Herding Cats: Gathering My Family In The 2015 Toyota 4Runner

Toyota 4Runner
Credit: toyota.com

The Toyota 4Runner lets us bring the extended family, and all the gear home from college.


With the 3rd seats flat, plenty of room for cargo. Credit: Judy Antell for AGirlsGuidetoCars

Getting my three daughters to commit to a family obligation involves strategic planning and promises of expansive trips and expensive meals. But even the lure of several lavish graduation celebrations was not enough to entice my youngest daughter to skip an Ultimate tournament for her older sister’s college commencement.


Big step up into the 2015 Toyota 4Runner. Credit: Judy Antell for AGirlsGuidetoCars

No matter. We drove a Toyota 4Runner to Boston for graduation and filled the seven seats with grandparents and and two of our daughters while we attended parties, dinners and ceremonies.

And the large SUV was handy for bringing home four years of accumulated clothing, kitchen supplies and books. Technically, the Toyota 4Runner is classified as a midsize, but it felt pretty roomy when we were packing and it required large parking spaces.

Off road capability, city sensibility


Blank navigation screen; luckily, we knew where we were going. Credit: Judy Antell for AGirlsGuidetoCars

The rugged 4Runner is well equipped for outdoor adventure, with a towing hitch and room to toss in a kayak or mountain bikes. But it offers a smooth ride for city or highway driving too.

The vehicle we drove had optional 50/50 fold flat third row seats and one touch sliding second row to access the third row. Getting into that third row – or any of the seats – can be challenging, though, since the SUV sits high off the ground. My 86 year old mother-in-law had a difficult time getting in and out (though her husband did not).

Who let the dogs in

We often take our dog with us on road trips (though not this time – no dogs allowed at graduation). The fold flat seats and large cargo area is great for a large dog in a crate, but again, an older animal might have trouble jumping that high. We had our two year old dog test it out – she was scared at first jump so high, but with a boost she made it in safely, and had no issue leaping out.

Manly access


The bike fits easily with the third seat down. Credit: Judy Antell for AGirlsGuidetoCars

The lift gate also has to be opened with a strong grip; for those with less hand strength, or parents holding a kid in one hand, an easier to open lift gate would be welcome. But, since the cargo area was so high off the ground, it was easy to load and unload. We took advantage of this when packing up my daughter’s college apartment detritus.

The 4Runner we test drove was equipped with a smart key with push button start – a nice convenience, even for the more rugged, do-it-yourself types. Women are taught early in their driving careers to hold the car key sticking out of their fists when they approach their cars in dark parking lots – I’m not sure what damage I could do with a smooth smart key, but with remote start, which turns on the lights and starts the engine but keeps the car locked until you get to the door, the shroud of a dark car is lifted, perhaps scaring away any lurking bad guys. It would probably do the same for the off-roading guy who drives the 4Runner – fend off off lurking bears or rattlesnakes (or more likely, a curious bunny or opossum).

Finding your way

When we started out, I plugged in our destination, and for the first couple of turns, the navigation system offered guidance, with a comforting audible ding just before a turn, and an easy to read map.

Then, nothing. We thought the satellite was out, so we re-entered the destination, using the voice commands. Our map showed that we were now seven hours from Boston, instead of three. Yes, there was traffic, but certainly not more than double the usual, right?


Not a lot of head or leg room in the 3rd row. Credit: Judy Antell for AGirlsGuidetoCars

Luckily, this was a system glitch. The map went blank again but we found our way to Boston – which after four years of driving our daughter back and forth we could have found Boston in our sleep! – in a typical three-ish hour trip. Once in Boston we were able to add destinations, but we never got the voice command back.

Powering up

There are two power outlets up front, and one in the rear. The rear one is a household plug style outlet for doing manly stuff like — vacuuming the cargo space or inflating your air mattress. I’m sure there are other practical reasons for having a household plug in the cargo area – including letting a third row passenger use it to watch movies on a tablet or laptop (or recharge a phone).

Sound sound system


The split screen on the large color touchscreen. Credit: Judy Antell for AGirlsGuidetoCars

The 4Runner had Sirius XM and easy to change stations – you can ‘favorite’ stations or just use the scroll wheel to find a new station. There are speakers throughout the vehicle, so everyone can hear.

What we loved

  • Heated and ventilated front seats
  • Easy to customize cargo space – fold flat seats, split second (40/20/40) and third row (50/50), depending on how many passengers you have
  • The large sunroof
  • 3 way split screen with radio, local weather & map
  • Lots of storage throughout – for water bottles, books, phones and pocketbooks
  • Adjustable steering wheel
  • Great visibility for driver

What you need to know

  • Base price: $43,400. Price for the Limited model I drove, with third row seats and airbags: $45,625
  • The third row seats do not offer adequate leg room for adults – my 5’ 3” daughter complained, as did the 5’5” one. But for a short distances, or shorter children, they are fine
  • The vehicle is quite high off the ground
  • The Toyota 4Runner is not yet rated for safety – but there are side, knee and curtain airbags and the LATCH anchor and tether system for child safety seats
  • Uses regular gasoline
  • Gets 17 mpg in the city, 21 mpg on the highway; 18 overall4Runner

Judy Antell, who is TravelingMom.com's Free in 50 States editor, lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn, with her husband and... More about Judy Antell