Run 4 the 4-Runner: Toyota 4-Runner MPG- What Did You Expect?

Sections: Fuel Economy

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2013 Toyota 4-Runner Photo Shoot 041

Early in our week with the 2013 Toyota 4-Runner, the MPG readout on the dash was looking pretty abysmal– here it shows 16.1 MPG. By the end of our test week, however, the 4-Runner had precisely matched its EPA highway estimate of 21 MPG. (Lyndon Johnson photo)

The 2013 Toyota 4-Runner has never placed a huge priority on fuel economy. It would rather excel at being an awesome off-roader among midsize SUVs than sacrifice some of that capability for a few MPGs.

Looking at the Monroney sticker that came with our 4-Runner, I knew not to expect much. The EPA rates the 2013 Toyota 4-Runner at 17 MPG city, 21 MPG highway, 18 MPG combined. I went into the week thinking I might have to fill this beast up a time or two just for commuting purposes.

Thankfully, I was wrong. Credit goes to the 4-Runner’s respectably large fuel tank, no doubt, which allowed me to travel past the 400-mile mark on the tripmeter before the low fuel light came on just as Toyota’s press fleet manager was on the way to pick it up. I looked it up after the 4-Runner was on its way back to press fleet HQ, and sure enough, she boasts a relatively large 21-gallon tank. At my hometown’s prevailing gas prices at the time of this writing, it’s no stretch to say a fill-up would easily set me back $70.

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(Lyndon Johnson photo)

My week of driving consisted of mostly commuting via moderate-speed two-lanes with plenty of hills, a bit of in-town driving, and a few longer stretches with the cruise set at 65-70 MPH. There was also a brief instance of off-roading, but nothing too strenuous– in fact, I barely felt I had given the 4-Runner a workout by plowing over steep hills in wet grass that stood well over its hood and windowsills. No matter where I was driving it, you can bet I had the air conditioner cranked– the Tennessee heat has been brutal so far this July. (To its credit, by the way, the 4-Runner’s A/C compressor would freeze you out on a 100-degree day, and that ain’t no joke.)

Through a week of those driving conditions, the 4-Runner lived exactly up to its EPA expectations, netting us an even 21 MPG. That means a typical owner is looking at spending more than $3,000 in fuel annually, assuming– and I think it’s a pretty darned safe assumption at this point– the bottom doesn’t drop out of the oil futures market anytime soon, thus keeping our gasoline prices at or above their current levels. And that expense comes on top of some pretty serious cash outlay– or, if you’re like most Americans, car payments– with the MSRP on our 4-Runner Trail edition ringing in at $41,403.

Is that a cost you could live with? As usual, that’s your call. If you’re needing an SUV that is nice enough to commute in but also rugged and capable enough to go way off the beaten path, you may call 21 MPG worth it. If you’re like me and seldom have occasion to venture down a dirt road, let alone off road, then probably not.

2013 Toyota 4-Runner Photo Shoot 043

(Lyndon Johnson photo)

Folks like me are probably better served by higher-MPG all-wheel drive car-based alternatives that can hold their own on some light off-roading adventures– the Subaru Forester XT comes to mind. So does the Jeep Patriot, a model I have eyeballed in the past for possible addition to our family’s fleet, but which I unfortunately haven’t had the opportunity to test. Those who shudder at the mere thought of driving on grass, meanwhile, might like one of the many front-wheel drive crossovers out there, including the Chevrolet Equinox that on paper (if not always in practice) gets more than 30 MPG when equipped with a four-cylinder engine.

But none of those machines would have the off-road pedigree of the 4-Runner– something I realize is unquantifiable in its ability to lure some people, even irrationally so. Maybe you’re one of those people. If you are, the 4-Runner is for you. If not, Toyota would like to talk to you about a Highlander. More about that later.

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

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