New & Used Toyota 4Runner: In Depth
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Toyota's 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.
You'd never mistake 4Runner for a family wagon. Its brutish style and rugged off-road gear make no bones about its intended purpose: to leave the pavement behind and do it often.
MORE: Read our 2015 Toyota 4Runner review
The 4Runner competes with the smaller Nissan Xterra and the Jeep Grand Cherokee, along with a host of full-size-truck-based sport utilities. Toyota's own FJ Cruiser, which was closely related to the 4Runner, was also considered a rival before its recent discontinuation. In other markets, a vehicle very similar to the 4Runner is sold as the Land Cruiser Prado. Lexus also has its own version of the 4Runner, called the GX 460.
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 of things at the expense of some comfort and family amenities.
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-foot-pound 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 X-REAS 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.
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 and is now available only on the Lexus GX. Four-cylinder 4Runners made do with an old four-speed automatic, whereas the six got a slightly more modern five-speed auto.
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 well for safety, and its reliability and longevity are legendary. And 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 four-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.
The 4Runner is likely to receive the new V-6 that was unveiled for the 2016 Tacoma. It could come to the sport-utility in a year or two and would improve both power and efficiency compared to today's 4.0-liter.