Back in 2002 at the North American International Auto Show, Ford rolled out with a concept truck, the Mighty F-350 TONKA. That’s “TONKA” as in “toy.” But this was a real, full-size truck. J May, then vp Design, at Ford, said, “We’ve had fun bringing to life a full-size pickup that reminds kids of all ages of the trucks they used to love to punish in their sandboxes.”
What those designers at Ford understood back then—and probably still do today, but can’t really admit it—is that for many people, cars and trucks really are nothing more than full-sized manifestations of things they used to play with when they were kids.
Sure, there are the fundamental requirements of capability and capacity when talking about things like trucks, especially when those vehicles are being used for purposes of work, but if we remove the purely utilitarian from the picture, then there is certainly a measure of personality that goes into one’s choice of vehicle.
When I got into the 4Runner, the Mighty F-350 TONKA came to mind. This could be the Mighty 4Runner Lego, because there is—both inside and out—a certain blocky toy-like nature to the design, a pleasant, whimsical approach to the shapes of the headlamps and tail lamps, to the knobs and buttons and the entire instrument panel.
And this is a good thing. Mind you, this is not at all an issue of fragility or lack of substance or seriousness. But it seems as though the designers simply wanted to acknowledge the fact that whether you’re using the 4Runner to drive to work or you have it in 4Low to traverse the trails on a recreational outing, this is a truck that is about having fun. All too often, it seems, there is a tendency to want to avoid the idea that an automotive product is anything but all about whatever the opposite is of having fun.
“Cars, trucks and SUVs are for the grownups, damnit, and don’t you forget it!”, they seem to scold through their sheet metal and fabrics.
But when I climbed into the cabin—using the textured running board that had a Toyota truck pattern molded into it in such a way that it was both utile and moderately attractive—I got the sense that this is a vehicle that is capable of getting one to wherever it is that they need to get to, but it is also a vehicle wherein “enjoyment” is not something to be disturbed by.
It is a big toy. A toy that happens to weigh 4,675 lb., but a toy nonetheless.
While I can imagine several Toyota people gasping at such a description, this should be completely embraced in a positive way.
Toys that are well done have personality and resonate is a positive way with the people who play with them.
And the same goes with vehicles, even though “play with them” is probably not the descriptor that one would ordinarily use for a product that is strong, safe, and durable.
But isn’t that part of a vehicle that is off-road capable. Isn’t that part of the rationale behind buying a big vehicle like the 4Runner when you have absolutely no intention of ever driving on anything no more demanding than a gravel road?
OK. It’s got skid plates that cover the engine and front suspension, the fuel tank and the transfer case. It has a Torsen-type differential. There are hefty stabilizer bars fore and aft. There is 9.6 inches of ground clearance. The approach angle is 33 degrees and the departure angle is 24. Yes, it is capable.
It seats five. The two seats in the front are large and comfortable. The second row passengers are not in a penalty box.
There is a 4.0-liter six under the hood that produces 270 hp and 278 lb-ft. Given the aforementioned poundage, know that this is not something you’re going to be drag racing with. The combined mpg number on the sticker is 18; I managed 19, though I must confess I was trying. I suspect that had I not been paying attention to whether the little “Eco” light was illuminated or not, I’d have been lucky to get 18.
Again, don’t get me wrong: this is a substantial, body-on-frame vehicle. It is undoubtedly capable.
But it is also a giant toy. And that’s a good thing.
Engine: 4.0-liter, DOHC V6
Horsepower: 270 @ 5,600 rpm
Torque: 278 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm
Materials: Aluminum block and heads
Transmission: five-speed, electronically controlled
Steering: Power assisted variable gear rack and pinion
Wheelbase: 109.8 in.
Length: 190.2 in.
Width: 75.8 in.
Height: 70.1 in.
Coefficient of drag: 0.36
Seating capacity: 5
EPA: mpg city/highway/combined: 17/21/18 mpg