With countless SUVs and crossovers to choose from today, find out why the old-school 4Runner’s appeal remains rock solid nearly four decades later
If there’s one thing Toyota knows well, it is how to impeccably mass-produce reliable vehicles. They might not be as eye-catching as their competitors, but Toyotas with good service records normally last a lifetime. Honorable mentions when it comes to reliability in the Toyota family include the Land Cruiser and the Camry. The 4Runner is a mid-size SUV that Toyota has been producing since 1984 and the current models are in their fifth generation. The Toyota 4Runner has gained a significant fan base over the decades in America, making the SUV to be just as popular as its mentioned siblings. It also provides the same sense of reliability if not more. In some markets, the 4Runner is called the Toyota Hilux Surf.
The Toyota 4Runner has a distinct old-school boxy shape because Toyota usually takes a considerably longer time toupdate its exterior, unlike the other models in the Japanese automaker’s lineup. Toyota typically makes minor cosmetic changes for a new model year, but the last time the SUV received new styling was back in 2014. These are some reasons why people can’t get enough of the 4Runner.
The 4Runner has been the pinnacle of durability and reliability for mid-size sports utility vehicles. The SUV can comfortably switch between being a reliable daily driver to a capable off-roader. Reliability on the asphalt and capability on rugged terrains has made the 4Runner a favorite with car enthusiasts over its 40-year history. It also seems that the popularity of the vehicle is growing. Toyota has seen a steady increase in sales for the 4Runner since it debuted in 1984. The 2021 model year had the highest sales yet with the Japanese automaker selling over 144,000 units.
Toyota acknowledged the 40 years of the 4Runner’s automotive heritage by premiering the 40th Anniversary Special Edition 4Runner. The model will be distinguishable from the others in the 4Runner lineup thanks to its tri-color exterior graphics and bronze-colored accents on the wheels and interior stitching. This model will also come with a 40th Anniversary Special Edition logo embossed on driver and front passenger headrests
Toyota’s decision for the SUV’s body-on-frame design, and keeping the exterior changes to a minimum has worked in the automaker’s favor. Globally, the 4Runner is one of the most distinctly recognizable SUVs. It has a boxy old-school shape with a flat roof and a considerably high ground clearance reminiscent of SUVs of the 90s and the 2000s. Perhaps owners of the SUV and enthusiasts relate the 4Runner’s old-school design to its simplicity and durability. The ground clearance is also an indication of how capable the SUV is for off-roading and overlanding.
The 4Runner is undoubtedly an off-roading icon. It is 4-wheel drive and has features like crawl-control, which is an advanced system that automatically modulates the throttle and brakes on five low-speed settings, so you can keep your focus on navigating across difficult terrain.
Then there is the electronic locking rear differential that helps the driver to negotiate around uncertain terrain. The system distributes engine power evenly to both rear wheels, so they move at the same speed, even if one is off the ground. Toyota designed the 4Runner’s electronic locking rear differential to assist the driver to maintain a controlled pace over obstacles.
Toyota also installed a kinetic dynamic suspension system (KDSS) in the 4Runner. This system is designed to automatically decouple the 4Runner’s sway bars as needed, helping improve wheel articulation, and when the terrain goes back to smooth and flat, the sway bars are designed to automatically reconnect.
Other features include multi-terrain drive mode select, and the option of a multi-terrain monitoring system that uses cameras to help the driver get a view under the vehicle. The TRD series in the 4Runner family is designed to be the most off-road capable, and the TRD Pro sits at the very top of the trim as the most capable off-roading 4Runner.
In 4 year ago, ISeeCars.com ranked the SUV fifth overall in the longest-serving vehicles list with some 4Runners pushing over 200,000 miles in their lifetimes. The 4Runner is powered by an IGRFE 4.0-liter V-6 engine with a five-speed automatic transmission. This is one of Toyota’s most reliable powertrain setup and has been powering the SUV for over two decades. A 20-year-old V-6 engine mated to a five-speed automatic transmission is likely not the most eco-friendly or fuel-efficient setup today, but the powertrain is simple and easy to repair and maintain.
Its simplicity also guarantees that the engine is always running with minimal electronic malfunctions which has been a common feature with the newer engines. The 2023 models have been upgraded with electronic driver assist features like cruise control and lane-keep assist to enhance the driving experience.
In total, including the 40th Anniversary Special Edition, the 4Runner has eight models in the 2023 lineup. The base model is the SR5, which starts at $39,555. LED headlights, power rear lift-gate window, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto compatibility come as standard in the SR5. $3000 more will upgrade you to the SR5 Premium model. In this trim, you’ll get Toyota’s SofTex trimmed seats, a blind spot monitoring system, and heated front seats. In the TRD family, there is the TRD Sport, the TRD Off-Road, the TRD Off-Road Premium, and the TRD Pro.
The base TRD Sport starts at $42,415 while the TRD Pro has a sticker price of $54,020 making it the most expensive 4Runner in the lineup. Features in the TRD Pro include; TRD FOX high-performance shocks and TRD-tuned front springs, a multi-terrain monitor (MTM), Dual-zone automatic climate control, and a blind spot monitor (BSM) with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert (RCTA). The 40th Anniversary Edition model and the Limited model complete the 4Runner trims.
The V-6 engine in the 4Runner produces approximately 270 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque. Coupled with its 4-wheel drive setup, the SUV has a towing capacity of about 5,000 pounds. Similarly, priced mid-size SUVs with comparable features include the Kia Telluride, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Hyundai Palisade, and the Ford Bronco.
The Kia Telluride also has a towing capacity of about 5,000 pounds. The Grand Cherokee has a total pulling capacity of about 6,200 pounds. The Hyundai Palisade can also pull up to 5,000 pounds, and finally, the Bronco has a towing capacity of between 3,500 and 4,500 pounds. This means that in terms of towing capability, the 4Runner sits comfortably in its segment, only being bested by the Grand Cherokee.