The Toyota 4runner and Tacoma are two of the most popular 4×4 vehicles of all time. They’ve earned this reputation by offering versatile capability along with legendary reliability. While I believe most of us Toyota enthusiasts respect all of the models, there has indeed been a long-standing rivalry with people questioning which is better – the Tacoma or the 4runner.
I’m in a relatively unique position in which I’ve owned very comparable 4runner and Tacoma models for the last 3+ years. This article will focus more specifically on the 4th generation 4runner and the 2nd generation Tacoma as those are the models I personally switch between every day.
I’m going to break down how these 2 trucks stack up across a bunch of different comparisons. One thing is for sure, these trucks are not identical like many people believe!
4th Gen 4runner and 2nd Gen Tacoma Overview
Despite the different generations, both of these trucks (and I believe they can both be considered trucks as per this article) are a close comparison. The 4th Gen 4runner spanned from 2003-2009 and the 2nd Gen Tacoma was sold from 2005-2015.
Both models received “facelift” upgrades partway through their lifespan. The 4runner was updated in 2006 and the Tacoma saw a refresh later in 2012.
These changes were largely aesthetic with new headlights, grilles, front bumpers, and tail lights. The 4runner was given a more noticeable change to the shape of its fenders (from a straight edge to curved) while the Tacoma’s fenders stayed the same throughout the generation.
While not technically built on the same platform (the frames are slightly different), the 2nd Gen Tacoma and 4th Gen 4runner share many similar parts. They were both available with the same 4.0L V6 engine and many components are interchangeable like front suspension, brakes, and wheels.
Check out my in-depth video of all the similarities and differences between the 4runner and Tacoma here:
Performance Figures and Driveability
Let’s compare what my experience has been like owning these two great trucks, starting with their performance. They both had 2 different engines available – the Tacoma offered a smaller 2.7L 4-cylinder while the 4runner offered a larger 4.7L V8. Both trucks shared the same 4.0L V6 engine in the middle.
|2nd Gen Tacoma (2005-2015)||4th Gen 4runner (2003-2009)|
|2.7L 4-cylinder (2TR-FE)|
|4.0L V6 (1GR-FE)||4.0L V6 (1GR-FE)|
|4.7L V8 (2UZ-FE)|
All of these engines are considered to be reliable and aside from the 2.7, fairly thirsty. More on that later.
Comparing the performance of my V8 4runner to my V6 Tacoma doesn’t seem fair but if you think about it, they both have the largest engine option available. So while we can all agree that it isn’t exactly apples to apples, it is an understandable comparison. It’s also worth noting that I’ve driven a 4th Gen 4runner with the 4.0L V6 as well.
Despite their somewhat similar horsepower ratings, the straight-line performance of these two trucks is very different. The V8 makes a lot more torque and you can really feel it when getting off the line.
In my experience, the 4runner drives effortlessly both in town and on the highway without breaking a sweat while the Tacoma needs to change gears more often and rev higher for passing power.
This article offers a more detailed comparison of the 4.0L V6 and 4.7L V8:
Neither of these trucks are canyon carvers but I’d give the slight edge to the Tacoma in the handling department. Perhaps it’s the 600 lb lighter weight that makes it feel a bit more nimble and I think the lower center of gravity of the pickup (less heavy metal at roof height) plays a role as well.
Despite the heavier weight, the 4runner definitely wins in the braking department. The Tacoma’s vintage drum brakes are likely to blame for this, even though they typically account for less than 30% of the overall braking power.
Although the Tacoma excels in corners, the 4runner wins in both acceleration and braking.
Towing and Hauling With The 4runner and Tacoma
If you’re in the market for either a pickup or SUV, chances are you could use some utility in your life. So how do the 4runner and Tacoma compare when you put them to work?
Admittedly, my Tacoma doesn’t have a trailer hitch. I did pull a 19-foot camper trailer across the country and through the Rocky Mountains with the 4runner though so I have plenty of experience there.
Let’s take a look at the factory towing ratings for both:
|2.7L 4-cylinder||3,500 lbs|
|4.0L V6||6,500 lbs||5,000 lbs|
|4.7L V8||7,000 lbs|
Neither of these trucks is going to pull a house, but the V6 and V8 models are decent considering their size. Towing is clearly not the 4-cylinder’s forte.
