're trying to avoid the harsh bottom-out," explains Toyota suspension engineer Zach Zwillinger. "It's not a race car, but it is a lot faster than a stock car."
A flatter, less technical driving route reflects the fact that this truck is setup for higher-speed running. It calmly soaks up and floats over bumps and imperfections, and even more so than the 4Runner, provides a gentle transition when you run out of articulation over large impacts. The ride stays composed on high-speed runs over minor bumps, yet firms up enough to keep the truck from banging into the end of its suspension travel over larger ruts and ditches.
Later in the day, "Ironman" Stewart hops into the driver's seat to demonstrate even more ably the benefits of the TRD upgrades. Stewart blasts the truck down the gravel trail at twice the speed we drove, yet bumps and ruts are almost totally filtered out by the Bilsteins before they reach the cabin. With one hand keeping a loose grip on the steering wheel and his left foot dabbing the brakes, Stewart even posits that the truck's suspension is so good, an unmodified Tundra TRD Pro could tackle -- and finish -- the grueling Baja 1000 race. We take that with a grain of salt given that Stewart is paid to promote Toyota off-road products; he joined the company's factory team in 1983.
The Tundra also benefits from a new TRD exhaust that is said to add about eight horsepower, although its output hasn't been officially certified. The real benefit, though, is the throatier rumble from our test truck's 5.7-liter V-8 engine. Another Tundra-specific feature is the addition of "TRD Pro" logos stamped into the bed's sides.
The Stiff One
If there's one disappointment, it's when we take a Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro up steep gravel switchbacks, down winding trails, and through rocky scrub at the base of a hill. Where the 4Runner and Tundra impress with their composure in the rough stuff, the Tacoma jostles and jiggles occupants so much you're aware of every rock or pebble you traverse. The official word is that the Tacoma's light truck BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO tires are the cause, as they have stiffer construction than the passenger-car off-road tires used by the 4Runner and Tundra. No doubt the Tacoma's relatively light weight and comparatively small wheels (16 inches, versus 18 on the Tundra and 17 on the 4Runner) play a role, too.
Still, the tires afford plenty of grip on loose gravel, which is reassuring given the steep drop-offs along our path. We have to engage 4-High only once, to get over a steep gravel mound when leaving the rocky trail for a dirt-packed fire road. The Tacoma's suspension has been raised by two inches and offers one inch more articulation than stock, and the black TRD wheels have a higher offset, effectively widening the truck's track. As on the Tundra, a new exhaust is said to add about eight hp, although the truck's official power and fuel-economy ratings haven't been revised. Interestingly, Toyota says about 40 percent of all Tacomas sold leave the showroom with the existing, milder TRD Sport and TRD Off-Road packages.
Ready For The Real World
TRD parts are serious business for Toyota; last year, add-on accessories sold through dealerships brought in more than $23 million for the company. Aftermarket pieces that achieve the same effect might be cheaper, but the TRD Pro package is ready from the factory, can be serviced at any Toyota outlet, and is covered by the standard three-year/36,000-mile warranty. Officials even claim that so long as there are no signs of obvious abuse, dealers would warranty problems due to off-road use, like blown shocks or damaged suspension mounts.
Not that we need to test that claim today. Our group of journalists bumped and bounced the TRD Pro vehicles on rough trails all day long with zero problems. While our test couldn't possibly replicate the gamut of abuse to which real-world owners might subject these trucks, it's a promising sign for the package's durability.
We drive the TRD Pro Series trucks, Toyota's newest Super Off-Roaders
What is it?
Goodsprings, Nev., is about 20 miles southwest of Las Vegas, the sort of place with historical plaques that are nearly as old as the places they describe. The desert trails winding past the "historic" Pioneer Saloon -- where Clark Gable drowned his sorrows -- are littered with jagged rocks and a dust that fills your lungs. Wild burros that won't flinch at oncoming machinery roam, along with endangered desert tortoises that we are never to hit, even accidentally, lest we have to fill out the paperwork. It is 99 degrees outside -- never a shortage of sunlight, never a place to hide from it.
It's the perfect place to run Toyota's latest in off-road badassery: the TRD Pro Series of trucks, previously announced at the Chicago Auto Show, now crashing and banging and occasionally jumping over the Nevada rocks until they sound like they're going to break. They didn't. If they had, we'd still be in the desert.
For the Tundra, the Tacoma and the 4Runner, Toyota Racing Development has supplied beefy 2.5-inch Bilstein shocks with remote reservoirs, paired with TRD-tuned Eibach springs that increase lift around 2 inches upfront and an inch in back; their rates are decreased, from stock, for a less jarring ride both on-road and off. Wheel travel increases 1-2 inches. The TRD exhaust on the two pickups add around 10 hp, according to Toyota's preliminary (and unpublished) testing. Front aluminum skid plates, a quarter-inch thick, are necessities. The rest of the package amounts to appearance: TRD floor mats, shift knobs, and blacked-out wheels, while the black grilles on all three feature retro TOYOTA badging, just in time for Marty McFly's arrival to the future -- next year.
