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2021 Toyota 4Runner

Consumer Reviews
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2020
The Car Connection
2020
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Aaron Cole Aaron Cole Managing Editor
August 11, 2020

Buying tip

Tony 4Runners like the Limited versions don’t make a lot of sense—others do comfort better. Trail-ready 4Runners are the best 4Runners.

features & specs

Limited 2WD
Limited 4WD
Nightshade 2WD
MPG
16 city / 19 hwy
MPG
16 city / 19 hwy
MPG
16 city / 19 hwy
MSRP
$45,395
MSRP
$47,430
MSRP
$46,810

The 2021 Toyota 4Runner is a hugely capable and cool throwback SUV with a modern price attached.

The hills are calling and the 2021 Toyota 4Runner is ready to answer the call.

This year, the 4Runner returns with a new special edition but not much else has changed from last year.

The blocky, off-road SUV earns a 5.2 TCC Rating. Its capability and style give it some legs, but outdated safety scores and gas mileage take it down at the kneecaps. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Review continues below

A Trail Special Edition is new for the 4Runner, but not much else is. Toyota charges $37,515 for a base SR5 with rear-wheel drive and more than $50,000 for a four-wheel-drive TRD Pro—if you can find one. We see more value in the middle, with a deference for 4Runners that prefer dirt.

The blocky 4Runner’s truck roots show through in its stance and style. It’s upright, tough, and tall, a welcome throwback to coupe-shaped roofs applying to everything other than coupes.

Inside and under the hood, the 4Runner shows its age. It’s not as spacious as some rivals, and its controls and layout have aged about as well as episodes of “Two and a Half Men.”

Under the hood, the 4Runner relies on a 4.0-liter V-6 and 5-speed automatic transmission that’s up on fuel consumption and down on forward gears compared to others. Its trick is perceived reliability and off-road prowess—other than the Jeep Wrangler, no other SUV does what the 4Runner can.

Rear-drive is standard on SR5, Limited, and Premium models, and four-wheel drive is standard everywhere else. (When it’s not standard, we suggest it be added.)

The four-wheel-drive system is a part-time affair, and not suited to dry pavement. (Limited models get one that is.)

Interior room is on the small side for its size, although its cargo hold is capacious. An optional third-row seat is available but should be skipped.

The 4Runner’s outdated crash-test scores are supplemented with active safety features such as automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and active lane control.

Every 4Runner gets an 8.0-inch touchscreen and smartphone compatibility software. We steer more toward 4Runners with “TRD” in their names because they’re suited to the SUV’s mission: getting dirty.

6

2021 Toyota 4Runner

Styling

The 2021 4Runner looks tough and it mostly delivers.

The 4Runner’s looks haven’t much changed in a handful of years. It’s grown on us. Starting from an average score, we give it an extra point for good looks outside. It’s a 6.

Toyota’s grafted a macho nose on a tall off-roader and added some elements from other vehicles across the showroom. The broad themes of busy lines and sharp details from other Toyota cars like the Corolla and RAV4 started with the 4Runner, although we think the 4Runner wears it best. Around back, the 4Runner is pretty bland except for a big “TOYOTA” badge and the SUV’s signature rear window.

Inside, the story isn’t as good. The 4Runner’s basic design dates back years and that’s apparent in its knobs and controls—the LCD screen for climate control is very outdated. Same goes for the steering wheel, which hasn’t changed much despite adding some tech features that have awkward button placements on the wheel.

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5

2021 Toyota 4Runner

Performance

The 4Runner’s hardware might be outdated, but it still delivers.

The 4Runner’s old-school roots show through in performance—both good and bad.

It uses a relatively aged 4.0-liter V-6 engine and older 5-speed automatic transmission for propulsion. It’s a 5 thanks to its superb off-road skills but sub-par handling.

The V-6 makes 270 hp and 278 pound-feet of torque that’s confident, but not compelling up hills or steep grades. The 5-speed autobox does the 4Runner no favors for fuel economy, but it finds the right gears off-road well.

Rear-wheel drive is standard on SR5, Premium, and Limited trim levels, although those will be less common with shoppers. A part-time four-wheel-drive system is more common, although the 4Runner Limited offers an automatic four-wheel-drive system that can be used on dry pavement.

The 4Runner has a tall ride height and big tires that make the ride comfy, albeit pretty bouncy. Its steering can waver on the highways and require constant corrections, but it’s light around town. Compared to the Wrangler, the 4Runner has a better steering system, but not by much.

We’ve had issues with the brake and gas pedal. The brake is too numb, and the gas pedal is dead between 25% and full throttle. It takes some getting used to, but steep grades may challenge our patience.

