Toyota 4Runner Overview
While virtually all other medium and big SUVs have evolved into city-oriented vehicles, the Toyota 4Runner holds true to its off-road roots. This is one of the only mid-size SUVs sporting a ladder-type frame, rather than a unibody structure. This Toyota feels more like a truck than an SUV, and it isn’t afraid to get dirty. It achieves low fuel economy for its class, and doesn’t feel as refined as much of the competition, but that’s not what the 4Runner was designed for. It’s rugged and reliable. More than 75% of all 4Runners sold since 1984 are still on the road! From 1985 to today, let’s take a look at the Toyota 4Runner through the years. We’ll dig into the history of this tough Toyota SUV, and applaud Toyota for keeping a mid-size off-road SUV on the market for so long.
Toyota 4Runner Through the Years
1st Generation (1984 ½ – 1989)
- Rather than create an entirely new model for the 4Runner, Toyota modified the Toyota Hilux, adding rear seats, a removable fiberglass canopy, and more.
- The 1984 ½ 4Runner was introduced with a 2.4L 4-cylinder carbureted engine that produced 100 hp.
- One of the most notable features of the 4Runner was the rear glass that rolled down into the tailgate like a traditional passenger window.
- In 1985, Toyota transitioned into an electronically fuel-injected engine that produced 116 hp.
- The Hi-Trac independent front suspension was added in 1986.
- Also in 1986, Toyota added a turbo option.
- 1987 brought a mild exterior design refresh
- Toyota gave the 4Runner a 3.0L V6 option in 1988, which produced around 145 hp.
2nd Generation (1990 – 1995)
- The 4Runner was a hit with vehicle buyers in the 2nd
- Styling changed significantly, available with either 2 or 4 doors.
- The removable fiberglass top was eliminated
- The 4Runner was referred to as a compact SUV, but those without rear seats could be classified as trucks
- Toyota offered the same engines, with RWD or 4WD layouts.
- In 1992, Toyota revised styling with flush headlamps, a new grille, new molding treatments, and optional leather seats.
- By 1994, the 4Runner could be loaded with CD-player, sunroof, anti-lock brakes, and an 8-speaker stereo.
3rd Generation (1996 – 2002)
- In its 3rd generation, this SUV no longer shared body panels or a frame with Toyota’s compact pickup trucks.
- Available with 2WD or 4WD, buyers could choose a 2.7L 4-cylinder or a 3.4L V6 engine.
- The wheelbase grew by 2 inches, and interior space was much improved.
- A coil spring with double wishbone suspension replaced the Hi-Trac system.
- Safety features included dual airbags, side-door impact beams, ALR/ELR seatbelts, and 4-wheel ABS.
- In 1999, Toyota redesigned the front bumper, grille, valence cover, and a variety of interior functions.
- With the optional Sports Package, drivers enjoyed features like color-keyed bumpers, projector fog lamps, new wheel design, hood scoop, and fender flares.
- In 2001, every 4Runner came standard with the 3.4L V6 engine and an automatic transmission, traction control, multi-mode 4WD, and a new interior.
- By 2002, Toyota added a Chrome Package, adding chrome almost everywhere: to the grille, mirrors, door handles, and more.
4th Generation (2003 – 2009)
- After a complete 4th generation redesign, the 2003 Toyota 4Runner was more spacious, powerful, efficient, and comfortable.
- This 4Runner came standard with an all-new aluminum 4.0L V6 that produced 245 hp and 283 lb ft of torque.
- A 4.7L V8 that produced 235 hp and 320 lb ft of torque was available.
- All 4Runners were equipped with Hill-start Assist Control and every 4WD received Downhill Assist Control.
- Toyota added an optional 3rd row seat and a backup camera with navigation in 2004.
- By 2005, the V8 engine’s output increased from 235 hp to 270 hp.
- Also in 2005, the V6 engine’s 4-speed automatic was replaced by a 5-speed auto.
- This SUV underwent a mild interior and exterior design refresh in 2006.
- By 2008, Toyota added safety tech like 1st and 2nd row curtain airbags, vehicle stability control cut off switch, and active front headrests.
- For 2009, the 4Runner was available with 2 new packages: Trail Edition and Urban Runner.
- The Urban Runner edition was an upscale, luxurious version with features like a unique spoiler, chrome-tipped exhaust, integrated Tom Tom navigation, Urban Runner badging, and much more.
- The Trail Edition was for off-roading, adding locking rear differential, Bilstein shocks, Active Traction Control, and more.
5th Generation (2010 – )
- The most recent generation of the Toyota 4Runner features a completely redesigned interior and exterior.
- Rather than conform to soft, city-friendly unibody construction, the Toyota 4Runner maintains it’s truck-like body on frame construction.
- The 4.0L V6 is still the standard powertrain but it now produces 270 hp and 278 lb ft of torque.
- The V8 was eliminated in 2010.
- Toyota also offered a 2.7L 4-cylinder engine, but it was quite rare.
- By the 2014 model year, the new exterior design was clearly Japanese influenced, with many aggressive, angular, and complex lines.
- Toyota introduced a TRD Pro Series in 2015 offering improved, off-road focused front springs, shocks, tires, and more.
- The 2016 4Runner can be loaded with features like satellite radio, iPod connectivity, satellite radio, navigation, Siri Eyes Free, Toyota Entune infotainment, 15-speaker audio, 120V power outlet, auto climate control, push-button start, proximity key, and much more.
- The latest 4Runner can tow up to 5000 pounds, and is often considered to be the best off-roader in its class.