Toyota 4Runner soldiers on in true sport utility tradition

By Peter Hubbard

(July 27, 2018) Toyota 4Runner’s reputation for durability appeals to SUV lovers 

Once upon a time, there was no such thing as a crossover, or Crossover Utility Vehicle (CUV).  Back in the 80’s there were only truck-based sport utility vehicles (SUVs), available in either full-size (as a Ford Bronco, Chevy K-Blazer, Jeep Grand Wagoneer, Dodge Ramcharger), or mid-sized dimensions like the Toyota 4Runner and a fleet of competitors (Ford Explorer, Chevy Blazer, Jeep Cherokee, Dodge Durango, Nissan Pathfinder and Xterra). 

But with the advent of the Toyota RAV-4, Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, Kia Sorrento, Hyundai Santa Fe and others, most of the utility vehicle population switched almost entirely over to car-based unibody construction. 

Today, the CUV population now comprises over 80 percent of the models in the utility market, and over 40 percent of all vehicle sales. 

That makes the 2018 Toyota 4Runner SUV something of a dinosaur.  As a result, it continues its dominance in a rapidly shrinking field of body-on-frame midsize SUVs. 

First introduced to the American market in 1984 as little more than a 2-door compact pickup with a truck cap on the back, the 4Runner has evolved over the years into a rugged, reliable and highly valued SUV, with almost the same kind of devotion from its owner body as the iconic Jeep Wrangler. 
The current fifth generation 4Runner was unveiled at the State Fair of Texas on Sept.24, 2009.

Built on the same platform as the discontinued Toyota FJ SUV, Toyota’s 2018 4Runner SUV is available in six trims: SR5, SR5 Premium, Limited, TRD Off-Road, TRD Off-Road Premium and TRD Pro Series.

The base SR5 includes Entune Audio Plus with Connected Navigation app and Siri Eyes Free, Bluetooth music streaming, rearview camera and an 8-way-power driver's seat. The TRD models, which include 4-wheel drive instead of rear-wheel drive, add water-resistant seat fabric, locking rear differential, and multi-terrain select with crawl control. Limited models add leather-trimmed seats (heated and ventilated in front), dual-zone climate control, a 15-speaker JBL sound system with navigation, moonroof, X-REAS automatic-adjusting suspension, and 20-inch aluminum-alloy wheels.

Our test unit was the TRD Off-Road Premium.  All 4Runner models are powered by a 4.0-liter V-6 engine with intelligent Variable Valve Timing (VVT-i) that can develop 270 horsepower @ 5600 rpm and 278 ft - llb of torque @ 4400 rpm.  It comes mated to a 5-speed automatic ECT transmission.

The 4Runner feels right at home on paved roads, although its ride and handling now lag behind some of the competing car-based models like the Ford Explorer, Nissan Pathfinder or GMC Acadia. Then again, none of these competitors can venture to the off-road destinations a 4Runner can , although they can match or exceed the 4Runner’s 5,000-pound tow rating. 

While it comes with Toyota’s Star Safety System, which includes stability control, traction control, ABS, brake assist and smart stop technologies, its aging design results in some of the latest safety and driver-assist technologies (like forward-collision mitigation and blind-spot monitoring) being noticeably absent from the list of standard features.

For the 2014 model year the 4Runner received a facelift, consisting of revised front and rear fascia with projector headlamps and clear-lens LED tail-lamps, as well as other minor exterior cosmetic changes. The interior was also updated, with soft-touch door trim, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, revised dashboard and center stack, and the inclusion of Toyota's Optitron instrument cluster as standard on all trim levels. Brake lines were upgraded to improve pedal feel, and electronic Trailer Sway Control programming was included.

At that time the TRD Pro trim level was introduced. This new model included TRD Bilstein shocks with remote reservoirs, TRD-tuned front springs and TRD front skid plate.  For each model year of the TRD Pro has been on the market, beyond the two colors available on all trims, the TRD Pro is offered with an exclusive color. This was Inferno Orange for the 2015 model year, Quicksand for 2016, Cement for 2017, Cavalry Blue for 2018 and Voodoo Blue for 2019.
New for the 2018 Toyota 4Runner are the Wilderness and TRD Enhancement packages. The Wilderness package adds roof-rack crossbars, all-weather floor mats and cargo tray, while the TRD Enhancement adds 17-inch matte-gray off-road wheels and a TRD-stamped aluminum front skid plate.


Not much has changed on the outside for the 4Runner, since it got its re-skin five years ago. In an effort to give the SUV a more rugged and aggressive appearance, Toyota has endowed the front fascia with large, boomerang-shaped indentations slotted below the slanted headlights. Our TRD Off-Road test unit had color-keyed bumpers plus silver accents on the mirror backs and door handles, plus a rear roof spoiler. 

The rest of the 4Runner successfully carries on the SUV's rugged, boxy shape, so not much commentary is necessary here. A nice sporty addition to the 4-wheel-drive TRD model is a manly hood scoop and more ground clearance – now totaling 9.6 inches. All trims feature a standard roof rack.


