TechnologyTell

Run 4 the 4-Runner: Of the Toyota 4-Runner’s Infotainment

Sections: Car Audio, Infotainment, Navigation

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The guage cluster in the 2013 Toyota 4-Runner is digital. The warning lights appear to be projected onto the “glass” of the gauges rather than being a series of boring flat cutous on the gauges’ surface. (Lyndon Johnson photo)

Our test Toyota 4-Runner may have been more rough around the edges than some crossovers, but that didn’t stop it from having plenty of cool tech features.

The first time I climbed in the 4-Runner, I turned the key– no pushbutton start in this trucky beast– and the first thing I noticed was the gauges lighting up. Something was odd, but I couldn’t put my finger on what, exactly. The second time I started the 4-Runner, it hit me: The gauges are digital displays. Call it a “disco dash” if you like.

The various warning and indicator lights appear to be projected onto the plastic that covers the instrument pods rather than simply illuminating a die-cut symbol in the cluster itself. It’s a pretty neat trick you might not notice so much as a driver, but your front-seat passenger will if he or she looks over at the gauges for any reason.

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The Display Audio package gets you this nifty touchscreen that looks great in indirect or low lighting, as this photo demonstrates. Sunlight from the sunroof could make it pretty washed-out, though. (Lyndon Johnson photo)

Our test 4-Runner was fitted with the optional Display Audio with Navigation and Entune, which added $995 to its price and included a 90-day subscription to SiriusXM satellite radio, among other features. The display screen was clear most of the time, though somewhat susceptible to glare from sunlight. I’m normally a person who likes to cruise with the sunroof glass exposed– if not open– but I found myself frequently sliding the sunroof cover back into place during midday driving. Not sure what Toyota could have done differently here, as the screen was matte, not glossy. Perhaps a tweak of the screen angle could fix this problem, which admittedly may not be a problem at all for drivers who are sized differently than I am.

That screen would, as the name implies, display information about your audio source (but of course) in addition to running a host of mobile apps for everything from traffic and weather to stock picks and sports results thanks to the Entune app suite. As I’ve noted previously, my phone’s too dumb to take advantage of most of these features– but unlike some cars I’ve tested, at least my phone was easily able to sync up with the 4-Runner’s Bluetooth feature. Unfortunately, it still couldn’t fully sync– my phone contacts were not searchable, so I couldn’t tell it to “Call work” or “Call home” by voice. I could tell it to dial the numbers I wanted to call, but who has time to memorize their phone’s entire list of contact phone numbers, and how on earth would they remember those numbers while driving?

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Navigation info could be displayed in this 3D view or in a more traditional 2D layout. (Lyndon Johnson photo)

Navigation could be displayed in either a pseudo-topographical 3D mode or traditional overhead 2D mode. Setting a destination address was easy when entering information on-screen, but even easier when doing it by voice. My ultimate test for voice-recognition in navigation is to attempt to enter a destination address by voice while driving at highway speed. The 4-Runner’s nav system didn’t skip a beat, even nailing the usually mispronounced name of my little bedroom community.

In fact, voice recognition did an admirable job when queuing up music, as well. Over probably half a dozen times I requested the audio system change sources or play a different album or artist, it never missed a command or asked me to repeat myself.

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Tucked away on the lower dash to the right of the steering column was this little button that you may want to press just because you’re having a good time. Or you could press it to send music primarily to the rearmost speakers. You know, whichever you prefer. (Lyndon Johnson photo.)

The coolest audio feature had to be the Party Mode button, however. Intended for tailgating, punching the button would send the audio signal primarily through the rear speakers, especially those in the liftgate that would be directly overhead of a tailgating party, logically. Though unbranded, the 4-Runner’s eight speakers’ quality was very good when cranked up, offering surprising clarity and bass response.

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I can see this being a handy little feature: 120V AC power in the way-back of the 2013 Toyota 4-Runner. (Lyndon Johnson photo)

Another neat feature for tailgating– and for that matter, travel and productivity– was the inclusion of a household outlet back there in the cargo hold instead of a cigarette lighter plug. No special adpater needed if you want to plug in your laptop or phone and let them charge. Run a mini fridge to keep your beverage cool for the tailgate party? Sure, why not?

In our next installment, we’ll find out whether these interior niceties are worth the fuel economy of the 4-Runner.

Disclosure: Toyota provided the vehicle, insurance, and a tank of gas.

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