Boring vehicles aren’t worth driving. At least that’s how I feel, even when it comes to daily drivers. I’m not saying that everyone should be driving around in one-off Sema show cars. But putting in a little effort to make your vehicle suit your personality goes a long way. Having a car or truck that you look forward to driving makes the otherwise mundane moments in life a bit more exciting.
My 4runner might appear to be a custom rig at first glance, but it really isn’t. This is a great example of how some carefully chosen modifications can completely change a vehicles’ character. It’s mostly stock with a few important upgrades to make it reliable, capable, and fun to drive. Maybe it seems a bit mild to me because of the contrast with my highly modified MR2.
At any rate, it didn’t take much work to transform the 4runner into the perfect SUV for life in Canada. Despite its custom touches, it’s still a vehicle that I can use properly and rely on every day. Make sure to click on the photos to see the full size images!
The 4th generation Toyota 4runner was the perfect platform for me to start with. They have the ultimate combination of luxury and rugged capability. After owning a Jeep Grand Cherokee for 10 years before this, reliability and comfort were big factors in choosing my next vehicle. Toyota did a great job of engineering the 4runner and they’re known across the world as being virtually bulletproof in terms of dependability. In my mind, it just needed a few simple changes to take it to the next level.
Balance is an important aspect for any project car, but it’s an even bigger deal when it comes to daily drivers. I didn’t want to sacrifice anything that makes the Toyota 4runner so legendary in order to improve specific parts.
I need it to be:
- Quiet, comfortable and classy looking, yet capable on muddy trails as well as in deep snow
- Consistently reliable
- Spacious enough to load up with mountain bikes and gear
- Able to tow at least 5,000 lbs but still be nimble in tight areas
- As fuel efficient as possible but still offer a decent amount of power
- Able to start and run in any temperature or weather
I wanted a well rounded vehicle and the V8 4runner does it all without compromise.
My starting point was a 2007 Toyota 4runner Limited V8. I was able to find a clean example with decent mileage and full service records. It had all the bells and whistles aside from factory navigation. It didn’t hurt that Shadow Grey (or “Khaki” here in Canada) is one of the most sought after colors on the 4runner either. While it wasn’t necessarily in my idea of pristine condition, I could tell that I’d be able to polish it up and make the paint look incredible.
Mechanically, it had a couple flaws. It had the typical cracked exhaust manifold and leaking rear air suspension. These are the only two large failures known on this specific model of 4runner. Although both are fairly expensive to fix at a dealership, replacing them with aftermarket upgrades is a different story. I was able to buy this one at a great price because of this. After those upgrades, I now have one of the most reliable vehicles on the planet. I guess you could say it drives and looks ok, too.
You wouldn’t be alone in mistaking my 4runner for an ultra-low mileage SUV that’s never seen winter. In reality, it’s the exact opposite. It’s 11 years old with over 210,000 kms on the clock. It gets driven in the harshest winter conditions and sits parked outside year round. Proper protection and care is what keeps it looking the way it does.
The tired old X-REAS suspension has been replaced with Fox 2.0 IFP adjustable coilovers up front. They provide a very controlled yet smooth ride and are completely rebuildable.
The leaky factory rear air suspension was completely removed. Now a pair of ARB’s Old Man Emu 895 rear springs is accompanied by Fox 2.0 IFP rear shocks to match the front. A coil spring conversion kit from Metal Tech holds the springs in place.
Possibly the most noticeable change is the large wheels and tires. Gone are the factory 18″ limited wheels. The 4runner now proudly wears a set of matte black 17″ Method Standard wheels wrapped in 33″ Goodyear Wrangler Duratracs. These are much larger in both width and diameter than the original setup and while the rears fit without modification, some trimming was needed up front.
Thinking about buying a Toyota 4runner for yourself? Make sure to read my Ultimate 4th Gen 4runner Buyer’s Guide:
The running boards and mud flaps have been removed for extra clearance. The inner fender liners up front were also moved forward a few inches to make room for the tires.
