2021 marks the twelfth model year that the current generation of Toyota 4Runner has been available for purchase in the United States, making it one of the longest-lived vehicles on sale here. In defiance of typical norms, each of the last three years have seen higher sales volume than that of any year prior, with prior meaning not just of this generation, but ever, currently hovering around 130,000 units per year. It ranks as one of the most durable and admired vehicles that Toyota makes and boasts one of the highest resale value percentages of any vehicle sold in North America.
There have been many different versions sold over the years of this generation, however the basics have remained the same, with only one powertrain option available since the 2011 model year. There was a minor restyle over half a decade ago, and as of 2015 there has also been a TRD Pro version available. This represents the pinnacle of the 4Runner lineup and we were fortunate enough to have one sent to us last week to play around with.
With the kind of success it’s been having some might think that the 4Runner is clearly at the sharp end of the market, fitted with the latest and greatest tech and constantly being upgraded to remain at the forefront of new trends. Nothing could be further from the truth although there has been a regular stream of small changes over the years including again this year. The secret sauce mainly appears to be precisely that it is a known quantity, a stolid steward of the Toyota predictability mantle, and perhaps even a harbinger of those mythical good old days. The windshield might even feature just a little rose tinting if you squint a little.
Like the Jeep Wrangler, which the 4Runner obviously competes with, it has managed to be evergreen and like that vehicle it is long lived, popular on both the new and used markets, and used for the same pursuits. Ranging from the daily school run and/or commute for some to adventuring on the weekends or pushing things to see precisely how far one can get away from it all while hopefully returning under its own power for others (and both for many), it’s sort of a “do anything” sort of vehicle without being ostentatious and remaining very approachable to everyone.
The styling of the 4Runner in general is solid, chunky, and without much pretense, it looks tough, rugged, and very much Body-On-Frame. The amount of time it has now been since the last refresh has even made the so-called “Predator Face” less menacing and more familiar.
With the TRD Pro version though I find that they have absolutely nailed “The Look”, adding the bare minimum of accessories to give it more visual presence while not adding anything not serving a purpose (well, besides the hood scoop). Sure, some people will add a ladder to the back or side, maybe swap out bumpers or even the wheels and tires, but only to add to the functionality or individuality, rather than due to it absolutely being necessary.
As with many of the other TRD Pro models we’ve reviewed this year, this one is also painted Lunar Rock, this being 2021’s “feature” color; the TRD line has a different one every year, along with a few other choices that are available besides and usually carry over. Toyota also offers lighter duty TRD-branded versions of both the 4Runner as well as some of its other vehicles including the RAV4.
Above for example pictured in all off-roader’s natural habitat prior to hitting the trails, i.e. the parking lot in front of Starbucks, is a RAV4 TRD Offroad in the same Lunar Rock color. I believe only BOF vehicles are eligible for the full-on TRD Pro moniker but the halo spreads wide.
There are of course also different versions of the 4Runner available, everything from the most basic SR5 model with cloth interior and RWD (4WD optional), up through multiple versions with different features, some special or limited editions, a couple of lighter duty TRD-branded versions, a luxury oriented one with large shiny wheels, running boards, and full-time AWD, all in addition to this one.
Toyota limits production of the TRD Pro and as such they are often spoken for before even being built. Dealers get a limited allocation, all of which serves to keep values high. On the other hand, some of the more basic 4Runners are even seen in rental fleets, surely those companies have figured out that buying reliable and popular vehicles with stellar resale value is a winning proposition.
Every 4Runner is sold with the same engine, a 4.0l V-6 which is mated to a 5-speed automatic transmission. Producing 276hp @ 5,600rpm and 278lb-ft of torque @ 4,400rpm, this is a stout engine that while by no means makes the 4Runner objectively quick, does give off a very willing character and is competitive with other similarly sized vehicles.
It seems perfectly content to twist its heart out all day long to keep going at elevated speeds or on highways at higher elevations. Or both. Or to pull its way up a steep incline or brake itself down a steep dropoff. And no, the engine isn’t mounted way off-center, just the cover is that way for some reason. In the first year of this generation (2010) there was also a 4-cylinder offered, however it was dropped after that first year, never to return.
