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2003 Toyota 4Runner
First Look

By Michael Cohn

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Since 1985, Toyota has been building the 4Runner sport utility vehicle. It has seen mostly minor updates throughout the years with major changes coming only twice prior to the 2003 model. This fourth generation 4Runner is a far cry from the original and resembles it in basic shape and spirit only.

Originally released in 1984, the 4Runner was more on the utility side than it is today, with its solid axles and removable bed cap. The old trucks have become favorites among the Toyota four-wheeling crowd because of their durability and trail capabilities. Today's 4Runner and most years prior have worn independent front suspension (IFS), which has not been a favorite of the dedicated off-roaders, but as the target audience for the truck has moved away from the small hardcore segment and into the family vehicle realm, Toyota has recognized that what the majority of the owners want is a more car-like ride. And like almost all of Toyota's competition, selling cars means making the majority happy.

The Evolution of the Toyota 4Runner

2003 Toyota 4Runner
2003 Toyota 4Runner Sport Edition
Today, Toyota has a two-vehicle strategy for their mid-size SUV category. For those who want an SUV but prefer a totally car-like ride, they offer the Highlander. Based on the Camry, the Highlander is virtually unbeatable as far as on-road comfort goes and has many features borrowed from mini vans. Just don't try taking it off-road anywhere.

For buyers who want a more aggressive look and who want "the real-deal" Toyota offers the 4Runner. We had a 2002 4Runner Limited for review during the summer. Though the truck was nice and well-loaded with features, the cabin was cramped and the ride was nothing short of jarring. Hitting bumps on the highway would send shock waves through your kidneys and sometimes send you toward an adjoining lane, as well. While we like our SUVs to have truck-like driving characteristics, the 2002 4Runner was a bit on the uncivilized side for us - especially considering the price tag.

Toyota recognized all this, though. They acknowledged that US buyers wanted more room, too. We're bigger folks and we like our space! Through last year, Toyota had limited the truck's physical dimensions in order to meet foreign market regulations - coming in right at the maximum sizes for some locals. Knowing that Americans wanted more space, the decision was made to make the new 4Runner bigger. The smaller, foreign markets would bear the brunt of tax penalties imposed by the larger size, but we in the states get our bigger truck.

2003 Toyota 4Runner
Dimensional increases for 2003 4Runner
The third generation of the 4Runner began was a preview, so to speak, of the future Tacoma pickup. For 2003, the 4Runner is no longer related to the Tacoma and has its own platform. This new platform's body-on-ladder-frame gives the truck an additional 5.7 inches in length, with a four inch longer wheelbase (109.8") and gives the front passengers two more inches of legroom and rear passengers 1.5" more. In addition, the width has been increased, allowing two more inches between front passengers. After driving the '02 model, we can definitely say the room is more than just a little noticeable.

Toyota has also answered the US market's call for a more docile ride on the road. The new 4Runner's suspension is equipped with rack-and-pinion steering and coil springs over gas shocks at all corners. Double wishbone suspension is up front, while the rear is a four-link or can be ordered with air suspension in the Limited models with V8 engine. The air allows the rear of the 4Runner to go up 40mm or down 15mm. Did we say V8? We sure did. Read on.

 

4Runner Suspension
Front Suspension
4Runner Suspension
Rear Suspension

2003 Toyota 4Runner
X-REAS Shock System

Standard on the Sport Edition and optional on the Limited is a new diagonal-linked shock system developed by Yamaha, dubbed X-REAS. The system was developed and implemented earlier on Supras and has been updated and redesigned specifically for the 4Runner. X-REAS essentially cross-links front and rear shock reservoirs on opposite sides of the vehicle. A central control absorber contains a free piston that pushes against a low-pressure nitrogen charge. An orifice senses motion across the vehicle and varies dampening to the appropriate shocks. Think of it this way. As the truck rounds a curve to the left, the rear, driver side shock is relieved while the front, passenger side is increased. This helps to keep the truck more level and in control, instead of diving to the front, passenger side. We got the chance to wail on the 4Runner through some nice country road twisties and we can tell you that they got it right. The new 4Runner handles great.

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