2022 Toyota 4Runner TRD Sport — Charmingly past its freshness date

By Jim Prueter

(January 11, 2022) It’s been a couple of years since we last drove and reviewed the Toyota 4Runner. After spending a week with the new 2022 4Runner 4x4 TRD Sport recently, it’s abundantly clear that a lot remains wrong with this dinosaur of a vehicle. Still, there’s something about it that gets you hooked and becomes addictive. That might explain why there are so many on the road, and it’s been a Toyota mainstay for nearly 40 years.

But before I go into why I found it so compelling, let me first tell you about this unusual vehicle, its faults, annoyances and pointless oddities.

Unlike the ubiquitous number of car-based crossover utility vehicles that seemingly everyone is buying, the 4Runner is a body-on-frame truck-based SUV that has remained largely unchanged since its last major refresh in 2010 (except for a mild update in 2014). Most vehicles have a five-year product cycle but, according to Toyota, 4Runner’s next refresh could be another year or two away, maybe longer.

Appearance-wise, 4Runner is a bit of a pareidolia for me; I have always seen a rhinoceros when looking at it. It’s muscular with a rather fat yet long snout, incredibly rugged, yet agile, and fearless go-anywhere with incredible off-road credibility. But if anything looks out of place it’s the inexplicably strange faux hood scoop. Toyota has had that trim feature for years, so somebody must like the looks of it.

Inside, seven-seater interior is a study in hard plastics with varying patterned trim. Nothing felt expensive, but it did feel somewhat substantial and isn’t all that bad looking. Being old school has its advantages and we especially liked easy-to-use large knobs and big buttons for audio, HAVAC and operating controls. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility is included. We also liked the power-retractable rear liftgate window that came in handy. With most new vehicles today being an exercise in over-the-top, non-intuitive operating controls accessed through multiple layers of touchscreen maneuvers, these things are exactly what makes the 4Runner a pleasure to drive.

Changes for 2022 are minor, including the addition of standard LED high beam headlights, blind spot monitor and rear cross traffic alert for the SR5 Premium, TRD Off-Road Premium TRD Pro and Limited trim levels.

For this review, Toyota lent me the new for 2022 TRD Sport for a week of driving that included routes through Arizona and some of New Mexico’s mountains and rolling hills as well as urban and suburban Phoenix and some off-road testing.

The TRD Sport model is new for 2022, previously only offered on its Tacoma counterpart. Don’t let the word Sport trick you, this TRD isn’t as sporty as the name would suggest but it does come with adaptive dampers designed to improve body control, and it features faux-leather instead of cloth. Oh, and it does get good-looking 20-inch wheels.

The Multi-Terrain Select system includes mode settings for mud and sand, loose rock, rock and dirt, mogul and rock. There’s a five-level crawl control that manages throttle and braking.

We did our off-road testing at our usual destination, Butcher Jones State Park in Arizona. Exactly like the 2020 4Runner two years ago, we put it through extreme off-road conditions, including boulder-strewn V-ditches, deep rutted inclines and slopes, and deep sand dry riverbeds. The 4Runner easily handled everything we threw at it including deep sand dry riverbeds where we again tested the vehicle’s CRAWL feature to perfection.

The ride is decent, but it isn’t particularly comfortable and getting up into it is a bit of a challenge for those of shorter stature. Handling isn’t precise with plenty of body lean when cornering a bit too fast, but somehow that didn’t matter much to us. The fact that it isn’t as technologically advanced, as fast or have precise controlled handling gives it a bit of old school charm.

All 4Runners for 2022 come equipped with Toyota’s suite of Safety Sense driver-assistance features including a pre-collision system with autonomous braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, and automatic high-beam display. Every 4Runner now has two rear USB ports; SR5 Premium and TRD versions get Toyota's smart key (keyless entry and push-button start).

All 4Runner models are powered by a 4.0-liter V-6 with 270-horsepower and 278 lb-ft of torque, paired to a five-speed automatic transmission. The transmission seemed ancient; seven or more speeds are common in similar vehicles. Gas mileage was dismal, with EPA ratings of just 16 mpg city and 19 mpg highway.

There’s plenty to fault about the 4Runner: it is arguably past its freshness date and feels like driving a decade old vehicle. Yet, there’s something mysteriously charming about it’s honest-to-goodness persona that makes getting behind the wheel of it something I always looked forward to during my weeklong testing. The more I drove it the more I wanted to drive it and completely understand the appeal. It isn’t the kind of vehicle where you sign up for a 36-month lease and in 12 months later, start looking at what you want to replace it with. It’s the kind of vehicle you buy and never want to get rid of. It just always feels good.

Vital Stats
Base Price: $40,150
Price as Tested: $45,904
Seating: 5 or 7
Engine/Transmission: 4.0-liter 270-horsepower V6 and a 5-speed automatic transmission
Fuel Economy: 16/19/17 – MPG, City/Highway/Combined
Where Built: Tahara, Aichi, Japan

Crash Test Safety Results: Overall four out of a possible five stars crash test rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Competes With:
Ford Explorer
Hyundai Palisade
Honda Passport
Jeep Grand Cherokee
Jeep Wrangler Unlimited
Kia Telluride
Nissan Pathfinder

Fab Features:
Impressive off-road capabilities
Simple, intuitive, easy to use operating controls
Power rear liftgate window
Exceptional resale value