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Toyota techs up the 2008 Toyota 4Runner with an available Urban Runner Package, an experiment in integrating a portable navigation device into the car's dashboard. The navigation device is a TomTom, branded as a TomTom Toyota, and it does much more than simple navigation, potentially catapulting the 4Runner into the ranks of the most technically advanced cars. But the inclusion of the Urban Runner Package affects the 4Runner's electronics and cosmetic details, without changing the SUV's off-road capabilities. The ride height is unchanged, and our four-wheel-drive version included a locking center differential and a hill descent program.
Test the tech: TomTom integration
Rather than just mounting a clamp on the dashboard, Toyota fits a new head unit where the stereo would normally go, and it's designed to fit the TomTom. Along with the TomTom, the faceplate includes its own very small display, a number of function buttons, a dial, and a USB port. Push the button labeled Tilt, and the faceplate motors out, revealing a CD slot. This unit is designed so you can take the TomTom out, either for security or to use in another car. With the unit we had in our test car, we couldn't actually get the TomTom out. The button that is supposed to release it didn't work.
The TomTom in the dashboard has a small screen, making it a little difficult to register directions at a glance.
But not being able to remove it didn't affect its functionality. For our first test, we used its navigation features. This particular TomTom isn't the most advanced model, and seems like an older TomTom GO. The model it seems to come closest to is the TomTom GO 910. Its touch screen makes inputting destinations easy, and its flash memory for map and data storage means fast route calculations and response. The maps on the device look good, but the small, 3.5 inch screen is difficult to read at a glance, especially as we are more used to the larger screens found in factory installed systems. The TomTom's voice prompts for turns are fed through the car's speakers, a nice touch, but this device doesn't do text-to-speech, so it won't read out street names. However, it does have a traffic service. One problem we found was that it only paused music that was playing off a thumbdrive when it gave voice prompts. With a CD playing, the route guidance prompt had to compete with the music.
With a USB thumbdrive plugged into the system, we could select MP3s by artist, album, genre, and playlist.
For our second test, we tried various music sources with the system. We were immediately pleased to see the radio display appear on the TomTom screen, complete with six preset buttons. When we tried an MP3 CD with the system, the TomTom display showed the currently playing track, but the interface for choosing music from an MP3 CD is terrible. You can't browse through folders, but only push the directional buttons on the unit's dial to go up or down one track at a time. We were much happier with the USB interface. We plugged a USB drive loaded with MP3s into the port on the front of the unit, and we got an interface on the TomTom screen that let us choose music by artist, album, playlist, and genre.
For our final integration test, we used the TomTom's Bluetooth hands-free cell phone feature. We had no problem pairing our phone to the TomTom, and we were also able to import our phonebook. Using the touch-screen TomTom, we could dial numbers easily and choose contacts from our phonebook. The call quality was good, and it played through the 4Runner's speakers. When we received a call while listening to music on a USB drive, the system paused the music.
In the cabin
The Urban Runner Package covers the 2008 Toyota 4Runner's seats in gray Alcantara, with darker leather bolsters, and this color scheme is repeated through the cabin. Our 4Runner came with other niceties such as an autodimming mirror, climate control, and a multifunction steering wheel, with controls for the audio system.
The front face of the head unit motors up, revealing a CD slot.
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.
You can switch drive modes with this dial, as long as the transmission is in neutral.
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.