Toyota previews 2010 4Runner at November NEMPA meeting

New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick can be credited with making the saying “It is what it is” a common part of the region’s speech pattern.

The term also can be applied to Toyota’s fifth generation 4Runner, which will be coming to a showroom near you in the next few weeks.

Toyota brought a pair of these new 4Runners – a prototype and early production model – to a meeting of the New England Press Association (NEMPA) at The Boston Globe on Nov. 10.

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Kristi Pourmousa, a Toyota vehicle product training specialist

Rather than pitch the 4Runner as a car for the masses, Toyota’s executives said it … er … “is what it is” that being a capable off-road vehicle aimed at buyers with active lifestyles who utilize the vehicle’s “go anywhere” capabilities.

On its way to market, the 4Runner traversed the 22-mile Rubicon, nature’s legendary test track through California’s High Sierras. In stock trim with the addition of a set of rock rails and readily available off-road tires, the 4Runner finished the trek with only some minor dents and scratches.

Afterwards, it was driven home – a 700-mile trip to Toyota’s Arizona test facility. You have to wonder if “Plan B,” was a ride home on the back of an AAA flatbed wrecker!

The result was a pleasant surprise to the Toyota engineers who did the driving. A look at the video shown by Kristi Pourmousa, a Toyota vehicle product training specialist, might be the 4Runner’s best sales tool.

Toyota realizes the 4Runner “is what it is” – a niche vehicle. The company expects to sell about 35,000 in the coming model year in the US market and many more worldwide.

Since the original 4Runner was introduced in 1984, Toyota has sold more than 1.8 million units in the United States. Now, as the marque celebrates its 25th anniversary, 1.3 million (nearly 75 percent) are still in use.

That’s a testament to the 4Runner’s body-on-frame toughness and Toyota quality and reliability. At a time when most of the 4Runner’s competitors have gone to unibody construction, the 4Runner remains body on frame with improved ground clearance (9.6 inches), generous wheel articulation and excellent approach and departure angles for tackling steep grades.

In the new generation, Toyota has limited the options for build simplicity. Instead, there are three models – the off-road Trail, the SR5 (aimed at active young couples), and the Limited (an urban off-roader for those with a more luxurious lifestyle and occasional need to go off-road to a second home or remote vacation area.

Gone for 2010 is the V8 option. Instead, a 4.0-liter, 270-horsepower V6 replaces the outgoing V6, developing 34 more horsepower than its predecessor and improving fuel economy to 20 miles per gallon in combined driving and 23 mpg highway.

A 2.7-liter four-cylinder version (and some 2WD versions) will be available, but “mostly sent to California and the Gulf Coast,” said Toyota’s Pourmousa.

Northeast showrooms will have the three versions, almost exclusively with the V6 and four-wheel drive. The off-road technology includes:

* Crawl Control with five driver-selectable speeds. Hit the button and all the driver has to do is steer, a big bonus after a while on an off-road track.

* Multi-Terrain Select. Choose loose rock, mud and sand, mogul, or rock and the computer will regulate wheel spin.

* A-TRAC uses the 4Runner’s ABS system to brake slipping wheels while transferring torque to other wheels.

Inside, the second and (optional) third-row seats fold flat.

A “party mode” equalizer centers audio around the rear hatch opening for tailgating parties with additional 120-volt and 12-volt power outlets.

MSRP for the 4WD SR5 is $30,915.

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