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Toyota Off-Road Showdown: The new 2014 Tundra, Four-Runner SUV, and Highlander S

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Toyota Off-Road Showdown

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We have three Toyota off-roaders to drive here, but the big news is the new redesigned (sort of) Tundra for 2014. This will be tested first. Not too many changes really. The engine lineup is the same, with the small V-6 as used in the 4-Runner SUV, a small V-8, and the huge 5.7 liter V-8 cranking out 381 ponies. The first two are fine for 2-wheel drive, but if the double cab or 4-wheel drive is obtained like this one, the bigger engine is a must. Gas mileage is only 13-18 mpg, but the small V-6 tops at only 20. Might as well get the V-8!

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Changes are on the body and interior. The old gauge cluster with the goofy "instrument in a tunnel" system is gone, replaced with a nice modern easy-to-read unit. The previous cheap plastic knobs are replaced by better looking units, although plastic as well. The glove box is huge. On the outside, there is a new grille, mirrors, taillights, and tailgate. These all look better, but they are not a radical change. Neither is the new Tundra, but it is still a high quality truck with great reliability. Be sure to order the TRD pack. It offers two skid plates, better shocks, wider wheels, all for only $100.

Four-Runner SUV

For serious off-pavement use, the 4-runner is hard to beat. The 270 horsepower V-6 is bulletproof, and hooked to a 5-speed automatic gearbox. Gas mileage is not great at 17-21, but this is a hardcore machine after all. The suspension is stiff, but the shocks do a good job of absorbing bumps, so the ride is still comfortable. Handling in corners is very good for what is basically a truck. The only complaint was the use of that 5-speed automatic gearbox, which runs the engine a bit high at freeway speeds. It is time for a modern 6-speed box, which would improve the dismal highway gas mileage figures.

The interior is nothing fancy, but materials are durable, and all controls are simple and easy to use. A large dial sets for full time 4x4, part time 4x4, and low gears. Again, simple. But the price tag for a loaded version like this was $43-K. In a 2-wheel drive and 4-cylinder engine, the price starts in the mid-$20-K, but isn't as fun. A nice reliable rig that can compete with the Jeep and Land Rover boys.

Highlander SUV

If serious off-road use is not on the menu, the Highlander is worth a look. Yes it does have good ground clearance and a 4WD system, but there is no low-range gearing for the rough stuff, and this is a crossover car body. A great camping rig for light duty though. Great on the pavement too. The ride is very comfortable, wind noise low, steering feel responsive, with a nice firm brake pedal feel.
The base 4-cylinder engine puts out 187 horsepower, and is rated at 20-25 mpg. It will do, but for hauling people or lots of gear, the 270 horse V-6 works better. Gas mileage drops to 17-22, not very impressive for a crossover. A more updated tranny would allow improved gas mileage, but not this year.

The cabin has very nice materials and workmanship. The glove box is huge. All controls are easy to use. The price is easy too starting at $29-K. But loaded up, these can hit over $40-K in a hurry. A hybrid is also offered, which can jack the price beyond the $45-K line.

OVERALL
Toyota trucks and SUVs are not perfect. Certainly the styling isn't the most eye-catching. But the quality is outstanding, reliability tops, and resale value is solid. There are not too many carmakers that can claim all three of these selling points.

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