Each vehicle receives something unique. Only the Tacoma receives beadlock-style wheels, for instance. (Its TRD package is nearly identical to the Baja Series Tacoma, except for reduced spring rates.) The Tundra gets red-stitched cloth seats and TRD Pro stamped on the bed panels. The 4Runner gets an additional inch of wheel travel but for some reason is the only one without a TRD exhaust. All three trucks have different wheels and tires: 18-inch Michelin on Tundra, 17-inch Nitto for 4Runner, 16-inch BF Goodrich with the Tacoma. All three trucks get paint options consisting of black, super white and a color Toyota calls "inferno," which resembles an overripe tomato.
Of course, Toyota is quick to champion its off-road heritage. It dragged off-road legend Ivan "Ironman" Stewart away from retirement in balmy San Diego just for this purpose, bringing him back to the same trails he used to race early in his career. "I remember chasing a guy right down here," he said as we bombed down a three-wide trail of scattered rocks that curved down past the edge of a small cliff. "'Course, we'd be going three times the speed, trying to pass each other through the dust."
After driving the three TRD Pro trucks, we hoped somebody would name a video game after us.
What's it like to drive?
All three vehicles have their own personalities. The 4Runner is light on its feet and slides willingly in the dirt with a lightness belying its size. The Tacoma delivers a visceral experience, filled with noise and roughness, yet it feels slightly more lethargic than the heavier 4Runner. The Tundra feels like it can take any amount of abuse you can throw at it, every time: careening loudly over dips and scraggly inclines, we hit hard but never reach the bump stops. The unique three-stage valving, designed to ease the transition into bottoming out, does its job. By the end of the day, the Tundra's skid plate resembled a piece of armor from a sunken battleship. "When you hit the skid plate," said Ironman Stewart, after inspecting our bump stops, "you've reached your limit."
What's good for off-road is apparently good for the asphalt, and the TRD suspension on all three vehicles feels like magic: delivering unflappable smoothness and stability on Interstate 15, one's inclined to believe that every truck and car should ride like this. We drove a Tundra Platinum recently, which creaked and bounced on the asphalt: this here TRD Tundra felt more comfortable off-road than the Platinum did on pavement.
Do I want one?
If you can justify the flimsiest of excuses to buy a sweet truck ("now that I have a motorcycle, I'm gonna need something to haul it with" always works), the Toyota TRD Pro trucks will enable further excuses to spend time in the great outdoors, even if that outdoors happens to be the edge of the Mojave desert.
Pricing is key to utilitarian trucks like these: the trick suspensions aren't cheap, but Toyota trucks are supposed to be. The current Baja Series Tacoma will cost $33,800 including shipping. On that truck, the total cost of the TRD gear comes in at $5,015. Expect similar pricing throughout midrange trims of the Tundra and 4Runner.
In fact, the 4Runner would be our pick for the best balance in agility, solidity, and comfort -- yes, there's even some semblance of it while bouncing around on the dirt. The Tundra's steering was too vague and light even for a truck; Raptor it isn't, though the addition of the 504-hp supercharger would have made for an even more beastlike truck. The Tacoma, rough-and-tumble as it is, would be our second pick, and we'd gladly put up with the harshness if we had to haul dirtbikes. Like those who already own a Baja Series Tacoma, we'd have to don a flat-brim cap with our choice of energy drink on it.
But you can get a Tacoma TRD Pro with the 4.0-liter V6 engine and a manual transmission. That sounds like good, clean fun to us.
If you're serious about performance off-roading, chances are you love talking about suspension. And not in an overly simplistic way, like dropping brand names or making statements like "long-stroke shockz iz better." Your topics include shock absorber extended and collapsed lengths, the pros and cons of air bump-stops, and the side effect of lifts on suspension geometry. This is the language spoken by off-road enthusiasts. This is the language spoken by Toyota Racing Development.
The TRD Pro Series story began two years ago, back when it wasn't a series yet. Looking to inject some pizzazz into the truck lineup, the Tundra was earmarked as TRD's first off-road pet project. Then the 4Runner and Tacoma were brought into the mix. It makes sense. The 4Runner has the adventurous reputation with a more affordable entry price point than the Land Cruiser. Forty percent of all Tacomas sold today have TRD packages already. It's best to think of TRD Pro as akin to what F Sport represents to Lexus, in that these are dedicated models and not dress-up treatments. Rumor has it if all goes well, the TRD Pro ethos could spread to produce on-road enhancements for Toyota's cars.
