Even by body-on-frame-SUV standards, the Toyota 4Runner is antiquated. The current generation of the 4Runner has existed with only minor changes since 2009, and its 1GR-FE 4.0-liter V-6 engine has been around since the early 2000s. Its previous competitors—the likes of the Ford Explorer, Mitsubishi Montero, and Nissan Pathfinder—have either disappeared entirely or morphed into unibody crossovers. This leaves the Jeep Wrangler and Ford Bronco as the Toyota’s most natural rivals.
You can’t remove the 4Runner’s roof or doors, but it does have that roll-down rear window in the liftgate that’s been a hallmark of this model for decades, which is kind of like the next best thing, right?
Given the old 4Runner’s new framing in the context of these 4x4s, it’s only logical that Toyota has played up this SUV’s off-road chops in recent years. The TRD Pro trim was introduced for 2015 and has received small updates over the years to keep this off-road-focused model fresh. Our test car was hard to miss in its Lime Rush paint, a new hue for 2022, and the TRD Pro also comes standard with a front skid plate, black 17-inch wheels, a chunky roof rack, and a different grille with badass retro “TOYOTA” lettering.
Suspension upgrades are also part of the package and include Fox-branded dampers front and rear and different front springs. Nitto Terra Grappler All-Terrain tires look appropriately chunky, and there’s also an upgraded exhaust that makes itself heard even when you might not want it to—the drone gets annoying at highway speeds. But all the ingredients are here to satisfy off-road enthusiasts, including a manual transfer case, 9.6 inches of ground clearance, hill-descent control, and driving modes for various types of terrain.
On paved roads, the 4Runner drives like the Jurassic SUV that it is. There’s a huge amount of body roll and brake dive and plenty of play in the steering rack, and the V-6 produces an intake roar that will make you nostalgic for the 1990s. The five-speed automatic transmission—yes, it really does have only five speeds—shifts sluggishly and hunts around on the highway, meaning it’s difficult to make the most of the 270 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque. We got the TRD Pro model to 60 mph in 7.7 seconds, matching the acceleration of a 2019 TRD Off-Road model we tested. For reference, turbo four-cylinder versions of the Bronco and Wrangler are significantly quicker.
When some of Toyota’s own car-based hybrid SUVs can easily achieve 30-plus mpg, the 4Runner’s EPA-estimated 17 mpg combined looks pretty dismal. We matched that sorry figure in our 75-mph highway fuel economy test and averaged a paltry 15 mpg overall. It’s highly likely Toyota will offer a hybrid version of the 4Runner at some point in the future, and a more modern powertrain would be welcome in this package.
So would a nicer interior. The 4Runner’s expanse of hard black plastic is anything but luxurious, and the rudimentary dashboard design starts to become grating when the price crests $50,000—as it did in our test car, which stickered at $55,003. Desirable features such as a power liftgate and a heated steering wheel aren’t available at all. Even the proudly old-school Wrangler is offered with plenty of niceties these days, but apparently Toyota hasn’t gotten the memo. At least everything is screwed together well. We noticed nary a rattle, squeak, or loose trim piece during our time with the 4Runner.
Remarkably, Toyota still sells plenty of 4Runners—a whopping 144,696 in 2021, more than the Prius, Avalon, and C-HR combined—so we can understand how the company justifies continuing to offer such an outdated package. It’s hardly competitive as an on-road vehicle at this point, but what does that matter if people are willing to plunk down their hard-earned cash? A redesigned 4Runner is likely to arrive within the next few years to right some of these wrongs, but in the meantime the same old 4Runner just keeps on truckin’.
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