MOVIE SPOILER ALERT (if you were born before 1972):

Remember the 1980 second chronological installment of George Lucas’ first chronological space science fiction Star Wars trilogy: The Empire Strikes Back (now referred to as Installment V)?

Before Luke Skywalker was a young kid in the Second Trilogy or dies to “Be With the Force” in Third Trilogy pre- and sequels?

When his nemesis was Darth Vader, just before he discovered Darth Vader was his father?

When Lord Vader’s Imperial forces pursued the Jedi warriors in the snowy Battle of Hoth with the unstoppably menacing 20m tall AT-AT (All Terrain Armored Transport) Walker.

Yes we at are THAT OLD.

Well for Earthlings, who dwell in our own Tundra [get the pun?], there is a more civilian AT-AT Walker: the 2017 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro = Darth Vader’s version of rough & tumble SUVs.

WHAT: Generation 5.5 N280 of Toyota’s full body-on-frame, ultra-rugged Sport Utililty Vehicle, which debuted in 2014: 2017 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro.

Power: Soldiering-on twin-cam gas 4.0L V6 = 270 hp / 278 lb-ft + Soldiering-on 5-speed torque converter automatic planetary transmission

Part-time 4-wheel drive = 2-speed manual worm gear transfer case + open front & rear differentials + Electronic multi-clutch locking rear;  Overhead console dial selectable A-TRAC Crawl control + Multi-Terrain 4 off-road drive modes

WHAT (A) DIFFERENCE: The 2014 4Runner refresh affixed sharp creases, bulging fenders and rear quarter panels to whats was already the 2nd boxiest SUV on the market after the Jeep Wrangler;

TRD-Pro renders de-rigeur complete black-out treatment of all non-body panels;  Mammoth front undercarriage aluminum skid plate is as imposing as a mountain side of granite;    Aggressive wide Cats-eye light assemblies point to a hexagonal snout bisected by single horizontal bar over honeycomb grille meshing;  Creased lower fascia corners house fog-lights;  Rising center hood area is anchored by trademark hood air snorkel;

Forward canted C and D pillars evoke tour bus profile;  Roof spoiler; Tall rear bumper cover gets anti-slip top;  Inverted L-shaped LED taillights don’t wrap into the tailgate panel  Hexagonal crease, including chrome embleming, encompasses tailgate handle

WHY:  Civilized detour from the pavement with a total Black Ops look

WHEN: On-Sale (in the U.S.) since late fall 2016

WHERE: Toyota new vehicle retailers

WHERE MADE: Tahara, Aichi Prefecture, Japan

WHERE TO: Shifting-into-4-wheel drive-on-the-fly at speeds up to 60 mph = only 4WD Hi for getting through snowy throughfares;

Billy Goat Antics: prepare for some nasty worm gear grinding when shifting transfer case from 4WD Hi to neutral to 4WD Lo accessing the electronic rear clutch differential assisted ATRAC Crawl control, which = a steep ascent / descent cruise control; and one of four Multi Terrain modes tailoring acceleration and braking for Rock, Sand, Snow or Mud conditions.

Front Toyota Racing Development Bilstein HD dampers + lower rate springs bestow a compliant ride while allowing +1″-inch wheel travel increase. In back the TRD Bilsteins have remote damping fluid reservoirs for better cooling (for more reactive damping), permitting a whopping +10″-inches greater wheel travel;

HOW ROADWORTHY: The powerplant has meat to it, only once underway; Depressing the accelerator off the line is very much an on / off affair, with some hard shifts, accompanied by some engine roar not unlike that in a JK Jeep Wrangler;

Earth-grabbing Nitto all-terrain shoes, offer vastly better noise and rumble isolation compared to an outgoing Wrangler Rubicon wearing BF Goodrich mud-terrain rubber; Fast compressing, slower rebounding Bilstein shocks filter out most ride disruptions;  Abrupt directional change unavoidably dishes out body lean; Hydraulic assist steering is hardly feather light, and lethargic in response; Response of the four wheel disc twin-pot calipers is lacking at initial pedal travel.

HOW FAR: Our combined use tally: 17 not-too thrifty miles per gallon.

HOW BIG / LITTLE: Compact enough to park in 20′-foot deep garage;  Lower roof clearance than Jeep Grand Cherokee -1 Cockpit cowl space & 4″-inches rear legroom < Jeep Grand Cherokee; -1 Large turning radius;

HOW USEFUL:  Nifty power retracting liftgate window useful for EZ fishing rods or ski loading; Flat folding Row 2’s split bench with 40/20/40% split seat back requires a ballet of a tugging straps, pulling levers, tilting cushions forward and folding backs forward; 25% cargo room > Grand Cherokee. -1 Tall aperture liftgate itself lacks power assist with but by a hanging strap; -1 Nearly 3 feet of load liftover; Tow rating: 5,000 pounds.

HOW SAFE 8 airbags;  Full body-on-ladder frame construction; Rear camera; -1 Absence of Toyota driver assistance tech.

HOW PEOPLE FRIENDLY:  Simulated leather upholstery w/ front heated, driver’s 8-way power seats; Tilt, telescoping steering wheel w/ distinctive shaped large redundant H- spoke controls; Large glove-sized large audio & climate system rotary dials;  10 Cup/ Bottle holders;  Wide center console + generous front center armest bin;  Convenient power/ data ports in storage nooks;  Front center console 2nd Row facing HVAC ducts;

Cool Gizmo(s) Overhead console MultiTerrain control dials;

Details Done Right: TRD emblems;

Mis-Steps: -1 Windows/ lock switches awkwardly atop the door panels; -1 Minimal cabin finish contrast: hard plastics and rudimentary shapes dominate; -1 High seat cushions make ingress / egress = Tacoma pick-up truck like (the first 4 generations of 4Runner were offshoots of the Hilux compact pick-ups); -1 Running boards are an option???

HOW “APP” -LICABLE: 6.1″ capacitive touch LCD infotainment screen  Voice command hands-free communications;  SMS with pre-defined messages; 200 W, 8-speaker Entune Premium audio; USB x 1, 12V x 4, 400W 120V AC x 1;

Entune Premium Apps – music: Pandora, Slacker, IHeart; location searches: Destination, Facebook Places, Movie Tickets, Open Table, Yelp; travel info: real-time traffic, Doppler weather, fuel prices, news: sports, stock prices

Traditional Optitron analog gauges features prominent gradient markings, but prone to sunwash; Monochrome multi-function cluster display = so 1990’s;

6.1″ touch LCD screen is too cramped in split 3-pane home mode;  Navigation lacks 3D bird’s eye view and graphics lack sharpness;

HOW MUCH: 2017 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro = $42,540 M.S.R.P.

WHAT’S MISSING: Less industrial cabin; Modern infotainment; Lower fuel consumption

ANY COMPETITION: Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk +1 Powertrain refinement; fuel economy; cabin fitments, infotainment; 2018 Jeep Wrangler JL Unlimited Rubicon: +1 Tonka Toy looks, convertible configurations; 4-cylinder turbo & upcoming hybrid engine options; military heritage.

…And a Happy 2018 To All From