Gross Reservoir is a little east of Nederland near the Coal Creek Canyon. From Arvada, it’s just a 30 – 45 minute drive up Highway 72. The Coal Creek Canyon Road is a meandering and curvy drive as you’d expect as you follow the creek up into the mountains. Some areas call for an easy 40 – 45 MPH whereas some turns, especially as you get high up, require dropping down to 10 MPH to switchback down the pass. It’s a fairly popular and scenic drive for locals and motorcycles and makes for a great test drive.
Once you reach the west side of the reservoir (you’ll never see signs or directions, you just know the right places on Magnolia Road to turn) you hit a parking lot and are faced with a very rocky, bumpy trail. This trail is not for the low clearance vehicles and two-wheel drives in our lives. This trail is meant for big trucks, mountain bikes, dirt bikes, and off-road vehicles. Luckily were sitting high in a very powerful off-road vehicle.
Driving in Town
The 4Runner is a large vehicle. It calls itself a “mid-size” SUV which makes me wonder how big a “full-size” SUV really is. Full disclaimer: we own a 2001 Toyota RAV4 and that is a mid-size SUV. This is a beast.
Parking the 4Runner was no problem as it has a handy backup camera. The side mirrors did not angle down towards the ground as I might expect when trying to navigate a wide vehicle but with a few cub-checks I started to learn where the road ended.
Cruising around town was no problem. I saw about 20 MPG in-town if I drove reasonably but with the huge engine the Limited trim offered, it was hard not to take off pretty quickly at green lights and on-ramps.
Driving in the Mountains
Making it up to Coal Creek Canyon was a breeze. The 4Runner would pick up to 60 and 70 MPH with no effort (and I would sometimes not even notice my speed). Once we neared the canyon and started taking turns I never felt like a turn was slipping, hard to control, or heavy. There is a fairly high center of balance so I was wary to take tight switchbacks too tightly (and throw my passengers around the vehicle). Perhaps the high seat, quick pick-up, and smooth ride made me over-confident?
The time to shine was once we turned off Highway 72 onto the dirt roads to lead to Gross Reservoir. On the smoother portions I rarely felt a bump. At the steep trails of Gross Reservoir, it popped up and over dips, large rocks, and handled really well at respectable speeds on less-than-respectable road. I was very impressed with how well these trails were handled (and probably in half the time if I were in another vehicle watching for all the bumps and dips and rocks).
Worth mentioning, the 4Runner does have what they call “CRAWL control” and also “uphill assist”. Neither of which I needed. Even with the very steep (20-degree pitch) hills and the huge, washed out tracks, I never felt like I needed to rely on technology to help up or down the hill. That said, the features look interesting (CRAWL helps take the vehicle down at a consistent speed without braking, uphill does the same in reverse and not having to accelerate), but, honestly, after reading the manual and following the instructions, I could not successful activate CRAWL mode. There is a mixture of buttons, knobs, and then flashing indicators on the dashboard which are far from intuitive (“is it doing it?”).
Interior & Storage
Our gang of four fit nicely in the 4Runner. With an entirely-full trunk and some bags in the back-row (we brought a lot of stuff), everyone still had plenty of leg room. In fact, even moving the passenger-side seat all the way forward, Rachel may have had more legroom than in our RAV4 with the seat pushed all the way back.
We managed to fill the interior with two full-sized coolers, three tents, four camping chairs, a bundle of wood, four sleeping bags, four mattress pads, three clothes bags, two backpacks, a half-dozen bags of food and snacks. It filled the back to the roof but it all fit!
The leather seats on the Limited were comfortable, the cupholders were a-plenty and we even had a ‘phone gap’ (a rectangular storage spot) in the front to hold two iPhones while driving which was handy.
Technology & Features
As mentioned, the 4Runner can bring you all the luxuries you would expect: an ergonomic dashboard with dual climate control (set both by desired temperature and fan speed), heated seats, satellite radio, a backup camera, a dedicated USB charger with iPod intergration, Bluetooth pairing for music and handfree dialing, a navigation system.
The 4Runner can also include their “Entune” app system which allows you to stream from Pandora, book resturants on OpenTable, etc. I’ve never really excited about these because the touch screens are terrible, the searching experience is clumsy, there’s no great way for the car manufacturer or the app vendor to distribute regular updates, etc. Compared to my iPhone which has a pretty great experience and interface, this isn’t the right long-term solution.
I really did enjoy the fit and finish on the Limited edition: the leather trim and 20-inch wheels puts this car closer to a Lexus than a typical SUV.
The 2013 4Runner starts at $32,000 and goes all the way up to $41,000+ with the 4×4 and Limited trim levels. For as big, powerful, capable, and beautiful this vehicle is, I was pleasantly surprised to learn this as I was expecting something closer to $45k or $50k (which is closer to Toyota Sequoia range). I could easily see myself owning a 4Runner in Colorado for years and years to come. With 5,000-pounds towing capacity, a huge trunk with a potential cargo tray, ability to mount anything and everything on the roof rack, there’s no activity this couldn’t handle. I’d highly recommend the Toyota 4Runner.
As always, our reviews are provided as freely as the products and services provided to us.