The Toyota 4runner is one of the most popular SUVs of all time. Many of us have become so accustomed to its popularity that we forget what actually makes it such a special vehicle. So what is it about the 4runner that we love so much?
Toyota 4runners are known for being simple, capable off-road, and their reliability is nearly unrivaled. They offer an adventurous image for their owner and hold their value very well. The legendary Toyota truck family’s reputation carries over to the 4runner and it’s certainly deserved.
There are many reasons why we love the 4runner. Of course, there are some people who believe they’re overrated but for the most part, it’s widely accepted that they live up to the hype.
The reputation of Toyota Trucks
The Toyota Truck family has been well known for their dependability and reliability ever since the original model – simply known as the “Toyota Pickup”. They were known for being very basic in design and doing their job well without being flashy or riddled with gadgets.
Toyota took that reputation and ran with it for many years. To this day, many people automatically think “simple and reliable” when a current model is mentioned – and the reality is that they’ve become much more complex since that original pickup.
Still, Toyota trucks continue to prove the claims of being dependable. While they share some quirks and annoying (yet minor) failures, you aren’t likely to be left stranded on the side of the road.
The 4runner serves a purpose among the lineup of Toyota trucks. Now that the FJ Cruiser has been discontinued, it’s the only affordable option for people that would rather have an SUV than a truck bed.
The Sequoia is a great SUV but its size and independent rear suspension make it a better fit for the pavement. The Land Cruiser is just as capable as the 4runner off-road, but it’s much more expensive (and not sold at all in Canada).
That leaves the 4runner for people that love Toyotas and want an off-road SUV. It’s rugged, nimble, and doesn’t cost as much as your house.
The image of 4runner owners
Whether you want to admit it or not, sometimes the vehicle people choose to buy is based on the image that goes along with it. This goes for many platforms like German sedans, diesel trucks, and exotic sports cars.
Owning a 4runner comes with a certain adventurous image. Much like the Jeep Wrangler, owning one is more of a lifestyle for many people. It looks tough and everyone is familiar with its off-road prowess.
Pulling up in a 4runner tells the world that your life is exciting – or at least that’s what some owners like to believe. The unfortunate thing is that much like many other rugged vehicles on the market, the majority of Toyota 4runners will never be taken off-road. People just love the feeling of being able to go anywhere in any condition, even if they only take it to soccer practice and the shopping mall in reality.
Its off-road capability
Yes, it’s obvious but we can’t make it through this list without mentioning the 4runner’s off-road capability. That’s one thing that Toyota has been adamant about keeping as an important feature of this model up to now.
While other vehicles like the Nissan Pathfinder and Chevy Blazer have been reincarnated into car-like cross overs, the 4runner continues to be a bulky, body-on-frame SUV with a solid rear axle and low range transfer case.
Being able to handle all kinds of rough terrain is a big character trait of the 4runner. There are plenty of examples of 4runners surprising people all over the world with what they can handle even in stock form. Choosing to modify them even slightly boosts their abilities even more.
The aftermarket support
The aftermarket parts industry for the Toyota 4runner is great. It might not always offer tons of options to choose from but manufacturers make up for it with very high-quality parts. The 4runner has a big enough following to attract attention from large companies. For example, brands like Fox, King, and Icon all offer suspension kits for the 4runner.
Some of the best products can be found at smaller scale companies though. There are quite a few brands that are owned by fellow off-road enthusiasts that sell things like bumpers, skid plates, and even wheels like SCS. It’s really cool to see parts being developed within the 4runner community and the customer service from places like these is excellent.
Another benefit to parts shopping for a 4runner is the ability to mix and match parts from other platforms like the GX470, 1st gen Tundra/Sequoia, FJ Cruiser, Land Cruiser Prado, Hilux Surf, and even the Tacoma. Not everything is interchangeable but things like wheels and suspension components can usually be swapped out.
This makes availability less of an issue and also opens up the chance to modify your rig while using OEM Toyota parts. For 4th gen 4runners, the stock springs from an FJ will lift them roughly 0.5″ and wheels from a current TRD Pro 4runner or Tacoma will fit too. There are plenty of other parts that can be swapped back and forth as well.
Its balance of on and off-road manners
Yes, the 4runner is great off-road but did you know that they drive really well on-road as well? In the end, it’s still a Toyota and that means it offers a smooth and well tuned ride. It might not handle like a sport sedan or ride as smooth as a land yacht, but the 4runner’s on-road behavior is fantastic for such a rugged vehicle.