I have to say that there were a few times while I was towing with the 4runner that I couldn’t imagine doing the same with the Tacoma. If I were to tow heavier loads regularly, I’d want to upgrade to a Tundra.
|Engine||Tacoma Payload||4runner Payload|
|2.7L 4-cylinder||1,475 lbs|
|4.0L V6||1,375 lbs||1,285 lbs|
|4.7L V8||1,475 lbs|
What about hauling? Surely, the pickup truck would be a better fit for that, right? Well, in terms of space, it definitely is. When it comes to the payload rating, however, you might be surprised to hear that the V8 4runner is actually rated 100 lbs higher than the V6 Tacoma. Weird!
The V8 4runner is the king in towing and hauling (as long as your items will fit inside).
Off-road Capability: Which is better?
Both the Toyota 4runner and Tacoma are very capable off-road machines. There are countless examples online of both trucks tackling obstacles you never would have dreamed of off-road.
As for which one is better, it really depends on what your version of “off-roading” consists of. Apart from a regular cab Tacoma, the 4runner is going to have a shorter wheelbase. That gives it a better break-over angle and less chance of getting high-centered on a hill or rock.
Sometimes, that longer wheelbase can actually be a benefit. It can be a bit more stable in high-flex situations. There’s a reason why many Jeep owners swear by the “LJ” or 4-door variant of the Wrangler.
There’s an obvious difference in weight distribution between the SUV and pickup truck, but I’m not sure that’s going to come into play for the average person. Both trucks feel very sure on their feet so aside from overloading them improperly, it shouldn’t really be a factor for you.
I will say that it’s possible for a 4runner to feel a little more top-heavy if you’re running a rooftop tent with a bunch of other equipment up high on the roof. The Tacoma has an advantage where you can mount a tent on a bed rack rather than the roof.
I think where it matters more is in how you want to store the gear that you take on the trails with you. If you’d like to be able to lock it up safe from the weather inside the cabin, the 4runner excels there.
I’m tempted to call this one a draw – the 4runner is more nimble, but it’s easier to load the Tacoma up for big trips. Perhaps the deciding factor here is the availability of a factory rear locker.
Since we’re talking about the 4th Gen 4runner here, the rear e-locker was only available in 2009 on the Trail Edition. The e-locker was available on all of the TRD Offroad packages making it much easier to find in a 2nd Gen Tacoma.
Locking differentials make a huge difference off-road, so because of that, I have to hand this one to the Tacoma.
Comparing Fuel Efficiency of the 4runner and Tacoma
Allow me to be blunt here: both of these trucks suck on gas (quite literally). If you’re looking for a fuel-efficient commuter vehicle, I think the Tacoma and 4runner are both bad choices. They have a lot of strengths but gas mileage isn’t one of them.
With that said, it’s interesting to compare these two trucks in a battle of fuel (in)-efficiency. In my personal apples-to-oranges experience, the V6 Tacoma comes out ahead at 16 MPG combined with the V8 4runner a mere 1 MPG behind it at 15 MPG.
Remember, we’re talking about 2 different engines, 2 different tire sizes, and 2 different levels of performance upgrades (the 4runner saved a bunch with its aftermarket headers). So I think it’s more fair to look at the EPA ratings for both models:
|City||Highway||Combined||Fuel Tank Size|
|Tacoma 2.7 I4||18 MPG||24 MPG||21 MPG||21 Gallon|
|Tacoma 4.0 V6||16 MPG||20 MPG||17 MPG||21 Gallon|
|4runner 4.0 V6||16 MPG||20 MPG||17 MPG||23 Gallon|
|4runner 4.7 V8||14 MPG||18 MPG||16 MPG||23 Gallon|
It’s not much of a surprise to see that the 4runner and Tacoma share the same city EPA ratings when equipped with the same 4.0L V6 engine. It is interesting, however, that the pickup truck gets the same highway rating despite the difference in aerodynamics.
