2023 4Runner 40th Anniversary

PHOENIX — We’ve been saying it for years — the 4Runner is well past its freshness date and more than due for a complete redo. Still, over the years I’ve grown to soften my critique of the “ancient” 4Runner, that continues to set sales records, and in a quirky way I've learned to love it for what it is — simple, rugged, dependable and still highly sought after whether new or used.

When the first 4Runner arrived for the 1983 model year, auto sales were the worst in nearly two decades, the Washington Redskins were the Super Bowl champs, Baltimore Orioles won the World Series, Ronald Reagan was president and referred to the Soviet Union as the “Evil Empire,” and "Star Wars Return of the Jedi" was the top movie box office hit and the third Star Wars movie.

Still built with its body-on-frame construction featuring a four-link rear axle and coil-spring suspension, the tough as nails 4Runner for 2023 adds a 40th Anniversary Special Edition based on the SR5 Premium grade and offered in three exclusive exterior colors: White, Midnight Black Metallic and or test 4Runner in Barcelona Red Metallic.

Along with seven other 4Runner trim levels, the Anniversary Special Edition stands out from the lineup thanks to bronze-colored 17-inch alloy wheels, a body-color-matching TOYOTA heritage grille and a bronze-colored 40th Anniversary exterior tailgate badge.  But the biggest eye-catching giveaway is likely to be the heritage graphics package exclusive to the Anniversary Edition in the form of a definite “80s” retro-inspired yellow/orange/red upper body graphic.

Inside, there’s exclusive badging on the center console and features a bronze-colored cross-stitch shift knob, bronze-colored seat stitching, 40th Anniversary floormats and a 40th Anniversary logo on the black SofTex-trimmed seats. Topping it off is a standard power moonroof.

All 4Runner’s are built in Aichi, Japan, and the automaker is building just 4,040 “special editions” for 2023 and include a “1 of 4,404” badge affixed next to the glovebox. Unfortunately, each vehicle won’t have a unique build number out of 4,040.

Mechanically or functionally, there’s nothing that separates this special edition from a standard SR5 Premium trim level. A 270-horsepower 4.0-liter V6 engine with 278 lb.-ft. of torque paired with a five-speed automatic transmission powers the 4Runner. Regardless of trim level, all 4Runner grades are standard-equipped with an integrated tow-hitch receiver and wiring harness, and all models can tow a maximum of 5,000 pounds.

While the SR5 Premium trim package is available with both four-wheel drive and rear-wheel only drive, you’ll only be able to get the Anniversary Special Edition with four-wheel drive.

Since it was first introduced over four million 4Runners have been sold and over the years I’ve driven and reviewed a bunch of them, and it never ceases to amaze me how little the vehicle has changed over that time span. Even the current generation in showrooms today debuted 13 long years ago. And, while critical of the “dinosaur” it has become I’ve learned to actually appreciate the simplicity of its functionality. Want to heat or cool the cabin more? Just twist a dial on the center stack left or right, blue or red to lower or raise the temperature. Need more air or heat blowing out the vents? Again, just twist a dial up or down. No need to go two or three levels deep on a LED touchscreen swiping, pinching, or searching what icon to push. Ditto for the infotainment system and almost every vehicle operational control.

Everything is simple, easy to use with zero frustration or taking your eyes off the road for more than a blink. This is complete bliss for those beloved by analog types and frustrated by modern technology.

So happy anniversary 4Runner. You’ve turned 40 and have unquestionably carved out a place where a massive number of fans and loyalists go for a ready-for-anything adventure that’s equally welcome and entertaining at home on pavement or an off-road trail.

Vital Stats

Base Price: $46,370
Price as Tested: $46,995
Engine/Transmission: 270-horsepower, 4.0-liter V6 paired with a five-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive.
Fuel Economy: 16/19/17 MPG – City/Highway/Combined
Seating: up to seven

Crash Test Safety Ratings: Overall evaluation: Marginal from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and four out of five-star overall rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Where Built: Aichi, Japan

Competes With:
Ford Explorer
Honda Passport
Jeep Grand Cherokee
Jeep Wrangler Limited
Kia Telluride
Nissan Pathfinder

Exceptional off-road abilities
Remarkable resale and reliability
Colorful, fun, Anniversary Edition
Feels good driving it

Dismal fuel economy
Undeniably old school everything
Annoying engine drone

— Jim Prueter