Any 4Runner is adept off-road, but some are more adept than others. The TRD Off Road includes a rear locker and trail cruise control that modulates throttle and brakes for a consistent, slow speed around tricky terrain.

An optional hydraulic suspension system pushes the tires closer to terra firma off-road, and cuts down on some body lean on the road. We recommend it.

The TRD Pro adds Fox shocks and a lifted suspension to go further into the woods, and it’s hugely capable. Unfortunately, it comes attached with a huge price tag, too.

Review continues below
6

2021 Toyota 4Runner

Comfort & Quality

The 4Runner is smaller inside than some rivals.

Looks can be deceiving. Despite the 4Runner’s angular look and wide stance, it’s smaller inside than it looks. Starting from an average score of 5, the 4Runner gets one point for good cargo space. It’s a 6.

The front seats are spacious and accommodating, but a chore to climb into on some versions. There’s a good view ahead, but the 4Runner’s big body makes for big blind spots. Thankfully, blind-spot monitors are standard.

In back, there are only 32.9 inches of rear seat leg room, and tall torsos could be challenged for head room with an optional sunroof installed. Three abreast is a big ask—the back seat is better for two.

An optional third row is available, but we highly advise skipping that. If carrying more than four is a regular task, look to a Highlander or Sequoia (or Land Cruiser) instead.

Behind the second row is 47.2 cubic feet of cargo space (or 9.0 cubic feet with the third row installed and upright) or 89.7 cubic feet with the second row folded. Toyota makes available a slide-out cargo shelf that makes it easier to load in items, but a tall liftover height makes loading bulky gear a challenge in all 4Runners.

Except for pricey luxury 4Runner Limiteds, Toyota saved its best interiors for other cars. The 4Runner is old inside, and top TRD Pro models remind us constantly that the high price is for the hardware underneath.

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4

2021 Toyota 4Runner

Safety

Outdated crash-scores are helped by active safety features.

New safety tests have left the 4Runner behind. Federal testers give it a four-star overall score, including an uncommonly low three-star score for rollover crash protection. The IIHS said its front, driver-side protection in a crash with a tree or light pole is only “Marginal” and its headlights rate “Poor.” All of the above net the 4Runner a 4 on our scale.

There’s a bright spot: All 4Runners are equipped with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and blind-spot monitors.

Outward vision in the 4Runner is OK, but not great.

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7

2021 Toyota 4Runner

Features

Paying more for a 4Runner means better off-road gear, not necessarily better features.

This year, Toyota added a new special edition 4Runner to the small grip of trim levels there already. Most 4Runners are well-equipped, although off-road versions are the SUV’s #bestlife.

It gets a 7 for features based on good standard gear including active safety equipment and a big touchscreen.

Toyota offers the 4Runner in SR5, Trail Edition, Premium, Nightshade, Limited, TRD Off-Road, and TRD Pro trim levels. Rear-wheel drive is standard on SR5, Premium, and Limited editions, and four-wheel drive is available on all—except when it’s standard. This year the 4Runner costs $37,515 for a base model including destination, and the top TRD Pro costs more than $50,000—provided you can find one.

All 4Runners get an 8.0-inch touchscreen with smartphone compatibility, active safety features that are covered above, and the usual features you’d expect in a new car.

The 4Runner TRD Off Road for $41,480 is the best of all worlds, we say. It includes four-wheel drive, off-road hardware, locking rear differential, and more.

The TRD Pro is the tops this year, and includes Fox shocks, a suspension lift, big tires, roof rack, and skid plates. It tops $50,000, which is an eye-watering price for a 4Runner, but it also comes in very good colors.

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3

2021 Toyota 4Runner

Fuel Economy

The 4Runner’s fuel economy is pretty abysmal.

The 2021 4Runner doesn’t do gas mileage well. Among its rivals, the blocky Toyota is among the lowest because it’s more closely related to a truck.

The EPA rates it at 16 mpg city, 19 highway, 17 combined in all configurations. That’s a 3.

Take your 4Runner off-road and that mileage is likely to sink further.

By comparison, the Honda Passport rates around 21 mpg combined and the Jeep Wrangler manages 20 mpg combined, according to the EPA.

Review continues below
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$36,340
MSRP based on SR5 2WD
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5.2
Overall
Expert Rating
Rating breakdown on a scale of 1 to 10?
Styling 6
Performance 5
Comfort & Quality 6
Safety 4
Features 7
Fuel Economy 3
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2021 Toyota 4Runner Pricing Insights

  • 2020 4Runner is here
  • Rebate: Up to $2,000 off
  • Finance: No APR deals
  • Lease: $503/mo. (est.)
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