I would have imagined that the truck bed would create a certain amount of turbulence compared to the SUV design of the 4runner, but alas, the mighty EPA has spoken.
The other thing worth noting is the slightly larger fuel tank in the 4runner which means you’ll be able to cover a bit more ground before having to stop for gas.
In my world, the Tacoma wins when it comes to fuel economy. When comparing V6-equipped trucks though, the 4runner wins with the same EPA ratings as the Tacoma but a slightly larger fuel tank.
The Difference In Ride Quality:
I’m in somewhat of a unique position in that I drive these 2 trucks back to back on a regular basis. One thing I can tell you is that the driving experience is a bit different between them. To be honest, most of it would likely only be noticeable if you’re driving both of them back to back like I do. Otherwise, they’re actually very similar.
Here are a few of my observations:
The Toyota Corolla and Matrix used to be built on the same assembly line (fun fact, it was roughly 3 Corollas for every Matrix) so you’d assume that these trucks would be too, right? Well, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
The 4runner and Tacoma are actually built in completely different factories across the world from each other. The Tacoma is built in the USA and the 4runner is built in Japan. Why does it matter?
This really does make a difference. While Toyota does indeed set very high standards for the quality of vehicles that leave their factories regardless of where they’re built, they definitely aren’t the same.
North American and Japanese cultures are very, very different. North Americans work to live. They put their minimum mandatory time in at work, anticipating the weekend when they can relax and enjoy their freedom.
In Japan, the people live to work. They take so much pride in everything they do and they do it with precision accuracy. They see a high level of honor in doing the best job they possibly can.
How do I know this? I used to work at a Toyota factory here in Canada. I saw peoples’ attitudes and work ethic firsthand. I was also shown training videos of how they manufacture cars in Japan. It was seriously impressive – those people are machines!
I find that this difference does show itself in the quality of the 4runner and Tacoma. While it does have a few more miles under its belt, our Tacoma has quite a few more squeaks and rattles than the 4runner does.
The 4runner is solid and the fit and finish of everything is fantastic. In contrast, just the other day, the spring in the lever of the Tacoma’s center console randomly shot out at me!
I find the 4runner much easier to see out of, especially when reversing. It’s possible that the Double Cab variant has fewer blind spots, but my Access Cab is certainly worse than the 4runner.
The other issue I have with the visibility is the position of the rearview mirror. I know, that’s a weird complaint. But if you’ve driven a 2nd Gen Tacoma, you probably know what I’m talking about.
It sits too low on the windshield if you’re a taller driver and requires you to duck your head or lean to the side to see past it. At times, I would go as far as to call this dangerous. I’ve read online that people have a way of flipping the mirror to raise it up a bit – I’ll try that and report back.
The Tacoma and 4runner feel very similar driving down the road. You’re holding the same steering wheel and grabbing the same shifter, for the most part. There are a few differences though.
For one, the turning radius is bigger on the Tacoma. My Access Cab with the long bed is quite a bit longer than the 4runner.
|Tacoma (Access Cab, 6’ bed)||127.8”|
18” longer is a big difference and it does show up when you attempt to make a U-turn in a tight area. With that said, I wouldn’t complain about the Tacoma if I wasn’t comparing it directly with the 4runner. Both feel agile enough around town.
On another note, I’ve noticed a very minor “axle wrap” or flex feeling in the rear end when accelerating hard from a dead stop that I don’t feel in the 4runner at all. This is likely related to the leaf springs in the Tacoma vs. the 4runner’s rear coils.
Road noise is worse in the Tacoma, despite the 4runner having a big aftermarket roof rack. Originally, I had assumed it was due to the worn-out door seal on the driver’s door. Since then, I’ve replaced the whole door (which in turn, has a nice, new seal) and the road noise is improved, but not fixed.
The only other thing I’d like to point out is simply that the Tacoma feels a bit more bouncy and darty than the 4runner. This is to be expected from an unloaded pickup truck. It does feel like more of a lightweight (in both good ways and bad) because, well, it is. Check out the curb weight comparison between the 2:
|Tacoma 4.0 V6||3,980 lbs|
|4runner 4.7 V8||4,530 lbs|
550 lbs makes a big difference in how planted a vehicle feels while going down the highway. It also could explain why I feel the Tacoma handles a little better in the corners.
