Toyota has been producing SUVs for decades, and the 4Runner truly embodies the meaning of sport utility vehicle. Born from a modification to a 1980s Land Cruiser, the OG 4Runner was essentially a pickup truck with a rear cover and extra seats, but since then, it has evolved into one of the most popular SUVs for offroading and overlanding.
4Runners combine Toyota’s top-of-the-line offroad technology with the comfort and reliability necessary for a daily driver. In this article, we’ll take a look at some features of the latest model 4Runner, the pros and cons of 4Runners for overlanding, and three owners will give their honest feedback.
Features and Specs for the latest Toyota 4Runner
The base model 2020 4Runner starts at about $36,000, which is around $4,000 more than the comparable base model Jeep Grand Cherokee but roughly $16,000 less than a base model 2020 Land Rover Discovery. However, the 4Runner TRD Pro (the most capable and most expensive model of the 4Runner) starts at a heftier $50,000.
In the interest of extreme overlanding capability, let’s take a look at what comes standard with the 2020 4Runner TRD Pro.
Firstly, it features oversized FOX high-performance shocks with rear remote reservoirs and front springs which give you a gentle ride over even the most rugged terrain. The body-on-frame SUV is protected by a ¼-inch aluminum skid plate up front.
Next up, the SUV features unique matte black 17-inch alloy wheels with Nitto Terra Grappler all-terrain tires, which provide a comfortable ride on-road as well as excellent traction off-road.
The TRD Pro also features a power rear window, all-weather floor mats, and an available sliding rear cargo deck which can hold up to 440 pounds of gear. The upgraded infotainment center and appearance of the gauge clusters give you a stunning interior look and allow you to connect to all the latest technology.
The comfort features in the latest and greatest 4Runner TRD Pros are quite swanky: an 8-way power adjustable driver’s seat with power lumbar support and driver’s seat memory settings, and a 4-way adjustable passenger seat. Both front seats are heated and ventilated so you will be comfortable no matter the temperature.
Have a lot of gear to haul? Not a problem, with the fold-flat (and reclinable) second row of seating. When the seats are down, you can enjoy almost 90 cubic feet of storage space. If you want to bring the whole crew out on an adventure, you can select optional third-row seating to fit seven people.
Now, for the offroad capability: you can choose between part-time 4WD with Active Traction Control (A-TRAC), or full-time 4WD with A-TRAC and Torsen locking differential which distributes power evenly to both of your rear wheels regardless of whether one is off the ground. The Multi-terrain Select feature allows you to choose between four modes based on your current terrain, in order to reduce wheelspin.
Crawl Control is designed to intelligently modulate the throttle and brakes on five different settings, so you can focus solely on driving in strenuous terrain.
Hill Start Assist Control (HAC) helps keep your SUV from rolling backward on a steep hill as you switch from the brake to the accelerator, while Downhill Assist Control (DAC) applies the brakes as needed to control your speed on steep, slippery, or unpredictable hill descents.
The 4Runner is also designed to be incredibly tough, and it’s one of the last SUVs on the market to still employ the superior body-on-frame construction design. It comes with a 4.0-liter V6 engine that has 270 horsepower and 278 lb-ft of torque, which, according to the owners I spoke with, leaves something to be desired in terms of power.
Reassuringly, all 4Runner models come with a full-size spare tire mounted underneath the rear bumper so you can have peace of mind while offroading.
4Runners are also excellent as daily drivers, and as such, they have several safety systems in place, including the Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection which will alert you to potentially dangerous situations and even brake for you if necessary. Dynamic Radar Cruise Control allows you to maintain a constant speed that will automatically be adjusted if a vehicle in front of you is going slower.
Lane Departure Alert helps keep you centered in your lane at all times. Finally, the Automatic High Beams feature detects the headlights of oncoming vehicles and adjusts the intensity of your beams as necessary to avoid distracting other drivers while providing you with the maximum amount of light.
However, keep in mind that there is an abundance of aftermarket parts and accessories available for Toyota 4Runners, so even if you opt for a more affordable base model, you can upgrade certain components to give your SUV additional capability.
I spoke with Steve (@anchr3d), an individual who goes by Ghostly (@ghostly.t4r), and Dan (@rept4rpro) about their experiences owning 4Runners and asked them about the pros and cons of these vehicles for overlanding.
The general consensus between the three owners was that they loved their vehicles, most specifically for the ability 4Runners have to perform on offroad trails as well as to be comfortable and functional enough to serve as a daily driver.
Steve’s list of pros for his 4Runner included that the vehicle has ample storage space so he can pack and load everything he needs, and it’s capable and reliable enough for all of his adventure as well as daily driver needs.
He also told me that he enjoys being able to fold down the seats and sleep in the back of the 4Runner while camping if the weather gets bad, and that his vehicle is extremely comfortable, even for long drives.
Ghostly mentioned reliability and comfort as well, plus the plethora of customization options and aftermarket parts and accessories available for 4Runners. Another big pro for him was the vehicle comes standard with 4×4.
Dan’s pros were along the same lines as well. He shared that his favorite aspects are “the incredible realizability you get with Toyota, the body-on-frame build of the 4Runner, the ability to be a comfortable daily driver and/or family vehicle as well as an offroad vehicle, [and] Toyota’s offroad technology.”
