The 2023 Toyota 4Runner will be bought by the thousands this year, but this SUV is old-school all the way.
It’s body-on-frame, with a part-time four-wheel drive system (for most models) and a dated-looking cabin, but that’s not always a bad thing. While it doesn’t have a long-ago price tag, it could be just the ticket for those who want a simple but very rugged sport-utility.
For 2023, all trims get a heated steering wheel, and there’s a 40th Anniversary Special Edition to mark the 4Runner’s four decades in existence. The lineup starts with the base version at $53,780, including a non-negotiable delivery fee of $1,890. I had the top-level and toughest-off-road TRD Pro at $68,950, along with a $255 coat of new-for-2023 Solar Octane paint, bringing it to $69,205 before taxes.
The 4Runner looks as tough as it is, with a blunt nose and squared-off styling. The TRD Sport, Off-Road, and Pro trims add a hood scoop, and the latter further adds a basket-style roof rack – just remember it’s there before pulling into low parking garages. The rear window power-slides all the way down, but the tailgate isn’t power-operated and it’s heavy to open.
The interior is basic, with big buttons and dials for the climate systems, and for functions on the steering wheel. Much of the available console storage space is taken up by the selector lever for the four-wheel drive system, but you get deep door pockets and a generous centre console box.
In crash testing, the 4Runner earned four of a possible five stars overall from the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA); it got five stars for side crash protection, but only four for front crash, and three for rollover. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives it the highest “Good” for all but front driver’s-side crash, which earned “Marginal,” as did the child seat tethers for ease-of-use.
All 4Runner trims come standard with adaptive cruise control, emergency front braking, lane departure alert, automatic high-beam headlights, driver and passenger knee airbags, blind -pot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert, and the rearview camera that’s mandatory on all new vehicles.
In addition to those driver-assist features, every 4Runner includes such items as power-adjustable heated front seats with faux-leather upholstery, a heated steering wheel, dual-zone automatic climate control, power windows (including the one in the back), an auto-dimming rearview mirror, sunroof, and all-season floor mats.
The Limited is the luxury model, but my TRD Pro tester tops the lineup in terms of price. It includes a 360-degree camera system, multi-terrain driving modes, a locking rear differential, and crawl control, which is a low-speed cruise control for off-roading. You also get all that in the lower-priced TRD Off-Road trim, but the Pro further adds rock rails, front aluminum skid plate, and Fox shock absorbers.
While you do have to climb up into this sport-ute, the TRD Pro’s rock rails are well-positioned so they’re not in the way of getting in. The doors open wide for ease of entry, and visibility is good. The simple controls are large and easy to use, with hard buttons to bring up the infotainment menus.
The rear seats fold flat to increase cargo space, but you have to first flip the seat cushions up, instead of a one-touch seat-fold. And while virtually all vehicles now have three-flash-to-pass, where you just tap the turn signal switch and it flashes a few times for lane changes, the 4Runner doesn’t and you have to hold it down to activate the signal. These aren’t major issues, but they do show how old this vehicle’s design is.
The base and Limited trims come with a very tight third row for up to seven-passenger seating, but all others hold five. The main benefit to two rows is a very generous 1,336 L of cargo capacity, and once you get that heavy tailgate open it’s very easy to access it through the large opening. With the rear seats folded, you get up to 2,540 L of space, and they feature a 40/20/40 split, so you can carry long objects in the centre, such as skis, with passengers on either side. The rear wheel wells intrude into the cargo area, but they’re topped with plastic bins so you can stow smaller items in them. Finally, all trims can tow up to 2,268 kg (5,000 lb), and a hitch receiver is standard equipment on all.
The 4Runner’s seats are large and supportive, clad in easy-clean faux-leather and with power adjustment on both front seats. Headroom is similar to that of competitors such as the Honda Passport and Ford Explorer, and while the 4Runner doesn’t have as much rear-seat legroom as those, there’s still space to spread out.
The ride is very firm, but you don’t get the annoying undulation over road imperfections that can be common with heavier-duty off-roaders. The 4Runner is very noisy, both from its engine and road noise, but it is what it is, as the saying goes. This is an old-school and very capable off-roader, and that comes with the territory.
All 4Runner trims use a 4.0L V6 engine that makes 270 hp and 278 lb-ft of torque, which isn’t the most powerful in the segment. In another sign of its age, the engine is mated to a five-speed automatic transmission. While acceleration from a stop is solid, you need a firm right foot to get it to downshift for highway passing. Competitors have far more gears in their transmissions for smoother operation, but on the other hand, this powertrain is simple and proven, and consistently earns high marks for reliability.
Driving Feel: 7/10
The 4Runner feels truck-like on the road. The steering could be better weighted and more responsive, and it leans into corners. Only the Limited has a full-time four-wheel drive system that can be used on pavement. With all others, the high- and low-range settings are for loose surfaces, such as off-roading or deep snow. But that’s where the 4Runner really shines, tackling the tough stuff with the best of them.
The four-wheel drive system is engaged with a console-mounted lever, with buttons and dials in the overhead console to operate the locking rear differential, terrain modes, and crawl control. That off-road cruise works very well, but the higher-speed adaptive cruise control could use some work. Almost all automakers have improved and smoothed out this system, including Toyota on most of its other vehicles. The 4Runner’s is clunky and annoying, braking sharply when it detects traffic farther ahead and then taking off abruptly when the road ahead is clear.
Fuel Economy: 6/10
Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) officially rates the 4Runner at 14.9 L/100 km in the city; 12.6 on the highway; and 13.8 in combined driving. I couldn’t get close to that and averaged 17.7 L/100 km in my week with it. Everything in this rough-and-tough segment is going to be thirsty, but V6-powered competitors do better, including the Honda Passport at 11.3 and the Jeep Grand Cherokee at 10.9 L/100 km combined.
The 4Runner may be old-school but its price tag isn’t, starting at $53,780 and running up to $68,950 for my TRD Pro tester. Even so, nothing is cheap in this segment. The Honda Passport runs between $48,315 and $55,015; the Ford Explorer from $50,535 to $69,595; and the Jeep Grand Cherokee starts at $56,140 but can soar all the way to $83,140.
The 4Runner is very much a niche vehicle, and you’re only going to be happy with it if you understand it. It’s a brand-new vehicle that feels like a 12-year-old truck, but in a good way: simple, tough, and capable. It’s definitely not for everyone, but there’s a reason why it’s been around for 40 years and counting.
|Peak Horsepower||270 hp @ 5,600 rpm|
|Peak Torque||278 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||14.9 / 12.6 / 13.8 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||1,337 / 2,540 L seats up/down|
|Model Tested||2023 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro|
|Price as Tested||$69,305|
$255 – Solar Octane paint, $255