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We weren't impressed with the design of the head unit. The dial and directional button inset feel like cheap plastic. The small auxiliary screen, which displays audio information even when the TomTom is showing navigation, is virtually unreadable. And although we followed the instructions in the manual to the letter, we just couldn't access controls to adjust the audio bass and treble. Although the TomTom's main features work very well with the 4Runner, some of the integration feels kludgy. With the Limited trim level of the 4Runner, you can get a full in-dash navigation system.
The Urban Runner Package doesn't add to the audio system--you're still stuck with six speakers. This system produces a nice bass note, but everything higher on the spectrum sounds muted. The highs don't stand out at all, but the system does offer enough amplification to get the volume to ear-bleeding heights.
One feature that we would really like to see in the 4Runner is a back-up camera, but the integrated TomTom seems to preclude that option. As a low-tech solution, Toyota mounts mirrors on the insides of the D pillars, which let you see to the rear sides of the car.
Under the hood
There are two engine choices available with the 2008 Toyota 4Runner, a 4.7-liter V-8 or a 4-liter V-6. We had the latter, and it gave the 4Runner enough power for our purposes. The V-6 produces 236 horsepower at 5,200rpm and 266 foot-pounds of torque at 3,800rpm. It doesn't exactly rocket the 4Runner forward, but we don't expect too much from an SUV, and the bigger torque number works to get the 4Runner's 4,325 pounds moving.
The EPA rates the V-6 4Runner at 16 mpg city and 20 mpg highway. Our observed average for mixed city and freeway driving came in at 18.1 mpg, right in the middle of the EPA range. With current gas prices, that number could hurt at the pump. For emissions, the 4Runner meets the minimum LEV II rating from California's Air Resources Board.
The 4Runner's four-wheel-drive gear includes three settings, 4 High, 4 Low, and 2 High, the last one designed for cruising on dry asphalt. We tested the two high modes out by driving about 2 hours and 30 minutes on highways in two-wheel-drive mode, then going another 2 hours and 30 minutes in four-wheel-drive mode. We didn't notice much of a difference between the two modes, in comfort or fuel economy. The road handling feels about the same between the two modes as well.
The comfort level was helped by Toyota's X-REAS suspension technology, a system designed to increase stability by linking the shock absorber compression diagonally across the vehicle, with the front left linked to the rear right, and the front right linked to the rear left. Handling is aided by the limited slip center differential, which puts 40 percent of torque to the front wheels and 60 percent to the rear as a default. This ratio will adjust depending on wheel grip, but for off-roading you can lock the differential with a button on the dashboard.
On the street, the 4Runner doesn't feel like a big SUV. The steering isn't tight, but it is reasonably responsive. We maneuvered around the crowded streets of San Francisco without difficulty.
Our 2008 Toyota 4Runner Sport edition with the V-6 engine and four-wheel drive had a base price of $32,600. The Urban Runner Package, which includes the TomTom and the dashboard module, costs $1,760. The factory-installed navigation system is only available with the Limited trim, as part of a package costing $3,355. We also had the Value Package on our car, costing $1,275 and including the autodimming mirror and sunroof. Other sundry options, a $685 delivery charge and an $893 package discount, brought our total to $36,555.
While we like some of the capabilities afforded by the integrated TomTom, it also had a lot of strikes against it. We also would have liked a more up-to-date TomTom unit in the car, possibly a model with a larger screen. For cabin tech, the 4Runner with the Urban Package scores about average. On the performance side, we appreciate this car's off-road gear and the X-REAS suspension. But the fuel economy is only average, earning the 4Runner a score just above average for performance.