Although understated and simple, the 2018 4Runner's cabin is roomy and versatile. The large dials and buttons operate everything from the radio to the low-range gearing are intuitive and a cinch to use. The large center console has an available 120V AC power outlet – helpful for charging your accessories. The power-adjustable front seats are comfortable and supportive. In back, a 40/20/40-split seat offers numerous cargo/seating configurations and also allows passenger to recline the seatback.

Seven-passenger seating is available in SR5 and Limited trims, though the small third row is best suited for children. Folding the rear seats yields a flat floor and nearly 90 cubic feet of cargo space.
The center control stack includes a 5.1-inch high-resolution touch screen that operates the AM/FM/XM/CD and navigation system. It also features Bluetooth and comes with USB ports.

Safety features include a full complement of dash-mounted, seat-mounted and side air bags and curtains, plus lower and upper child safety seat anchors.  You also get a backup camera, a tilt/telescope steering wheel with cruise, plus convenient 12V and 120V power outlets for outdoorsmen and tradesmen. 

One of our favorite features is the 4Runner’s power-retractable rear window, incorporated into the rear liftgate. Lowering the window allows cargo or gear to be more easily loaded into the cargo bay. Should caked-on dust or mud obscure your rearward visibility, simply lower the back window until you can stop at a service station and wipe it clean.


The sole powertrain combination in Toyota’s 4Runner SUV is a 270-horsepower V6 mated to a responsive 5-speed automatic transmission. There are three drivetrain choices: 2-wheel drive (2WD) in the SR5 and Limited, part-time 4WD (SR5 and TRD), or full-time 4WD (Limited) with a limited-slip, locking center differential. Towing is a strong point for the 4Runner, with an SAE J2807-compliant rating of 5,000 pounds.

A not-so-strong point is fuel economy, with 2WD models returning a combined 19 mpg and 4WD models rated at 18 mpg combined. Thankfully, Toyota's V-6 only requires regular unleaded.


Since it rides on a truck platform, what do you expect?  Yes, the 2018 Toyota 4Runner drives more like a mid-sized pickup than a car, but that doesn’t mean the ride is either unbearable or uncivilized. Over smooth pavement the 4Runner exhibits very good road manners, although its cornering abilities provide a bit more body lean than you’ll find on car-based CUVs.

The 4Runner’s 270-horse V-6 is a terrific little engine, delivering ample power for passing, merging and towing. Fuel economy, on the other hand, is below average, especially when compared with other midsize SUVs in this class; blame the 5-speed automatic and the 4Runner’s weighty bulk.

One area that could use improvement is the 4Runner’s brake pedal feel.  Although improved over previous generations, it feels a bit soft at first. But after applying more pressure the brakes tend to grab rather quickly.

Off-road, Toyota’s 2018 4Runner SUV exhibits amazing capabilities. Its narrow body and up to 9.6 inches of ground clearance make it easy to move through rugged trails.

Over the years, Toyota and tweaked and improved the 4Runner’s suspension so it’s not offensive to free-driving urban dwellers. While it excels in the dirt, it seems equally at home – both town and country.


Toyota’s 2018 4Runner SUV has a Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) starting just under $35,500 for a base 2WD SR5 model. TRD models begin closer to $38,500 and Limited models start around $43,750. The TRD Pro Series starts close to $43,700. 

Out test model for the week was a TRD Off-Road Premium edition, which came with a base sticker price of $39,495.  Options included a sliding rear cargo deck with under-floor storage bins for $350 and a power tilt/slide moonroof for $850. It also featured Toyota’s Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS) and Crawl Control, as well as a locking rear†differential for $1,750.  With freight, our sticker totaled out at $42,890. It came with the TRD Pro exclusive “Calvary Blue” paint scheme. 

At its starting price, the 4Runner costs more than the comparable Nissan Pathfinder, Ford Explorer and Kia Sorrento, though those three are car-based crossover SUVs not meant for serious off-roading. The iconic Jeep Wrangler Unlimited is more comparable, but again, all have starting prices several thousand dollars below that of the 4Runner.


The 4Runner has won numerous awards and accolades for its off-roading talents, making it a favorite with outdoor adventure types and nature lovers.  In fact, just try finding someone willing to part with a beloved third-generation 4Runner (sold in the US from 1995 to 2002).  If they ARE willing to sell, they generally demand $3,500 or more for a 20-year old SUV with 200,000 miles on the ODO – because they know they can GET IT.  In fact, the 4Runner was ranked #3 in a 2016 study by the Website,, ranking the top 10 longest-lasting vehicles in the US.  The 4Runner had 5.2 percent of vehicles over 200,000 miles (320,000†km), still on the road according to the study.

Over the years, Toyota has gradually given the 4Runner more interior room and more power.  So now the standard V-6 can tow up to 5,000 pounds, and the optional 3rd-row seat allows you to transport up to seven passengers. But if you place a greater premium on state-of-art safety features, comfort features and urban drivability, perhaps a GMC Acadia or Honda Pilot may be more to your liking.

Also, the 2018 4Runner isn’t cheap, so if money is a factor. So if you plan on camping out in national parks or off-roading in the Utah deserts, picking a base Jeep Wrangler Unlimited will save you over $5,000. But if comfort is secondary, price is no object and you care more about where your vehicle can take you and how much you can tow … then the 4Runner might be just right for you.