Testing the 2014 Toyota 4Runner Limited was a case of deja vu having just tested a near identical 2013 model last year. This time around we sample new options and features along with its new for 2014 style.

Having some fun with the 4Runner meant getting out in the desert and finding my favorite muddy spots. But before it gets dirty I’d better back up and do our brief walk-around.

For 2014 the Toyota 4Runner received a facelift with new headlamps and a grille treatment a bit more chiseled than before. Our Limited has a unique grille and bumper with additional chrome, the Trail and SR5 each get their own look.

From the side the 4Runner looks pretty much the same as it has for a while with the exception of some new wheel designs for this year. Out back, a new tail light design updates the look.

Optioned on our 4Runner Limited were automatic power running boards, a $1500 stand alone option. When you open the door they spring to life, when you close it they retract back in.

While they worked well I found them actually in the way at times, rubbing your shin unexpectedly and they can be quite noisy from inside.

Once inside the 4Runner Limited you will discover some updated dash trims and audio equipment from 2014 forward. The center stack was redesigned slightly to include the latest Entune infotainment systems Toyota offers.

The system is easy to learn and use with menus more intuitive and simple than most. Sound from the JBL audio is not bad, but not top-deck by any means. And yes, it offers connectivity to most modern devices via Bluetooth or plugging in.

Heated and ventilated leather chairs are comfortable and power adjustable for both front passengers. The second row seats adjust for recline and fold forward easily for access to the optional third-row seat our tester was equipped with.

That third row seat is a stand-alone option at $1365 which includes additional side airbags. They aren’t really meant for adults as the space back there is minimal at best. In testing them out they require a two-step process to set them up, one from the back, then a second reaching in from the second row.

Optioning the third-row seats also cuts well into your cargo area both when they are down or up. When folded they reduce the cargo area height and raise the floor by about 6”. When up, they virtually eliminate cargo area behind them.

Aside all this, a welcome feature includes the manual control knob for the full-time 4WD system. While not the full-tilt off-road system found in the 4Runner Trail, you can lock the center differential here and select a true 4WD low mode.

Additional system features for getting off the pavement include a hill start and downhill assist programs which work through the anti-lock brakes. On the Limited, an X-REAS suspension system helps reduce rocking and pitching motions when out here on the back trails.

The pay-off is a vehicle which handles the dirty and rocky places with confidence and even a level of comfort you don’t get from most crossover SUV’s it competes with.

Our drive in the desert outback took us across our favorite wash-board roads where the 4Runner flies with a level of refinement and poise most crossovers cant match. The suspension and steering as well as body structure felt remarkably solid and rattle free.

Powering the 4Runner Limited is Toyota’s venerable 4.0 liter DOHC V6 engine which produces 270 horsepower and mated only to a five-speed automatic transmission.

The power-train is what I would call adequate. While delivering enough power, it could use a few more ponies to keep up with the competition which hovers at or near 300 these days. A more modern six or eight speed transmission could help it achieve much better fuel economy too.

Because this is a traditional truck-based body on frame SUV weighing in at a hefty 4800 lbs, it’s rated by the EPA at 17 mpg city, 21 mpg highway and 18 mpg combined. In our week with the Toyota 4Runner we achieved exactly as promised, 18 mpg combined.

The IIHS Crash Safety for the Toyota 4Runner comes in with Good ratings across the board with exception of the new small-offset test where it only achieved a Marginal rating. To get Top Safety Pick, a vehicle must achieve at least Acceptable in this test.