Somewhat gruff, not especially quiet, and with a (thankfully apparently optional but not mentioned anywhere on my copy of the Monroney sticker) TRD special exhaust that’s annoyingly drony while accelerating (although not so at a steady cruise), the engine is well matched to the when compared to the competition somewhat outdated transmission. While the five speeds on offer do not do anything to help its somewhat alarming fuel economy, they are well spaced and shifts are quick as well as timed perfectly, rare is the feeling that it is not in the appropriate gear for the particular condition.
The powertrain grows on you over a short while and lets you focus on the adage that getting there is half the fun. The mechanicalness of it all is also welcome, perhaps a reminder of how things used to be in all respects. The transmission can also be controlled manually via moving the shifter over to a manual fore/aft gate.
The 4WD system is also delightfully robust and old-school with its manually shifted transfer case. I was able to use the 4WD multiple times both while taking most of the photos as well as during a snowstorm the last couple of days I had it and it helped to keep everything on the straight and narrow.
I never though had need to lock the rear differential or use the various traction aid devices including a crawl control mode or the terrain mode, just pull the lever back into 4HI and let’er rip. The lever did move in and out of 4WD easier than the most recent Wranglers that I’ve driven as well as my own with less force being needed.
The cabin is roomy without being large if that makes sense, pretty much the right size. The seats are large, comfortable and covered in Softex imitation leather with the TRD logo embroidered into the headrests as well as featuring red stitching. Powered and heated, it only took one try to get it to a perfect configuration with the lumbar support set “just so” and then was left that way all week.
Surprisingly considering its relationship to the Tacoma line, the cabin here has more headroom, even with the sunroof my head was (barely) clear of the surround and I did not feel vertically challenged by it. Also as opposed to the Tacoma for example, the 4Runner has a smart key system with push button start, so at least that aspect doesn’t feel 20th century.
The seating position too felt more upright (if not exactly dining-room chair like), and everything fell to hand easily besides the power windows and locks which are for some reason located on top of the window sill. The dashboard and much of the plastic furnishings are hard but at least feature an interesting texture and the pieces that you are really likely to touch are in fact very soft (center console lid/armrest and door panel sections), again in black with red stitching.
The plastics as in most Toyotas don’t feel cheap and everything fit together like Lego. There’s one piece of fake metallic trim just ahead of the passenger which does a very good impression of heavily brushed stainless steel until it’s touched and revealed as obviously plastic.
The TRD Pro model gets a premium 8″ center touchscreen which feel enormous since you’re relatively close to it, it’s the standard Toyota system shared with much of the line featuring menu buttons on the sides and then a plethora of things to do and see with it. As opposed to some other systems with this size screen it also allows multiple informational items to display at once in different quadrants.
This includes navigation that worked fine on paved surfaces but didn’t display some fairly major unpaved county-maintained roads such as the one in many of these pictures even when zoomed in all the way. At one point I got a bit lost and had to rely on my phone for guidance. As is finally the case with pretty much everything Toyota nowadays, Apple CarPlay and AndroidAuto are on board as well though and being a top trim, a 15-speaker JBL Premium sound system including amp and subwoofer comes along too.
Further down the center stack are the in this case dual automatic climate controls that work with large and soft-surfaced but snug-fitting knobs and big, easy to read buttons.
Being an older platform there is no wireless charging pad, so stowing the phone involved either shoving it into one of the cupholders or a narrow-ish slot ahead of them, but there is a USB media port, two charge ports for USB cables and a 12V outlet in the cabin. Little cubbies seem to abound, in addition to that narrow one there are also little shallow pockets in the doors about halfway up ahead of the door pull, along with a large glovebox and door pockets, and several somewhat odd-shaped bins/cubbies within the center stack itself.
Up above ahead of the sunroof is another control area that contains the Multi-Terrain Select knob, rear diff lock, A-Trac button, and Crawl Control that lets the car stay at a set but adjustable speed while the driver just controls the steering.
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