Since the Tundra serves as the halo within what's destined to be the TRD Pro halo sub-brand, it received more TLC. It'll be peddled in extended or crew-cab form, fitted with the 5.7-liter V-8, 4WD, and a TRD cat-back exhaust system. Exterior modifications consist of a burly-looking front grille with a Toyota badge mimicking those found on FJ40 Land Cruisers, "TRD Pro" stampings on the quarter bed panels, a quarter-inch-thick aluminum front skidplate with a handy panel to access the oil sump, and 18-inch TRD wheels. All TRD Pro vehicles come with TRD floormats and shift knobs, but Tundra alone adds red stitching on the seats and a special instrument panel insert. The Tundra and 4Runner knob designs were inspired by Audi and Porsche efforts.
Now, the meat and potatoes. Much time and energy were spent tuning the suspension, and the Tundra is packing serious heat. There's at least one TRD engineer looking forward to the inevitable comparisons between it and Ford's F-150 SVT Raptor. The front starts with lower-rate Eibach springs, selected to help raise the nose two inches and give the tires greater opportunity to track off-road surfaces. The coilover shocks were developed with Bilstein and utilize a 2.5-inch body (generally what you'd anticipate for a factory-backed off-road truck) to yield 2 more precious inches of downward wheel travel. Internally, the main piston is 30 percent larger than a standard Tundra's (60mm versus 46), but the real trick lies with a smaller secondary piston (less than half the larger's size) complementing the main one in especially large compressions. (Think when really big bumps come a-knockin'.) Toyota calls the net effect "3-stage position-sensitive valving." There were compromises, of course. The lengthy monotube shock is even longer, and the second piston's physical presence necessitated a remote reservoir to support the damping motions and heat-dissipation requirements. The Tundra is the only TRD Pro ride with this style of shock and with reservoirs hiding in the tightly packaged front.
The rear 2.5-inch shocks have a single primary 60mm piston, remote reservoirs, and leverage 1.25 inches more travel in conjunction with the stock leaf springs. Removing/softening leaves would negatively affect payload hauling and towing. Michelin LTX A/T 2s sized 275/65-18 -- or 32s in truck parlance -- shared with the TRD Off-Road Package reside at the corners.
As is typical with this kind of off-road runner, the truck feels better the faster it can go. On a relatively well-groomed dirt trail with abundant dips of all shapes and sizes, the Tundra TRD Pro was never disturbed. Road feel and steering response are excellent at highway speeds, and the shocks excel in these high-speed conditions by not allowing hectic cab motions or sensations that one or more tires are having trouble staying on the ground overwhelm the driver. In 2WD, you can generate all manner of immense V-8 wheelspin on demand, but the truck endures with a planted balance that leaves the impression you're always in control. We later discovered that under the elegant command of Baja racing luminary Ivan "Ironman" Stewart, the Tundra can power through deeper plunges -- ones we had gingerly crept in and out of on our run -- with a plusher than expected ride. If the truck was bottoming or topping out, it did a good job hiding it.
Compared to the Tundra, the 4Runner and Tacoma are a bit of a letdown, but are quite capable in their own rights. Part of the feeling boils down to the different courses Toyota used to show off the three vehicles: three tracks for three trucks. The Tacoma, which will also be sold as an extended or crew-cab and with its own TRD exhaust system, ran through a gravelly fire road before navigating what appeared to be a long-dried-up and narrow river bed; the 4Runner had a route with considerably more sharp rock edges and tail-dragging depressions to manage. While the Tacoma felt like it used the most of its TRD Pro potential and sent more of its suspension chatter into the cabin, the 4Runner was yawning at its lower-speed challenge. The eye-opener on the 4Runner was the Trail model-based interior, which is pretty nice nowadays. Both offer the steering and brake predictability and sensitivity you want for off-roading.
Furthermore, the 4Runner and Tacoma are similar at the component level. The exteriors are touched up with black badges, unique front grilles, and TRD alloys. Both sub in softer Eibach springs for the front axle, creating a 1-inch and 2-inch lift for the 4Runner and Taco, respectively. Bilstein 2.5-inch coilover monotube shocks contribute an extra inch of travel to both. The two retain their factory leaf and coil springs in the rear, bolstered by upgraded 2.0-inch shocks with remote reservoirs. Travel increases 1.5 inches out back for the Tacoma and 1 inch for the 4Runner. Tire selections are 265/70-16 (30.5s) BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KOs on the Taco and 265/70-17 (31.5s) Nitto Terra Grapplers on the 4Runner. Anti-roll bars and rubber bump stops are unchanged from their non-Pro counterparts for all three.