Overall, ride quality is subjective. But in the case of my trucks, the 4runner rides nicer and feels a bit more luxurious. With that said, I’d be very interested to see how a Limited model Tacoma compares.
Interior Space: How Well Do I Fit?
It doesn’t seem fair to compare the interior space of my personal Tacoma and 4runner because they’re not even remotely close. The 4runner wins hands down. But what about a Tacoma with the larger Double Cab option?
Most people that have tested both would agree that a Double Cab Tacoma still doesn’t have the same rear seat space as the 4runner. The thing is, the 4runner isn’t exactly gifted in that department either. So what this really tells us is that the Tacoma is cramped, even in its larger variant.
As far as driver and passenger comfort, these trucks are much more similar with the slight advantage going to the 4runner. The seating position is largely the same for both (although I feel like the driver’s seat can be slid further back in the Tacoma).
Headroom is tough to compare on my trucks because the 4runner has a sunroof and the Tacoma doesn’t – and that makes a big difference. Here are the official stats:
Aside from the headroom, I have to say the Tacoma feels slightly more cramped overall than the 4runner does. At 6’3”, I can technically fit in both comfortably although I wouldn’t want either one to be any smaller, that’s for sure.
While the Tacoma does have decent storage options for a small pickup truck, of course it can’t hold a candle to the cargo area of the 4runner. I think it’s fair to ignore that and focus on the rear seats, forward though.
Even with the Double Cab option, the 4runner wins when it comes to interior space. The rear seats offer more room for teenagers and adults while the rear seats of the Tacoma won’t be comfortable for anyone bigger than a child for long trips.
4runner vs. Tacoma Reliability
We all know that the reliability of both these trucks is phenomenal. No vehicle is perfect though and both have common issues and failure points that are well-documented in the communities.
Things like secondary air injection problems, 4×4 actuators, and rust are issues with both trucks. On that note, I believe that rusty frames are the weakest links on these trucks when they’re driven in areas that use road salt in the wintertime.
While both trucks suffer from frame rust, the Tacoma has a huge advantage here. Toyota offered a frame replacement for any Tacoma that met their criteria a few years back. Basically, a class-action lawsuit was threatened due to premature rust failures and rather than deal with the negative publicity, Toyota chose to pay for Tacoma owners to receive new frames if theirs was rusty.
This did NOT happen with the 4th Gen 4runner, unfortunately. Despite being equally susceptible to premature rust, Toyota did not offer free frame replacements. Recently, there was a class-action suit attempting to get off the ground but Toyota has changed its tune since dealing with the Tacomas – their response was essentially: “Come at me, bruh.”
In my experience, I have to say the Tacoma has been surprisingly more reliable than the 4runner, despite being more neglected and having more mileage. It’s had a few electrical issues (common blower motor and 4×4 issues) but that’s pretty much it aside from regular wear and tear.
The 4runner has had a few check engine and VSC-related lights for various reasons. I’ve dealt with rotten brake lines, power steering lines, seized brake calipers, and a cracked exhaust manifold.
Perhaps the Tacoma has had fewer issues because realistically, it’s a simpler truck with less bells and whistles. Or maybe we’ve driven the 4runner more often in recent years. Regardless, that’s been my honest experience with these trucks.
In terms of reliability, I have to give the edge to the Tacoma. Largely due to the frame replacement and the truck’s simplicity. Don’t get me wrong, the 4runner is extremely reliable too, but the Tacoma is going to sneak the win here.
Winter Driving In The 4runner and Tacoma
This wouldn’t be a Canadian comparison without discussing how these trucks perform in the winter, eh? I’ve driven both of these in pretty much every type of winter conditions and you really can’t go wrong with either (as long as they’re 4×4 variants).
Tire choice is important with both and I have to say the Motomaster Eliminator X-trails I have on the Tacoma are much better in the winter than the Goodyear Duratracs on the 4runner.
