New & Used Toyota 4Runner: In Depth
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The Toyota 4Runner is a mid-size SUV that is spun off from some of the same running gear that underpins the Tacoma mid-size pickup truck. That makes it a true sport-utility vehicle, as opposed to a car-based crossover.
Like you'd ever mistake it for a family wagon: the 4Runner's brutish style and rugged off-road gear make no bones about what they're intended to do: to go off-road, and to do it often.
MORE: Read our 2015 Toyota 4Runner review
The 4Runner competes with the smaller Nissan Xterra, the now-discontinued Toyota FJ Cruiser, and the Jeep Grand Cherokee, along with a host of full-size truck-based sport utilities from several manufacturers.
For families, Toyota has its car-based crossover the Highlander in the mid-size utility vehicle category. So the 4Runner has become more of a niche vehicle, a tougher and truckier vehicle that stresses the "utility" side of the equation at the expense of family amenities.
Through most of its iterations, the 4Runner was closely related to Toyota's compact pickup (Tacoma). The original 1980s model was little more than a harsh-riding Toyota pickup with a topper over the bed and some very basic rear seating. That all changed with the generation introduced in 1996, which emerged as a more stylish separate model in its own right, but still sharing four-cylinder and V-6 powertrains with the pickup.
For 2003, the 4Runner was again redesigned, this time becoming significantly larger, more refined, and more lavishly equipped—though it retained the body-on-frame design. A small, barely usable third-row seat was optional, and for the first time Toyota offered an optional V-8 on the 4Runner. The 4.7-liter V-8 actually produced less power than the V-6 early on, but its 320 foot-pound torque rating was much higher.
While these 4Runners had nice interior appointments, ride quality could still be rather bouncy and harsh, but several more sophisticated chassis systems offered on the 4Runner included an off-road-oriented X-REAS hydraulic system and an air suspension on the Limited model, good for towing and ride quality. This 4Runner also offered an increased range of convenience options, including a navigation system, backup camera system, and JBL audio.
Today's Toyota 4Runner
The current 4Runner has strong visual ties to the models that came before it, with its long, squared-off body, but it avoids seeming outdated with just the right amount of updates. When this generation was introduced for 2010, it brought the focus back to the 4Runner's off-road and hauling capabilities. A 2.7-liter four-cylinder was added as the base engine for rear-drive versions, while the bulk of 2010 models came with a 270-hp 4.0-liter V-6. The V-8 was dropped altogether for this generation. Four-cylinder 4Runners made do with an old four-speed automatic, while the six got a slightly more modern five-speed auto.
Underscoring its ruggedness, a new 4Runner Trail Edition appealed directly to off-roaders with the company's Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS), plus off-road tires, a locking rear differential, and other upgrades. Then there was the Limited model, which carried over the X-REAS system and was loaded with comfort and convenience features. Although the 4Runner is still less fuel-efficient than more modern crossover utes, it has been rated well for safety, and its reliability and longevity are legendary.
The 4Runner has remained largely unchanged since its 2010 revamp, although the four-cylinder was dropped after just one year. Changes were very few for the 2013 model year, though it received redesigned audio systems, plus Toyota's Entune services and HD Radio with iTunes tagging, in the 2012 model. And for 2015, Toyota has introduced a new, off-road-focused 2015 TRD Pro 4Runner that attempts to make up for the hold created in the lineup due to the discontinuation of the FJ Cruiser.