A modern dinosaur. The 2021 Toyota 4Runner is a new vehicle in name only. The 4Runner hasn’t had a full redesign for more than a decade, giving it the dubious honor of being one of the oldest models on the road.
Some elements have aged well. The 4Runner’s tough exterior stands out in a sea of boxy SUVs, and the large body gives creases and accent lines room to breathe. The muscular wheel wells declare its considerable off-road credentials.
The 4Runner is one of a dwindling number of SUVs to stick with a body-on-frame construction. The truck-like chassis is part of what makes it so capable away from pavement, but it makes the SUV feel distant on the road. The ride is comfortable, but gets bouncy at times.
Bigger on the outside. The 4Runner’s tall profile isn’t all about aesthetics – the high ride height and considerable clearance make it one of the most adventure-ready vehicles short of a Jeep Wrangler. It also gives the driver a high perch, although it makes climbing inside more of a chore.
Inside, however, things are less spacious than you might expect. The second row has only 32.9 inches of leg room, which is less than some compact crossovers. Shoulder room isn’t spectacular, and head room suffers with the optional sun roof. A third row is available, but we wouldn’t recommend it.
Luckily, the 4Runner saves room for cargo and canines. Behind the seats is 47.2 cubic feet of space, which expands to nearly 90 after folding the second row. The liftover height is fairly high, which can make loading more of a chore.
Old on the inside. The Toyota 4Runner’s interior design shows its age. The knobs and controls feel outdated, with an LCD climate control display pulled straight from 2009. Even the steering wheel feels old, and the infotainment controls are placed awkwardly.
What’s under the hood is equally old-fashioned. The V6 engine is reliable and the five-speed automatic transmission usually finds the right gear, but together they manage an abysmal 17 miles per gallon combined, according to the EPA. These days, even behemoths like the BMW X7 can do better.
Technology and safety are two welcome exceptions to the rule. Every 4Runner gets automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and blind-spot monitoring, which aren’t common on vehicles this utilitarian. An 8-inch infotainment touchscreen with smartphone compatibility gives the cockpit a welcome dash of modernity.
Go-anywhere trims. The 4Runner is at its best when conditions are at their worst. Deep snow, muddy backroads, rocky terrain – the 4Runner doesn’t blink at any of them.
Our favorite trims are the ones that lean into this personality. The TRD Off Road is a good balance, adding a locking rear differential and crawl control without pushing too far past $40,000. An optional hydraulic suspension tames body lean and boosts off-road ability even further, making it a worthy addition.
For ultimate capability, the TRD Pro lifts the suspension even further and swaps in Fox shocks. It’s hugely impressive, but it starts over $50,000. Both TRD trims come with standard all-wheel drive, which is optional in the rest of the lineup.
Final thoughts. The 2021 Toyota 4Runner is an SUV with limited appeal. For suburban duty, newer cars will provide better space and efficiency. For buyers who tread far from the beaten path, however, the 4Runner still offers a combination of ruggedness and reliability that’s hard to beat.
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