Is A 4runner A Truck? The Age-old Arguments For And Against




4runner pickup truck rendering

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It’s time for another polarizing article here on Canadian Gearhead. Today we’re going to dive into whether or not you should be referring to your Toyota 4runner as a car or truck. It’s not quite as simple as you might think.

Technically speaking, a Toyota 4runner is considered a Sport Utility Vehicle (or SUV). This category stands on its own although SUVs are very similar to pickup trucks. With a body on frame, solid rear axle, and the ability to tow/haul, a 4runner is essentially a pickup truck without a bed.

What does the word “Truck” even mean?

The literal definition of the word “Truck” according to is:

  • Any of various forms of vehicle for carrying goods and materials
  • Any of various wheeled frames used for transporting heavy objects

So what we can gather from that is simply that a truck is used to tow or haul heavy objects. To say that a 4runner is not a truck because it doesn’t have a bed would be inaccurate in that case. We consider tractor-trailers and cargo vans trucks, yet most of those are enclosed in the rear.

The 4runner is a member of the Toyota truck family – or is it?

Toyota trucks are often talked about because of their legendary reliability and high resale value. This group of vehicles typically includes models like the Tacoma, Tundra, 4runner, Sequoia, and Land Cruiser. These are all built similarly and serve a different purpose. The point is, most people consider these to be “Toyota Trucks”.

Does Toyota agree though? I mistakingly assumed that they would. A quick look at both and though, shows that they actually don’t. Toyota lists the 4runner and Sequoia under “Crossovers and SUVs” and surprisingly “SUVs and Minivans” on the Canadian site.

Lifted 4th gen 4runner

This doesn’t necessarily end the argument here though. We have to decide whether an SUV should be referred to as a truck. Keep in mind, the term “SUV” counts for vehicles like the Expedition, Tahoe, Suburban, and Wrangler. More car-like models like the Toyota Highlander are considered “Crossovers”.

Let’s take a look at a few of the arguments for and against the 4runner being a truck.

It has a body on frame construction

In a world of unibody cars, wagons, and crossovers, the 4runner is included in the ever-shrinking group of true body on frame vehicles. This is the same design as nearly every single pickup truck ever sold, aside from the Honda Ridgeline (and I’m not touching that topic with a 10-foot pole).

The first and second generation Toyota 4runners actually shared the same frame with the Tacoma pickup truck. That ended when the third generation came out. Yes, the frames are still similar but they aren’t exactly the same.

The 4runner is still very truck-like because of its body on frame design. Most crossovers that are marketed as adventure vehicles nowadays are unibody designs. The 4runner’s frame might make it ride rougher and have less headroom, but it also allows it to tow a decent amount of weight quite well. That is a very truck-like characteristic.

4runners don’t have a pickup truck bed

This is the biggest reason why people think a 4runner shouldn’t be considered a truck and it’s true, they have an enclosed cargo area rather than a box. Here’s something interesting though: keeping the definition of a truck in mind (transporting heavy items), the payload ratings for the 4runner and Tacoma aren’t far off. Take a look at the specs in regards to towing and hauling:

4th Generation 4runner (2003-2009)2nd Generation Toyota Tacoma (2005 – 2015)
Payload1,260 – 1,285 lbs1,370 – 1,640 lbs
Towing Capacity5,000 lbs6,500 lbs
Curb Weight4,280 lbs3550 – 4220 lbs

Those numbers are for comparable V6 models. Stepping up to a V8 4runner brings the towing capacity to 7,000 lbs which is actually a bit more than the Tacoma.

A vehicle doesn’t need to have a pickup bed in order to be considered a truck. A “Pickup Truck” needs to have a pickup bed. But that’s a specific type of truck and so is an SUV. Think of it like this:

Parts are interchangeable with trucks

Certain parts like suspension, wheels, and brakes are found throughout the Toyota truck lineup. The 4runner, Tacoma, FJ Cruiser, Tundra, Sequoia, GX470, LX470, and Land Cruiser all have parts that can be swapped back and forth (depending on model year). If the 4runner was car-based, that wouldn’t be the case.

This proves that the 4runner is built with some truck components. Imagine trying to bolt a set of Camry wheels onto your 4runner – that wouldn’t even come close to working. Yet you can swap upper control arms from a Tacoma onto a 4runner easily.

4runners have coil springs, not leaf springs

The rear suspension of the 4runner is different than the Toyota pickup trucks. They have leaf springs while the 4runner has coils (or airbags on some models). Does that mean it isn’t a truck after all?

I don’t believe it does. There are plenty of modern pickup trucks that use coil springs or airbags in the rear (like Rams, for example) and they’re certainly still considered to be trucks. It’s likely the reason why the 4runner has a slightly lower payload rating than the Tacoma and also why they ride a little smoother when unloaded.

4runner license plate registration

This one is interesting. Here in Ontario, 4runners (and other SUVs) are issued regular car license plates. Pickup trucks have a different colored plate. This clearly points toward the 4runner not being considered a truck, at least in the eyes of the government.

Yet some American states do the opposite and issue truck plates to a 4runner. Some also register it as a wagon which really confuses things. It’s odd that our governments don’t agree on this. I suppose that legally, whether or not your 4runner is a truck depends on where you live. Very strange.

Final word

One thing we can all agree on is that the Toyota 4runner is a Sport Utility Vehicle. The problem is that even the abbreviation “SUV” is longer and less natural to say than the single-syllable words like “car” or “truck.

An SUV is much closer in comparison to a truck than it is to a car, so if we have to make the leap to something that’s easier to say, “truck” is the clear winner. A 4runner is an SUV and an SUV is a category of truck, just like a pickup.

I’d love to hear your arguments if you disagree so make sure to head down to the comments below!

3 responses to “Is A 4runner A Truck? The Age-old Arguments For And Against”

  1. Pantouf Avatar


  2. Karen Mix-Valle Avatar
    Karen Mix-Valle

    I refer to my Forerunner as a truck, I have had people say its not, but it is to me ????

  3. Matt Syler Avatar
    Matt Syler

    Definitely a truck. No question.

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