I chose to go with a more stealth approach to auxiliary lighting. There’s a 32″ curved Philips LED light bar in the bumper and a 40″ Cree LED light bar mounted to the roof rack. Both are sitting on homemade mounts. These are barely noticeable during the daytime, but extremely effective at night.
The appearance of the 4runner might be slightly aggressive, but it rides like a Lexus. The suspension is smooth, the tires are quiet and the V8 has lots of power. A few hours on the highway can easily make you forget what this thing is capable of at lower speeds.
One of the best things you can do to make an average vehicle stand out from the crowd is a proper paint correction. My 4runner underwent multiple steps of compounding and polishing, followed by a ceramic coating from Gtechniq. As a matter of fact, most of the surfaces are ceramic coated. It allows for a quick cleanup after the abuse it sees occasionally.
Under the hood, there really isn’t much going on. A set of Doug Thorley short tube headers and a K&N filter (with hydrocarbon filter delete) are the only modifications. This isn’t a go-fast vehicle, so I don’t see any need to be chasing horsepower. The 4.7 liter V8 gives the 4runner lots of get up and go, even with the big heavy tires. The headers have increased fuel efficiency quite a bit along with the horsepower and torque gains. They would benefit from a complete matching high flow exhaust though. I kept the factory cats and exhaust system to keep it quiet and emissions compliant.
The badges have been blacked out by the previous owner, making it less obvious that this is in fact a Limited V8 model.
The Shadow Mica paint is a bit of a chameleon depending on the conditions. Usually, it’s a dark metallic grey but as you can see it changes with the lighting. The pearl really reflects the sunset, yet it looks black at night time.
The interior is completely stock and will likely stay that way. Toyota already gave the Limited model 4runners features like heated leather seats, simulated granite trim, and a decent JBL Synthesis audio system. Aside from navigation and Bluetooth, it’s got everything I need. The head unit might be a future upgrade.
The only aftermarket feature in the interior is the switches for the light bars. I wanted to keep it just as stealth on the inside, so I found a pair of OEM style on/off buttons from MIC Tuning. They fit perfectly in the spots that used to hold the controls for the now vacant air suspension. No new holes, no exposed wires.
Toyota gave the later year facelifted model 4runners projector headlights and LED taillights. These did a great job of making the exterior look more modern. To take it one step further, I added some LED headlights and replaced the bulbs in the license plate and interior with LEDs.
If you’re interested in buying your own 4th gen 4runner, make sure to check out my Buyer’s Guide here. You can also read a more in-depth post on why I chose certain parts in my Ownership Journal over on T4r.org.
Fox 2.0 IFP adjustable front coilovers
Fox 2.0 IFP rear shocks
ARB Old Man Emu 895 rear springs
Metal Tech rear coil conversion kit
Method 301 The Standard wheels – 17×8.5″ with 0 offset and 4.75″ backspacing
Goodyear Wrangler Duratrac tires – LT285-70-17
Doug Thorley short tube headers
K&N air filter with Hydrocarbon filter delete
AVS Window visors
Toyota bug deflector
32″ Philips curved dual row LED light bar
40″ Totron single row Cree LED light bar
MIC Tuning oem style light bar buttons
Detailing Products Used:
Complete paint correction and deep cleaning of the entire vehicle
Gtechniq Crystal Serum Light topped with Exov3 on the paint, headlights, and tail lights
Gtechniq C5 Wheel Armor on the wheels, lug nuts, suspension, and light bar housings
Gtechniq C4 Permanent Trim Restorer on black plastic exterior trim and fender liners
Gtechniq G1 ClearVision Smart Glass on all windows including moonroof
Poorboys Bold N Bright Tire Gel on tires
Gtechniq L1 Leather Guard on seats
Gtechniq I1 Fabric Guard on carpet
Gtechniq C6 Matte Dash on interior plastic trim