All three of the owners I talked with mentioned that the 4Runner is underpowered and generally slow in terms of responsiveness.
Steve also mentioned that his 4Runner seems a bit antiquated in terms of overall performance and luxury touches, and that the fuel economy leaves something to be desired. However, he further noted that these cons do not significantly detract from his overall satisfaction with the vehicle.
In addition to noting the lack of power, Ghostly also pointed out the outdated cluster instruments of his 2017 model, saying that he wishes he had the updated infotainment center and gauge layout of the 2020 4Runner.
Dan had similar sentiments, stating, “The price is insane for the features you get (like no LED headlights for starters), the 4Runner is very slow and has quite a bit of throttle lag, and the fuel economy is very subpar.”
I asked Steve, Ghostly, and Dan to give me some background information on their 4Runners and for any advice for potential purchasers. Here is what they had to say…
1. What year is your 4Runner?
Ghostly: 2017 SR5
Dan: 2020 TRD Pro
2. How did you decide on the 4Runner over all other vehicles?
Steve: “For me, it was just what I grew up around (like a lot of people). I’ve always wanted a car capable of adventure and the ability to get you there. The overall reliability, lifespan, capability, looks, and interior space were a big deciding factor for me ultimately.”
Ghostly: “I went with the 4Runner because it was actually my dream car. I love the looks of it, the Toyota reliability, the functionality of flattening the second and third row seats. I’d get the 4Runner again.”
Dan: “I have owned numerous Toyotas in my past and they have always been extremely reliable and held amazing resale value. There are only so many truly offroad-ready vehicles and the 4Runner was a better everyday and family vehicle than a Jeep.”
3. Have you owned any other offroad/overlanding vehicles previously? If so, how did they compare to your 4Runner?
Steve: “Yes. A 2008 Toyota Tundra. It was great and had tons of power, but I didn’t ever need the bed and it was too big of a vehicle for my needs.”
Ghostly: “I’m only 23 years old and this is my first ever car.”
Dan: “Yes, I owned three TRD Pro Tundras and an FJ Cruiser. The 4Runner is a narrower (and overall smaller) vehicle than the Tundra, making it easier to make my way through tighter trails plus the 4Runner offers more offroad technology, etc.: A-TRAC, locking differential, terrain select and most importantly Crawl Control. The FJ Cruiser had all the same technology but isn’t offered in Toyota’s current line-up.”
4. Can you give me a quick overview of any modifications/custom elements you’ve added?
Steve: “My goal when modifying my truck was to keep it clean, simple, and practical (as possible). So far I’ve added these upgrades:
- FrontRunner 3/4 roof rack
- Gobi hatch ladder
- Rhino Rack Sunseeker 2.0 awning
- Pioneer AVH-4400NEX head unit w/ wireless CarPlay
- Philips 4300K HID headlight bulbs
- King Shocks 2.5 extended travel OEM performance shocks
- Icon Delta Joint UCAs
- Dobinsons 701 rear coils
- Timbren Industries active rear bump stops
- Durobumps front bump stops
- Stealth Custom Series Ray 10 wheels
- Cooper STT Pro tires
- RSG Offroad sliders”
Ghostly: “Currently running 315/12.5/R17 Firestone mt2 tires with King Shocks suspension paired with Dirt Kings UCA. For armor, I have C4Fab’s lo pro aluminum bumper. For lights, I have kustom54lighting’s Ab6 custom headlights made just for me.”
Dan: “I have added Rago Fabrication modular storage throughout the vehicle to make up for the lack of storage they come with. Added a Prinsu Design roof rack for the ability to mount recovery gear, tools, and other features like my CVT Summit awning or tent. I added wheel spacers to widen the track of the vehicle so it didn’t have as much body roll.
A 2” lift was also installed for a little added wheel clearance and more appealing stance. Added LED headlights for more visibility (more lights on order). I had the 4Runner ceramic coated to help prevent the paint from getting pinstriped on the trails and for an easier cleanup.”
5. Are there any other relevant details or pieces of advice you’d like to share?
Steve: “Always do your research on what you want and need, but remember it’s ultimately what YOU want and need and not what others think when deciding on the right truck for you or the mods you want to do.
Also, don’t forget to go use your truck to explore or have fun. Driving (mobility in general) is such an overlooked liberty we take for granted in such a busy world. There’s just so much open road and trails to try and cover in a lifetime.”
Ghostly: “The secret piece of my build that I could run 35s without any high clearance bumper cut is because I’m using Bandiworld’s 1” body lift for extra clearance. Also bought a hood scoop from my local Toyota dealership and had it installed for me.”
Dan: “Advice… save your money before buying one of these vehicles, because there is soooo much stuff you’re going to want to buy for it. The modifications are endless.”
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that the Toyota 4Runner is an outstanding choice if you are looking for a vehicle that can be used both for gnarly overlanding as well as a safe and comfortable daily driver.
All three of the 4Runner owners I spoke with did have some cons about their vehicle, but nothing that would preclude them from purchasing the vehicle again. The overwhelmingly positive feedback more than outweighed the potential cons of the 4Runner for overlanding.
Featured image credit (top of post): Steve @anchr3d
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Cat is originally from Seattle, WA but has traveled around the US and Canada full-time in a self-converted school bus with her boyfriend Aaron since April of 2018. She enjoys rock climbing, paddleboarding, hiking, and generally being outdoors!