How Capable Are 2WD 4Runners? Everything You Need To Know

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The 4×4 Toyota 4Runner is world-renowned for its exceptional capabilities both on and off the road. However, what if you’re in the market for a 4Runner and questioning if you should buy a 2WD? What if you already own one and are wondering what your vehicle is really capable of? Look no further, because in this article I’ll be filling you in on everything there is to know about the 2WD 4Runner.

As a general rule, a 2WD 4runner will take you to most of the places you want to go. It isn’t as capable as a 4WD model, however. 4WD will give you that extra push you need to take on bigger challenges as well as extra peace of mind in less than ideal conditions.

The 2WD 4Runner is absolutely going to get you started down any road, trail, or obstacle that you may encounter on your adventures, but when the going gets tough, the tough get a 4WD. This isn’t to speak ill of the trusty 2WD though – at the end of the day, it’s extremely capable in its own right. Let’s get into it.

Tips for taking a 2WD 4runner off-roading

It’s the question every prospective buyer and owner wants to know: If I buy a 2WD, will I be able to off-road with my 4×4 buddies, or are they going to be winching me down the trail? Well, as it turns out the answer is somewhere in the middle. So, what can you expect?

Avoid deep mud and large rocks

For starters, you’re going to want to avoid thick mud for the most part. Light mud isn’t going to be a problem in most circumstances, especially with the right tires, but when you find yourself looking over your hood at a deep mess of thick mud it’s in your best interest to either go around or head back out. That’s not to say you’ll never make it through, but the odds are definitely against you.

A quick and easy way I’ve found to test a mud-hole you’re unsure about is to take a big stick and push it down until it stops, then pull it back out. If the mud covers more than a quarter up your tire wall, it may be something you want to steer clear of.

Another notoriously tricky obstacle for us 2WD warriors is rocks. Unfortunately, the thrills of rock-climbing just aren’t for us. Trying to get the front end over steep rocks is, in many cases, just not feasible without the assistance of the front wheels helping to pull you over. If you can, look for trails in your area that are rock-free, and you should be just fine.

Bring another vehicle with you for recovery

This is what I consider to be the second most important part of this section: go with a friend. We’ve all done it at least once – you see a trail you want to go down but you’re by yourself, or you have a great weekend of off-roading planned and everyone canceled but you still want to go. Do yourself a favor and stay home. Trust me, I hate to say it but it’s just better to wait in the long run.

I made this mistake after first getting my 4Runner and ended up waiting 2 hours for someone to come help me out after I got myself bottomed out on a log. Long story short: not a fun experience.

Now, we’ve come to the most important piece of advice I can give here, and it’s a lot simpler than you may think:

Just use common sense.

If you find yourself looking at an obstacle and asking “Should I really be attempting this?” then you’ve already got your answer. I know that doesn’t sound as fun as just sending it, but trust me you’ll be saving yourself and your vehicle a lot of trouble if something were to go wrong. The 4Runner that makes it off the trail lives to wheel another day!

I know it may sound like it’s all doom and gloom based on what I said previously, but trust me that couldn’t be further from the truth! First of all, not every trail needs 4WD and it’s not even close. Your 4Runner, while 2WD, is much more capable than you may think. Hills, ruts, dirt, and even shallow mud are all obstacles that you can push through with ease.

This video is a great example of what a 2WD 4runner is capable of: 

Invest in traction boards or a winch

There’s also the gear you’ll be bringing along and the way you’ve outfitted your 4Runner. Having a set of traction boards can give you the extra traction you need when you find your tires spinning, or having a winch when you’re in a sticky situation.

Tires and a suspension lift can make life easier as well, especially if you go the extra step and install a rear locker like the one offered by ARB. A locking rear differential can make all the difference between getting through a mud pit and getting stuck in a mud pit. 

Understand your rig’s strengths and weaknesses

Once again the last tip is simple, use your head! I drive an ‘03 4Runner Limited 2WD with the 4.7l V8, with a 2.5” suspension lift from Bilstein, medium duty coils front and rear from Old Man Emu, and 285/70/17 Cooper Discoverer AT3 all-terrain tires.

