Toyota’s midsize 4Runner SUV is now in its fifth generation since its 1984 debut. Sold all over the world — and still built in Aichi, Japan — this body-on-frame vehicle was last redesigned in 2009. With the majority of sport-utility vehicles now uni-body designs, often sharing mechanicals and chassis components with cars, the 4Runner’s segment is shrinking.
Sales, however, have not. In fact, 2018 was the highest selling year ever in the USA for the 4Runner, while 2019 saw only a modest 5 percent decline in sales. And despite the COVID pandemic, 4Runner demand remains high. Noteworthy; the 4Runner outsold not only Toyota’s Tundra pickup last year, but the entire lineups of Chrysler, Mitsubishi, Lincoln, Volvo and a host of other automakers. Not too bad for a 12-year-old model.
Heavily associated with prodigious off-road performance, seeing as how the 4Runner shares much of its design with the Tacoma pickup, the latest samples have benefited from more accoutrements inside, while trying to smooth out the manners and assets that make the vehicle so good off-road.
4Runner comes in base SR5 models starting at just over $36,000 for 2WD, zooming up to almost $50,000 for our full-time 4WD Limited edition. There are also TRD Off-road, Venture and TRD Pro trims, with 2021 finding a restricted run of special Trail Edition models.
At 191 inches long on a 110-inch wheelbase, the 4Runner is closely sized to the Ford Edge or Jeep Grand Cherokee, while its primary competitor would often be considered the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 4-door. Front cabin space is barely the same as the number-one-selling compact crossover, Toyota’s RAV4, yet the 4Runner offers an optional third-row seat suitable for occasional kid duty. If not needed, skip the additional seating in favor of retaining the flat deck and spacious cargo hold. Buyers will appreciate the optional sliding deck for moving heavy items (up to 410 pounds) in and out, plus the deck is suitable for rear-facing tailgating. While Toyota has retained the power rear window — just like mom’s (grandma’s?) old Country Squire or Cutlass Cruiser wagon — but a power liftgate is missing, a serious faux pas at this price point.
Every 4Runner gets an 8-inch screen complemented by tuning knobs on each side. The Entune system is a simple, clean design and is now available with a subscriber-based Wi-Fi hotspot setup. All other controls are large buttons, dials, or switches that require no unusual operational training.
Limited trim brings heated and cooled leather power seating, 20-inch wheels and tires, navigation, push-button access and ignition, plus a 15-speaker JBL audio system. Power running boards are optional, as is a sliding second-row seating setup with the third-row perches, while Toyota’s Safety Sense electronic driving aids are standard now across the board.
Power comes from a 4.0-liter V-6 (270-hp) running through a five-speed automatic. Limited trim adds the full-time 4WD — with a Torsen Locking Center Differential helping with hill-start assist and downhill control. EPA estimates are 16/19 mpg, which we exceeded all week with a decent 20.5 mpg, but still near the back of the pack for midsize SUVs. The 4Runner can tow up to 5,000 pounds and comes with both a 7-pin and 4-pin wiring connector.
From the first minutes bending the steering wheel, it is evident that the 4Runner is a strong, solid, rugged-feeling wagon. The steering is predictable, and the truck feels substantial but not overwhelming, however, there is a lot of lean, dive and squat as the truck maneuvers down winding rural roads or squirting through city traffic. This chassis emphasis is great off-road, but some customers might be put-off by the handling motions even as the ride is surprisingly adept.
Seating is very good, and the cabin is much more comfortable than the similar Tacoma. The console could use more small-item storage in the open, while the absence of one-touch lane change functionality on the turn signal, no power liftgate and no blind spot detection seems like big misses here.
The look is a constant, and in Nautical Blue Metallic, the 4Runner looked the part of a finely crafted off-roader. The track record is impressive for reliability, resale and service life — all from the brand that has the number one selling car in America, Camry, the number one selling crossover/SUV, the RAV4, plus the number one selling small pickup, Tacoma.
You could say that the 4Runner embraces its age and experience and vows to continue to win friends and customers for Toyota.