Having just completed a week in the Toyota 4Runner reminds me of how I genuinely enjoy the analog experience. I remember several years ago, six, perhaps seven years actually, the last time I spent time with the 4Runner. I recall it being an honest vehicle. That remains true today.
While the platform is quite old, it debuted in 2009, it has not slowed sales. In 2015 Toyota moved 97,000 units, and sales have gone up almost every year since. For the 2021 model year, Toyota sold nearly 145,000 4Runners!
The silhouette hasn’t changed much if you look back to the first generation 4Runner of the mid and late 80s. Of course, it’s grown in size and scope, but much like a Volkswagen Golf or a Porsche 911, inside and out, it’s easy to see the lineage.
This TRD Pro example I reviewed is everything the actual or want to be off-roader could wish. It looks macho, but not overly so. 32-inch chunky off-road tires, a small lift, and some other styling cues give it some gravitas. All it’s missing is a bullbar and some lights to complete the look. Given those choices are highly individual, it’s easy to see why Toyota didn’t offer those. In this trim, the 4Runner is ready for overlanding or off-roading right out of the box. Especially with a few items in the cargo area which we will get to.
The “Lime Rush” color might not be to everyone’s taste. My wife referred to it as “booger green,” but with the black trim and wheels, I liked it. So take that for what it’s worth.
Inside the 4Runner is a bit of a time machine. Some parts are very mid-oughts, and others that are more contemporary. The steering wheel and the instrument cluster looked dated for most people. I rather enjoy actual analog dials rather than a large LED screen. The 4.3-inch center display can provide plenty of information, though you have to toggle through some menus to get to them.
It seems odd, but the one item that stuck out most for me is the lack of “tap to turn.” That is the feature where you tap your turn signal, and the signal flashes three or four times. In my personal vehicle, which is a 2005 Honda Element, I don’t notice it. But, in a 2022 vehicle, little things like that stick out.
The driver’s seat offers a commanding view of the road without feeling like you are sitting on top of the world. It’s also comfortable for extended time behind the wheel. One benefit of the 4Runner platform being a bit older is that it hasn’t suffered from the bloat that many other vehicles have. Everything has grown longer, wider, and taller, making them more of a hassle to drive in the real world.
The infotainment system is very mid-twenty-teens. While it can be a little slow at times, it has physical knobs and buttons more than makes up for it. It has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, not wireless, and the screen is bright with good resolution. It is not a big 12-15 inch tablet slapped on the dash, but that is fine. The HVAC controls are also pleasant to use with gloved hands because of the large knobs and generously sized buttons.
You will not want for space on the inside either. There is plenty of elbow room between driver and passenger. Even with the driver’s seat set for me at 5’10”, I had plenty of legroom to sit behind myself.
Circling back to an earlier point, a clever item in the cargo area is a sliding shelf that can lock in place. So too, there is both a three-prong receptacle capable of 400 watts of power and a 12v outlet for plugging in a refrigerator for those off-road/camping/tailgating trips. So, yes, you lose a little cargo area because of it, but it can be handy even for general shopping or runs to a big box store.
If there is an area that lets the 4Runner down and shows its age, it is the drivetrain. The 4.0-liter V6 feels underpowered, and the five-speed transmission lack of gears only exacerbates the problem. While the V6 makes 270 horsepower and 278 lb/ft of torque, it is well up in the powerband. Peak horsepower is at 5,600 rpm, and peak torque is 4,400 rpm. With a curb weight of 4,800 lbs, that’s a big ask. What this really needs is a Roots or Whipple style supercharger to boost the bottom end of the power band. At one time, Toyota offered that as an official TRD aftermarket part of the 4Runner, but it looks as if they’ve dropped it.
Believe it or not, highway speeds are where you notice the lack of gears in the transmission. The transmission can hunt between fourth and fifth gear with the cruise control set anywhere between 70-80 mph. The slightest incline would have the transmission kick down a gear and not want to upshift, keeping the engine north of 3,000 rpms.
I also wasn’t a fan of the exhaust system on this 4Runner. It was louder than it needed to be, didn’t have a pleasant tone to start with, and then droned a bit on the highway. Although the 4.0 V6 isn’t the most sonorous of engines to begin with, this exhaust system did it no favors.
Acceleration was sufficient, but again more gears would have helped that. Once up to speed and up in the rev range, the 4Runner wasn’t quick, but it wasn’t so slow that you had to plan overtakes well in advance.
On the road
Handling was surprisingly good for a tall vehicle on off-road tires. Many times on an off-ramp or an on-ramp, I was able to take them at a speed far quicker than you’d think and be well under control. I often had to let off the gas or tap the brakes because other cars, trucks, and SUVs were going so much slower. It never felt tippy.
On Metro Detroit’s roads, the 4Runner was ace. Tall sidewalls, big FOX shocks, and plenty of suspension travel made for a pleasant ride. It never felt too soft and floaty. It wasn’t a luxury car ride, but that Goldilocks level of compliance and control.
The 4Runner is nimble. It is nimble in that it gets in and out of parking spaces and down crowded streets with ease. There is no creeping at slow speeds and looking over every corner to see if you can make it. Just wheel it and go. Again, such a nice contrast with good sightlines and proper sizing.
The real downside of the 4Runner is its fuel economy. The EPA officially rates it at 16 city, 19 highway, and 17 combined. However, the real-world looked more like 17.8 on the highway, 13.3 in the city, and 14.5 combined according to the onboard fuel economy gauge.
One last thing, the brakes could be a better/larger/more stopping power. They are ok for general driving, but if I were towing with the 4Runner, which is rated at 5,000 pounds, I defiantly want to upgrade them.
I genuinely liked this 4Runner TRD Pro. It has a sticker price of $54,805, but in today’s market of $65-$90,000, Jeep Wranglers and Ford Broncos going for similar money with additional dealer markups, it’s “reasonable”. Even if pricing were equal, I’d take the 4Runner. While the 4Runner doesn’t necessarily work for me personally with two giant breed dogs, trying to get them in and out, I’d still strongly, make that very strongly, consider buying one with my own money. Would I rather have a Land Cruiser? No, but that’s an additional Toyota GR86 in price.
I’d love to see the new twin-turbo V-6 in the Tundra and Sequoia along with its transmission under the 4Runner, for more power, especially down in the rev range and better fuel economy. Perhaps in the next generation.
What I really like about the 4Runner is the lack of electronic nannies trying to alter what I want to do. Lane Keep Assist, putting the parking brake on when I’m trying to maneuver with the door open, in a parking lot or driveway. Collision alerts when I’m still 40 feet from the vehicle in front of me. Tones telling me traffic is moving in stop and go traffic. Flashing alerts telling me I’m over the posted speed limit. The list goes on.
The 4Runner is an honest vehicle that offers an analog experience. It doesn’t get in the way of doing what you want it to do. When you’re off-road, it has systems that genuinely help you rather than hinder you. It never feels as if you have to ask permission to do something like you do in so many modern cars, and that more than anything else is why not only do I like the 4Runner, but think you should drive something else, then drive the 4Runner and see which experience you prefer.