Running this set-up, I have yet to come across a trail I couldn’t conquer as long as I thought things out and was realistic about what I was going to be able to accomplish.

Remember guys, in many cases it’s not all about the vehicle you’re in, it’s the person behind the wheel that matters. If you’re confident but realistic about what your 2WD 4Runner can do, then you’re going to be just fine on any trail you come across.

The benefits of buying a 2WD 4Runner

So, why would you want to buy a 2WD 4Runner in the first place? There are a few advantages you might not have thought about:

  • They’re cheaper
  • Require less maintenance
  • Better fuel economy
  • 4WD isn’t necessary for everyone

For starters, there’s the price. For example, if you look on Toyota’s website for a new SR5 4runner you’ll notice the price difference isn’t that big; a 2WD SR5 will run you about $40K USD and the 4WD SR5 is around $42K USD.

That doesn’t seem so bad until you see the dealer mark-ups and resale value. A used 2022 2WD SR5 can sometimes cost you $5K-$10K less than a used 4WD of the same year.

The buying price isn’t the only cost to consider either, because maintenance cost and effort have to be considered as well. By nature, there are fewer things to break and work on with a 2WD than with a 4WD because there are fewer moving parts.

Gas mileage is another key factor. A 2WD weighs slightly less than a 4WD vehicle and therefore will burn a little less gas and save you a few bucks when you fill your tank. It may not be much, but every dollar counts when it’s a dollar you get to keep.

Whether you have a 2WD or 4WD 4runner, this article has some tips on how to improve your fuel economy:

In all reality, it also comes down to simply buying what you need as well. Do you plan to always stay on the road, or hit the dirt very minimally? You can’t go wrong with a 2WD – it’ll get you where you need to go without the added cost of features you’ll never find yourself using.

Downsides of owning a 2WD 4Runner

Having a 2WD does come with some disadvantages:

  • Not as capable off-road
  • Less usable in winter weather
  • Lower resale value

First, you’re obviously not going to perform as well off-road. It shouldn’t stop you from getting out there and having a good time on the trails, but more often than not you’ll have to sit out some of the things that your buddies with 4WD can get through.

I also wouldn’t recommend buying a 2WD if you live in an area where it gets snowy and icy during the winter. I’m lucky enough to live in a place where I don’t have this issue, but I’ve heard plenty of horror stories of people losing traction in snow and ice and ruining their vehicle, (and sometimes taking out other’s rides as collateral damage).

A 4WD gives you the extra traction you need to stay safe in these environments and that’s something a 2WD can’t give you.

There’s also resale value to consider. If it’s not a vehicle you plan to drive ‘til it dies, then you’re probably planning to sell it at some point down the road.

There are a lot of people looking for a 4WD, especially when buying a 4Runner and because of that, you can ask much more for the vehicle when you sell it. The 2WD version typically doesn’t hold value in the same way because it isn’t as desired as the 4WD.

What generations did Toyota offer the 4Runner in 2WD?

You may be surprised to hear, but Toyota has actually offered the 4Runner in a 2WD variant since 1989 when the second generation of 4Runners hit the market. They have offered a 2WD in every generation since, and so far have not announced any plans to change that. 

1st Generation (1984-1989)4WD only
2nd Generation (1990-1995)2WD or 4WD models available
3rd Generation (1996-2002)2WD or 4WD models available
4th Generation (2003-2009)2WD or 4WD models available
5th Generation (2010-2023+)2WD or 4WD models available

It’s worth noting that 2WD 4runners weren’t sold in Canada. It’s probably safe to assume that had something to do with the winter season most provinces experience.

Final word

All in all, the 4WD 4Runner has an edge over the 2WD in more serious off-road conditions and snowy environments especially, but the 2WD counterpart is still a capable and amazing vehicle. If that’s the only model you’re able to get your hands on, it’s certainly worth considering!

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