Both of these trucks have great ground clearance and solid 4×4 systems so you’d have to mess up pretty badly to get either one stuck in deep snow. In icy or slippery conditions, the V8 4runner performs better thanks to its full-time 4-wheel drive system. No need to shift into or out of 4×4 while you’re driving – just pop the shifter in “D” and you’re free to cruise around at any speed confidently.
As with all pickup trucks, the lack of weight over the rear wheels can cause traction issues in slippery conditions. To me, this is only noticeable in 2WD. Driving the Tacoma in 4×4 in slippery conditions feels very similar to the 4runner’s level of confidence.
The 4runner (specifically with the V8) wins in terms of winter driving. The full-time 4WD is perfectly suited for slippery roads and you can easily lock the center differential to switch to 4×4 for deep snow.
With either truck in a snowstorm, you’re much more likely to be on the pulling end of the tow strap than being rescued!
4runner vs. Tacoma Aftermarket Support
The aftermarket support for both trucks is pretty awesome. There are lots of reputable companies that build really high-quality parts for them. We have lots of options to choose from when it comes to suspension, performance, and styling upgrades.
The communities for fellow owners are equally as great too. T4R.org is the main 4runner forum while Tacomaworld.com serves the Tacoma owners. Both have a few really good Facebook groups and Reddit subsections.
A lot of things are interchangeable for these trucks too – both in terms of information/advice and actual physical parts.
This one is a draw – there’s great support for both trucks out there with a lot of people and companies that are truly passionate about them.
Tacoma and 4runner Resale Value
Toyota trucks tend to be great investments when it comes to holding their value and the 4runners and Tacomas are no exception. It’s actually quite shocking to see what some of these 10+ year-old trucks are listing for on the used market but I truly believe this was the golden era for Toyota trucks.
They’re both simple enough to be reliable, yet offer plenty of features and creature comforts to make great daily drivers. So long as they aren’t rusty or damaged, they’re pretty much always going to be worth something. As the newer trucks get more and more complicated, the desire for these is only going to increase.
In my area, it seems as though the Tacomas are holding their value a bit better than the 4runners. I can’t help but wonder if there’s more to it than just the fact that pickup trucks tend to hold their value better than SUVs.
Could the rusty frame replacements be playing a role here? There certainly are a lot of them out there, and who wouldn’t prefer to buy a truck that had the dealership install a brand-new frame?
The V8 model 4runners definitely sell for more than the V6 ones and for good reason – in the grand scheme of things, they can be considered limited production vehicles. The 4runner has been sold since 1984 and yet the V8 was only offered for the 6 years of the 4th generation.
It doesn’t hurt that the 4.7 V8 is widely respected as one of the smoothest and most reliable engines Toyota has engineered either. The sound and added torque of these 4runners creates a bit of a hot rod and I think there’s definitely potential for them to be collector’s vehicles in the future.
With all that said, it seems like the Tacomas are selling for more than the 4runners so it’ll have to take the win (for now).
Final Word: Should You Buy a 4runner or Tacoma?
Let me begin by saying both of these trucks are fantastic and you really can’t go wrong with buying either one. Their differences, strengths, and weaknesses really come down to your personal opinion and what matters to you most.
If I’m being forced to choose one though, it’ll have to be the 4runner. I’m in love with it. The V8 engine, the build quality, the interior space, etc. are all things that I really appreciate. I drove mine across the country without a single hiccup.
Do I think a Tacoma could do the same thing with the same result? Absolutely. But for as often as I need to use the truck bed, I think the 4runner’s main shortcoming could be remedied by getting a utility trailer to hold large objects often.
Perhaps I need to modify my Tacoma a bit more to see if that evokes a bit more emotion from me. As of now, it feels a bit more like an appliance and lacks character. It’s very dependable and does its job very well – but that isn’t enough to get me excited to drive it.
If you have the chance to buy either of these trucks, I’d highly recommend them. As a matter of fact, I’ve written in-depth buyer’s guides for both: you can read the 4runner guide here and the Tacoma guide here.
Tim is the creator of Canadian Gearhead. His experience with auto detailing and working for Toyota shows through all of the articles posted here. He runs the Canadian Gearhead site and YouTube channel full-time now and currently owns a 2007 4runner, 2006 Tacoma, and 1991 MR2. Read more about Tim: