Note: This is not a sponsored post. I am actively searching for a new car and am sharing my adventures with you. The opinions are mine and mine alone based on cars I choose to test drive. Pictures may be my own or a combination of stock and personal as long as it actually reflects the car I drove. If you get a text from the courthouse it is merely because my aggressive test driving was discovered by The Man. Do not panic, but please send bail money.
For a year or so now I’ve realized that I have needed to get a larger car. There was no need to jump headlong into a humongous car, but I needed to be able to carry more than three kids in the backseat at one time.
Yes. I am part of a carpool now. Those are angels you hear singing in case you’re wondering.
For years I eschewed the big SUV. Husband considered his Tahoe (and previously his Suburban) a downright religious experience. I heretically disagreed. The loose steering, the soft brakes and the general “floatiness” of the ride made me feel as though I had no feel for the road and no serious control of the car. Many manufacturers have fixed those concerns, but still, I am scarred and heavily judgemental.
I had some criteria when starting this search that may make no sense to you, but is pretty much a window into my car soul:
- Third row seat option
- Decent gas mileage
- Plenty of (a) cup holders and (b) power outlets, preferably USB
- Tight, sporty ride: Defined as tight steering, great brakes, tank-like feel, excellent road handling and acceleration
- Heated seats (Not for snow, for my back)
- Dark interior
- MUST NOT LOOK LIKE A MOMMY CAR
Oh, hai, vanity. Nice to see you again.
So. Let’s get down to it.
I have had my eye on the Toyota 4Runner Limited for a few years now. I loved their restyling efforts that have led to a sexy, angular car as well as allowing for more cabin space. The last few versions of it have included the third row option for us parents that need to haul not only stuff but little people – and would like to do it in a car that doesn’t yell “CARPOOL!”
Last week I headed over to my local dealership to take an extended test drive. (I will never buy a car on a 10 minute test drive. I always ALWAYS take a car for a few days and make sure it works for me in “real life.”)
Here are the questions I wanted answered:
Does it have a comfortable and functional 3rd row?
Yes. It is easily accessible and there is good headroom and leg room back there. I wouldn’t want to be in that row for a three-hour car ride as an adult, but for kids it really is plenty roomy. I am NOT, however, thrilled with how close the third row is to the rear lift gate and it makes me a little nuts to think about having kids back there and getting rear-ended in any significant way.
Will my gas bill be lower than my mortgage payment?
Only slightly. It says 17 city 23 highway on the sticker, but that is a lovely dream for me. Most of my driving is neighborhood driving – meaning lots of stopping and starting which never is good for gas mileage. In the two days I drove the car actively and in a somewhat normal routine, I got 13.2MPG. Now, that said, there are only 53 miles on the car and it’s not fair to judge the gas mileage average on 53 miles. I will point out that the highway efficiency really is much better, I’m just not on the highway regularly.
Can everyone plug all their electronic toys in at one time?
Yes. There are plenty of car charging outlets all over the car. Oddly, there is only one USB port and it is in the glove compartment and not at all useful. My hope would be that Toyota would catch up to some other manufacturers that have recognized the need and preference for USB ports over car charger ports.
Can I easily contain the juice boxes, sports bottles and Starbucks cups?
Yes. There are three cupholders up front and tons in the back – including the third row.
Sunroof / Moonroof?
Check. COME ON SPRING.
Is it a tight, sporty ride?
Yes. This thing feels like a tank. A fast, responsive, sporty, safe tank. The steering is tight and turning the car in a tight space is easy. The brakes are great and, on occasion, neck pain inducing if you’re not use to their sensitivity (in a good way). The V6 engine is PLENTY responsive and I very much enjoyed blowing by folks on the freeway. At one point I may or may not have been going 87 when I would have sworn (with crossed fingers) I was only going 55. But you should never do that. Much.
You should know this does not drive like a car. The ride is rougher, but not nearly as rough as, say, a truck. If you like to DRIVE a car and not RIDE in a car, you will enjoy this. You will want to go fast and roll over things, but also drive to a ballet performance.
Yep. They come standard on the Limited. It also helps that there is lumbar support for the driver’s side seat, though overall they are not the most comfortable seats I’ve ever experienced. Truth be told I am genuinely concerned that over time my back will not respond well to them. But, again, this is not a Lexus, so expecting luxury seats is a bit unrealistic.
Yes. Here’s a bonus – the “Sand” interior has sand colored leather seats, but black floors. This, in my mind, is the GREATEST THING EVER. No shoe dirt to show. The smushed raisins and goldfish on the seats is a separate challenge.
Is it possible I’ll be mistaken for a hot co-ed in this car?
Yes. Tinted windows help, too. This car does not scream MOMMY. The car from the outside really is quite badass and you’re just as likely to see a high school kid or 20-something driving it as you would a 40-something. You will need to get some killer sunglasses. You just will.
Here are some other thoughts:
There are some large blind spots in this car in the back corners and I found the height of the second row headrests to be intrusive as well. In the model I drove the rear-view back up screen is embedded like a picture-in-picture feature in the rear-view mirror. I liked that very much – way more than when it is in the GPS screen.
You can sync your smartphone music / playlist through Bluetooth and play them through the audio system wirelessly. This is really nice. I still wish they had more USB ports, though.
I have absolutely no worries about the safety of this car. There are airbags for driver, passenger, knees and side curtain. There is stabilization, brake assist, traction control and a safety system that notifies emergency response providers if you have been in an accident.
Overall, I loved this car, but I loved it more for its styling than for its functionality. Could I drive it tomorrow if need be? Yes. Of course. But I am disappointed in the gas mileage and the comfort level of the seats. Those two things – my wallet and my back – are weighing heavily on my mind as I consider this car. This car is the boy that you loved for how he looked and how he made you feel. You had some great times, but ultimately he wasn’t as memorable as you’d hoped – eventhough the sex was amazing.
2011 Toyota 4Runner Limited
As tested: $39.992 MSRP