The Car Connection Toyota 4Runner Overview
You'd never mistake the Toyota 4Runner for a family vehicle. Its rugged off-road gear and brutish look make no pretense about being car-like. They telegraph its intended purpose: to leave the pavement behind, and do it often.
The 4Runner is a true sport-utility vehicle, as opposed to a car-based crossover like most other vehicles its size. That's because the mid-size SUV was spun off from the same running gear found beneath the Tacoma mid-size pickup.
The 4Runner doesn't have much competition left; the Nissan Xterra is extinct, and Toyota's own FJ Cruiser has been discontinued. That leaves the Jeep Grand Cherokee as its closest rival.
Lexus also has its own version of the 4Runner, called the GX 460. In other markets, a vehicle very similar to the 4Runner is sold as the Land Cruiser Prado.
With Toyota's car-based Highlander crossover serving the mid-size family utility category, the 4Runner has been allowed to become more of a niche vehicle—it's a tougher and truckier option that stresses the "utility" side at the expense of some comfort and family amenities.
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has strong visual ties to the models that came before it, with its long, squared-off body, but it avoids seeming outdated with just the right amount of updates.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 4-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 that generation and is now available only on the Lexus GX. Four-cylinder 4Runners made do with an old 4-speed automatic, whereas the V-6 was mated to a slightly more modern 5-speed auto.
MORE: Read our 2016 Toyota 4Runner review
Underscoring its ruggedness, the 4Runner gained a new Trail Edition to appeal directly to off-roaders; it features the company's Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS), 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 highly for safety, and its reliability and longevity are legendary. Like its predecessors, the current model offers a roll-down glass rear window—something of a novelty nowadays.
The 4Runner has remained largely unchanged since its 2010 revamp, although the 4-cylinder was dropped after just one year, leaving only the V-6 engine. 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.
For 2015, Toyota has introduced a new, off-road-focused 2015 TRD Pro 4Runner that attempts to make up for the hole created in the lineup due to the discontinuation of the FJ Cruiser. It includes unique suspension tuning, different wheels and tires, aesthetic changes, and a new exhaust. This model should return a lot of the off-road capability to the 4Runner that has been lost over the years, especially since the TRD model comes with true all-terrain tires as opposed to the all-seasons included on the rest of the lineup.
For 2016, the 4Runner lineup gains upgraded Entune multimedia systems, which in SR5 and Trail models have a navigation system that uses a connected smartphone. The 4Runner also gets Siri Eyes Free with all versions of the Entune system.
Toyota 4Runner history
The 4Runner has, for the most part, been closely linked to small Toyota pickup trucks, including today's Tacoma. The first 4Runner wasn't much more than a truck with a cap covering some rear seats in what would have been the bed. The version that was introduced for 1996 changed the script, offering a more cohesive design, but retaining much of the underpinnings of the pickup, including the four-cylinder and V-6 engines.
The 4Runner was redesigned again for 2003, 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 made optional, and for the first time Toyota offered a V-8 on the 4Runner. The 4.7-liter V-8 actually produced less power than the standard V-6 early on, but its 320 lb-ft torque rating was considerably higher.
While these 4Runners had nice interior appointments, the ride tended to still be rather bouncy and harsh. Several more sophisticated chassis systems offered on the 4Runner included an off-road-oriented hydraulic system and an air suspension on the Limited model, good for towing and improved ride quality. This 4Runner also offered an increased range of convenience options, including a navigation system, a backup camera, and upgraded JBL audio.