Tying the three TRD Pros together is the 3-year/36,000-mile factory warranty and the assertion that the large shocks will keep on going in harsh conditions where other OE dampers would fade away. Durability testing was carried out in California's vast southeastern desert. We heard that one day during desert testing the TRD team was advised by a local to not take their stock-looking vehicles through a difficult obstacle. They went anyway and made it.
There's tremendous anticipation surrounding the trio. Toyota plans to assemble just 7500 TRD Pro 4Runners, Tacomas, and Tundras for the 2015 model year, and last we heard, customer interest has been spectacular. If you're late to the game, you may be best off trying for a 4Runner. Projected demand for the Tacoma is running three times greater than expected supply, the Tundra is seeing about two raised hands for each truck, and the 4Runner is about where it's predicted to sell. But if all you really want are the individual suspension parts for your own 4Runner, Tacoma, or Tundra, you'll be able to order them over the dealer parts counter soon after the entire series is released this fall.
That's not what the Ironman will be doing, though. He'll take his future Tundra TRD Pro in black...
Even though the 4Runner was refreshed for 2014, little has changed over time for the Toyota's mid-sized go-anywhere SUV. That means the 4Runner's body still sits on a frame. That also means the 4Runner, Nissan Xterra and Jeep Wrangler Unlimited are the only mid-sized non-luxury body on frame SUVs left in America. (And I'm not sure I'd even call the smallish Wrangler a mid-size SUV.) Of course I can't go further without mentioning the 4Runner's modern nemesis: the decidedly unibody Jeep Grand Cherokee.
The gentle refresh to the interior consists of a new steering wheel, radio head units, gauge cluster, seat fabrics and plastic color choices. The new steering wheel is essentially shared with the Tundra and features a thick rim, well places sport grips, soft leather and well placed radio buttons. While Toyota claims that the front seats are unchanged from 2013, they seemed softer and more comfortable. This could be down to the new fabric choices, but I think some foam was changed as well.
Ergonomics in the 4Runner have always been secondary to the off-road mission, and because little substance has changed for 2014 that remains. Window switches have gained an Auto feature but are still in an awkward and high place on the door, possibly to keep then out of the water should you stall in a stream. Radio knobs and switches and the 4WD shift level all require a decent reach for the average driver. Unlike the Grand Cherokee you can still get a 7-seat version of the 4Runner in SR5 and Limited trim, Trail and TRD Pro remains 5-seat only. The extra two seats are an interesting option because the Nissan Xterra and Grand Cherokee, the only two rugged off-roaders left, are strict 5-seaters.
Yes, Toyota continues to add creature comforts, and I'm sure they will sell plenty of the RWD Limited model in suburbia, but at its heart the 4Runner is an off-road SUV. This is quite different from the Jeep Grand Cherokee which has been on a constant march toward the mainstream. (Albeit with an eye toward off-roading.) This is obvious when you look at Jeep's switch to fully independent air suspension, constant size increases, a plethora of engine options and curb weight gone out of control. Don't get me wrong, I love the Grand Cherokee, but if you want to climb rocks, it's not the best choice. Meanwhile, Toyota has in many ways re-focused on off-roading. The 4Runner offers a myriad of off-road software aids and the retention of a mechanically locking solid rear axle and rugged frame. In this light, keeping the old drivetrain makes sense: it's tried and true and there are plenty of aftermarket accessories designed with it in mind.
The 4Runner may be a go-anywhere SUV, but it's not a tow-anything SUV. The V6 and 5-speed combo limit the 4Runner to 4,700lbs, down from the 7,300lbs the defunct V8 model could shift. That's thousands of pounds less than the Grand Cherokee and even 300lbs less than the Ford Explorer crossover. However, even this can be seen as a refocusing on the 4Runner's core mission. As I've noted before, nobody seems to tow with their mid-size SUV except me, and off-roaders prefer the lower weight and better balance of the V6 for true off-road duty.
With Toyota canning the slow selling FJ Cruiser at some point soon, the 4Runner will soldier on as one of the last rugged SUVs. For a model that helped ignite the SUV/CUV explosion, it's refreshing that the 4Runner has stayed true to its roots: providing a daily driver capable off-road machine. The Wrangler Unlimited is a better rock crawler with solid axles front and rear, better approach/departure/breakover angles, better ground clearance and a lower range gearbox, but the Wrangler is too off-road dedicated for the school run. If you're one of the few that drops the kids off and heads over to the off-road park on your way to Costco, the 4Runner is for you. If you're the majority of SUV shoppers, there are more "conflicted" "compromised" options out there that will fit your lifestyle better. Jeep will be happy to sell you one.