I didn’t take any photos, so internet photos will have to do I’m afraid. I did painstakingly find the correct colours of the ones I drove.
A Chrysler dealer let me know that they got a manual 2018 2 door Wrangler traded in, so I made an appointment to test it out, as well as an 2020 auto V6 2 door.
The 2018 6 speed was a blue Sport, with power windows, locks, a hardtop, and the upgraded infotainment whatever.
I was really looking forward to driving this. I thought it was a good candidate for a direct replacement of the Raider, while being safe, comfortable, and road-trippable to be a V70 replacement as well. All that went out the window as soon as I pushed the clutch in. Good lord if that isn’t the worst clutch I’ve ever felt. The pedal resistance changes halfway through the travel, and there is zero feedback whatsoever. No idea if I’m at the friction point unless I look at the tach. I drove it for 3 blocks and turned around, there was no point driving it anymore. I have no idea how anyone can stand these, it’s like trying to use an on-off switch as a clutch. And then there’s the rev hang.
Next up was the 2020 auto.
This one was pretty bare bones, the only options being the automatic and the hardtop. I liked it much, much better than the 6 speed, I’m sorry to say. The ride is really nice, especially for such a short wheelbase, and especially for solid axles front and rear. The pentastar feels pretty good, I don’t love it but it makes good power and is reasonably smooth. The side mirrors are great, visibility overall is great. Didn’t notice any squeaks or rattles. Seats are comfy. Now for the not good. The rear view mirror creates a blind spot because the windshield is so short. The main issue is the transmission. I was expecting to like it, because when I drove my friends Wrangler off road, it was great. On road, however, it’s indecisive, a bit jerky, and just generally shifts too much. The suspension rides smooth but the transmission un-smoothens the ride. It also has even less cargo room than the Raider, which is far from ideal.
Now for the 4Runner. I couldn’t find a TRD Off-Road to test, but one dealer did have a Venture Edition, which is a TRD Off-Road Premium with TRD Pro wheels, “rock sliders” with steps hanging off them, a roof basket, and like 7 grand added to the price tag. But most importantly it had the Bilsteins and KDSS, which is what I wanted to test out.
Oh man. This was like a whole different league of vehicle than the Jeeps. I was not expecting it to feel so much better. First of all, the fit and finish is noticeably better, looks wise and feel wise. It feels much more solid, the door close sounds and feels better, the seats are more comfortable, the switchgear feels better. There are cubbies and storage areas all over, the seats fold nicely, the room in the back really is massive and versatile. It has a nice big sunroof.
Now for the driving
It feels cohesive, and refined. The engine and transmission, while old, are very well matched. It has lots of low end torque, it shifts totally smoothly, it wafts along with little effort despite its heft. I know I’m comparing IFS to a solid axle, but the steering is so much better, it has really lovely steering. The ride was far nice than I thought possible with a solid axle in the back. I know I’m comparing a longer wheelbase to a shorter, but the 4Runner wheelbase is shorter than the 4 door Wrangler. It feels like a truck, it feels substantial, but it doesn’t wallow or jiggle. It’s very composed, like the suspension and brakes are more than enough for it instead of just enough. It’s weirdly nicely handling for its weight. It doesn’t feel nearly as big as I thought it would, it just feels the right amount of big, like enough to be confidence inducing.
Last was a Tacoma. I can’t find a manual Tacoma to test drive, and I’m told not to expect one anytime soon, so I figured why not drive and auto while I’m waiting.
A nearby dealer just got a 2019 TRD Off-Road access cab, which is what I was hoping to drive.
It seemed almost as well put together as the 4Runner, but not quite. The doors were not very solid feeling to close, the shifter had more play in it. That’s what I was expecting out of a less expensive vehicle with utility being the primary purpose. What I wasn’t expecting was for the drivetrain to feel so unmatched. It was similar to the automatic Jeep, the transmission was indecisive, shifting a bit too often, and it seemed to need too much gas to get going, like it was geared for an engine with more low end torque. The steering was a lot heavier than the 4Runner, and almost seemed to fight you a bit, I wonder if it’s electric and not tuned very well. It was also surprisingly jiggly. I expect some jiggling out of a vehicle with rear leafs, but even so it seemed like too much jiggling. Overall I was surprised how different it was from the 4Runner, and how much less cohesive it felt.
I still want to drive a Frontier Pro-4X, but no one has one, and no one wants to help me find one to test drive, even though I think it would be a strong contender. It also has a 4L V6 and a 5 speed auto, and it’s on and old platform. maybe I’ll love it too, and it’s a lot cheaper.
TL;Dr, I drove four 4x4s, I only liked the 4Runner. I liked it a lot. I want one. They’re stupid expensive, and more vehicle than I need most of the time, but damn did I like driving it. I’m gonna be spending a lot of time watching for used 4Runner Trails and TRD Off-Roads.