4runners are really easy to drive. They’ve got great visibility and a nice tall seating position. Steering is tight and responsive compared to solid front axle trucks. I personally have no problem making the trek home from some trail riding at 75 MPH with one hand on the wheel.
There are no issues with tracking, wind noise, death wobble, or squeaks and rattles. In the case of my Limited 4th gen, it might be muddy on the outside at times but I’ll be enjoying the heated leather seats and JBL audio system on the highway.
That’s one of my favorite aspects of the newer 4runners. You wouldn’t expect them to be such animals off-road judging by how smooth they are on road. That’s an incredible combination and not something many other off-road vehicles can get right.
The 4runner might not be a Cadillac but you can certainly rack up the miles in one without having to worry about fatigue.
Toyota 4runner practicality
Unlike other popular off-road rigs (*cough Jeep Wrangler cough*), the 4runner is good at much more than just 4 wheeling and looking cool. They are very useable as an everyday vehicle.
They have plenty of interior cargo space for all of your gear so you can lock it up safe and sound. Dogs love them not only because they have plenty of space in the hatch, but the rear window rolls down for fresh air.
Most generations and models can tow at least 5,000+ lbs (the V8 4th gens are even better at more than 7,000 lbs!) and have the truck frame beneath them to do it safely. An optional 3rd row on some models of the 4th and 5th gens means hauling a family around is no problem.
Combine all of those things with its all-weather and off-road capability and you have one useable vehicle.
Each generation of 4runner has a different personality
The 4runner is one of those models that has a lot of character. Each generation has a different feeling to it but they all pack lots of charm. The early models were very primitive and basic – things that certain types of owners really enjoy. You could get them with a manual transmission and hand-crank windows. Nowadays, there are Lego cars that come with more moving parts than a 1st gen Toyota.
The 3rd generation 4runner was when they started to become more refined but still very rugged. Many people believe the styling during that era was the best.
The 4th gen 4runner is still believed to be the best one by some people (myself included). It was the only time Toyota offered the 4.7L V8 engine from the Tundra and Sequoia in the 4runner. The low-end torque, the sound, and the towing ability really made these ones unique.
The current 5th gen is obviously the most modern of the bunch and also the most refined. You can choose between a hardcore off-road TRD Pro or Limited model with 20″ wheels – or anything in between. The styling is more controversial but in a way, it’s refreshing when coming from a company that’s known for being blander in that department.
The 4runner’s simplicity
Perhaps the 4runner’s original claim to fame was its simplicity. It was basically a bare bones pickup truck that had a rear seat and a removable roof on top of it. It had the absolute minimum in terms of equipment and in turn, that meant fewer parts to potentially fail.
As the newer 4runners have been updated, they’ve become more complicated. They offer many more tech gadgets and safety features which is a good thing. When compared to the competition though, the 4runner often continues to fall behind in these areas.
If you enjoy all of the latest and greatest tech and complex ways of making more horsepower while burning less fuel, the Toyota 4runner probably isn’t for you.
It uses a variation of the same drivetrain that’s been around forever. It barely keeps up with the others in terms of tech. Even the new 4runners are simple compared to other options on the market. That’s a selling point for people that don’t have any interest in those things and see them as nothing more than something that could possibly break.
The Toyota 4runner’s size
The 4runner is just the right size when it comes to an SUV. Sure, it would be nice to have a bunch more interior space like the SUVs that are based on full-size pickup trucks. But the trade-off to all of that room is the fact that they’re hard to park, difficult to maneuver on tight trails, and have trouble fitting in a garage.
The 4runner has always been on the smaller side but it makes the most of the space it has. They’re just as nimble as the average sedan and you’ll never second guess whether you want to take it downtown where parking is tight.
They’re also big and heavy enough to feel safe and be able to tow a trailer without getting thrown around.
Its resale value
The final reason why 4runners are so popular is a bit confusing if you really think about it. They do indeed hold their value very well on the used market, again because of the reputation of Toyota trucks.
What’s confusing is that most owners are in love with their 4runners and couldn’t dream of selling them. Why would the resale value be important if we don’t plan on selling them? I guess it’s always nice to know that people want what you have. And there’s no question that people want 4runners – that’s for sure.
I receive a lot of emails and comments from people trying to find a good used one. I wish I could help you guys but certain generations are just hard to find. If you already own one, you might want to think twice before selling it – the 4runner is and likely always will be in high demand.
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: