Pros: Tried-and-true mechanicals; cargo-carrying champ; roll-down rear window; multiple variants
Cons: Slow; inefficient; imprecise handling; antiquated interior
The Toyota 4Runner has been kicking around now for 40 years. For the majority of that time, new generations would dawn every six years, injecting Toyota’s midsize SUV with a fresh design and more refinement. For the past 14 years, though, including the 2023 Toyota 4Runner, we’ve been graced with generation five. Basically, there should’ve been two new 4Runners by now, and although there have been needed upgrades and welcome additions, you can totally tell.
Now, being ancient isn’t all bad: It has the same rugged truck-based chassis, capable suspension, ample clearances and bulletproof reliability that make it a darling among off-roaders everywhere (and keep its residual values sky-high). Its abundant interior space has also allowed it to be a realistic alternative to more family-friendly midsize crossovers. And, frankly, new cars can be awfully complicated. A simpler one will be mighty appealing to a lot of people.
On the other hand, there’s no escaping the ravages of father time (and all its competitors being redesigned/introduced in the past few years). Its V6 engine has less power than a Camry’s, the transmission has five (!) fewer gears than a Ford Bronco’s, the fuel economy of 17 mpg combined is dismal even when compared to Broncos and Wranglers, and calling the handling “imprecise” would be an understatement. The interior, despite those upgrades and its generous space, is still a relic of another time. As such, the 4Runner won’t make sense for everyone, and the introduction of the Bronco (if you can actually get one) means there’s one more competitor to make the 4Runner look its age.
What’s new for 2023?
For one year only (naturally), the 4Runner 40th Anniversary Edition will be offered. It takes the modest SR5 Premium trim and adds bronze 17-inch wheels, TRD-style TOYOTA grille, special badging and the way-cool yellow/orange/red body striping on a choice of white, black or Barcelona Red. Only 4,040 will be available. The similarly equipped Trail Edition, pictured above, would seem to be on hiatus along with its special Army Green and Cement paint choices for 2023. Other updates include LED headlights and blind-spot and rear cross-traffic warning added to all trim levels. There’s also the annual tradition of a new, one-year-only TRD Pro color: Solar Octane orange replaces last year’s eye-searing Lime Rush, which is now an option on the TRD Off-Road.
After significant upgrades three years ago, the 4Runner cabin’s feature content and technology are reasonably consistent with what you might find in cars designed during this decade. That said, this remains an antiquated interior with its blocky design that dates back to Barack Obama’s first year in office. The plastics quality is also subpar for a vehicle that easily crests $40,000 and can top $50,000 – a RAV4 is nicer in some places. The various small bins and cubbies are also just a little too small for modern devices, having clearly been designed when we carried flip phones and iPods. There’s even old-school switchgear like the roller heated seat controls and one-blink-only turn signals. The SR5, TRD Sport and 40th Anniversary Edition don’t even have automatic headlights or auto climate control.
Nevertheless, it’s all put together quite well, controls are logically placed, and there’s certainly something to be said for a rugged off-road vehicle that has a rugged interior. The standard 8-inch touchscreen is also of a typical size and has an acceptable amount of feature content, with standard Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Amazon Alexa integration. Simple tasks like changing radio stations are generally easy to perform (unlike Toyota’s new system), but it’s slow to respond and antiquated in appearance (unlike Toyota’s new system). The Jeep Wrangler, and to a lesser extent Ford Bronco, put this infotainment system to shame.
Here is an area where the 4Runner is perfectly fine as-is. The cargo area floor is quite low for a truck-based SUV, while the space beyond is a big, boxy 47.2 cubic feet. Even when you add the novel slide-out cargo floor that reduces capacity, there’s still a gigantic amount of space. We know, we filled it up in our cargo area Luggage Test, and then found that it smoked its off-roader competition. Maximum cargo capacity with the back seat lowered is 89.7 cubic feet, which rivals many three-row crossovers (the Highlander has only 84.3) and surpasses various two-row models.
There are also clever cargo area features. The optional slide-out cargo floor makes loading and unloading super-simple, while the 4Runner-trademark power rear window allows you to secure long items like surf boards or lumber out the back while keeping the rest of the liftgate closed. It also allows for freer airflow in the cabin, and dogs typically love it as well (that big boxy area in general is dog friendly).
Human legroom is quite good all around. The standard power driver seat offers plenty of adjustment, while the back seat is mounted at a nice height and reclines to an almost absurd degree. That said, headroom can be a bit tight up front should you opt for the sunroof. There’s a third-row seat available, but its space is extremely limited and it reduces cargo space. Really, if you want a third-row seat, crossovers like the Kia Telluride or Jeep Grand Cherokee L would be a better family-hauling choice.
What are the 4Runner fuel economy and performance specs?
While much of this fifth-generation 4Runner has been updated over the many years, the engine bay has basically gone untouched. That’s not a good thing. The 4Runner is only offered with a 4.0-liter V6 that produces 270 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque. That’s not a lot given how much the 4Runner can weigh (especially the TRD Pro) and the fact that the lighter Toyota Highlander produces more than 300 horsepower. As such, the 4Runner is quite slow, and it’s not helped by a standard five-speed automatic transmission that does it no favors in terms of fuel economy. A Bronco’s automatic has five(!) more gears (and there’s an optional manual).
According the EPA, the 4Runner returns 16 mpg city, 19 mpg highway and 17 mpg combined regardless of drivetrain, which is pretty bad given its weak-sauce power output. And it gets worse. The TRD Pro’s off-road tires, heavier weight and blunter aerodynamics resulted in us averaging only 17 mpg in about 250 miles of highway driving in a TRD Pro. We saw the low teens around town. By contrast, we were seeing 18 to 19 mpg on the highway in the Trail Edition, which might not seem like a big difference, but it is.
The optional four-wheel drive system provides high and low range. It is selected with a traditional mechanical shifter on TRD models, while the SR5, TRD Sport and Trail Edition utilize a knob that engages the same transfer case with a servo. Basically, it’s simpler to use and therefore friendlier for the less off-roading-versed owners more likely to buy those trim levels. The Limited also has the knob, but it controls a full-time four-wheel-drive system that includes a locking center differential.
Despite its rugged body-on-frame construction, every 4Runner’s towing capacity is only 5,000 pounds.
Terrible. And also awesome. It really depends on how you look at it. Should you compare the 4Runner to another midsize SUV like the Honda Passport, you’ll find this rugged Toyota to be slow and noisy, with ponderous handling that actually gets worse when you opt for a more off-road-oriented model (the all-terrain tires make the steering in particular sloppy and vague). On the other hand, should you compare it to a Jeep Wrangler or Ford Bronco, the 4Runner will be comfier, substantially quieter and just generally more civilized. At the same time, it’s much slower than both, with a transmission that does the engine no favors with its insufficient number of gears.
Off-road, the 4Runner is a monster, and you don’t have to get the top-of-the-line TRD Pro to realize its potential. Any 4×4 versions will do the job just fine, though the sweet spot is certainly the TRD Off-Road that goes beyond the SR5 and Trail Edition with a locking rear differential, wider tires, Toyota’s Multi-Terrain Select system, Crawl Control (essentially a low-speed cruise control for getting out of especially tricky off-road situations) and the optional KDSS disconnecting sway bars that improve both off-road wheel articulation and on-road handling. The latter actually aren’t available on the TRD Pro, which only ups the ante slightly with upgraded shocks and tires. Then again, both the Trail Edition and TRD Off-Road offer unique colors and equipment, which may ultimately sway the needle in their favor.
What other Toyota 4Runner reviews can I read?
Take a deep dive into the 4Runner’s interior to see just what we mean by it being antiquated.
Engineer Dan Edmunds takes you under the 4Runner for an in-depth look at how the TRD Off-Road and the KDSS suspension option does what it does.
Here’s another deep dive of a different variety. We find out just how much you can stuff into the back of the 4Runner while also testing the optional pull-out cargo tray.
We broadly go over last year’s significant revisions after giving the 4Runner a thorough workout in Moab, Utah.
We test the TRD Off-Road Premium, which is pretty much the sweet spot in the lineup.
First, a warning: the 4Runner is an incredibly popular model and as such, you can expect dealers to markup prices and charge more than the MSRPs you see below. All prices below also include the $1,335 destination charge, and come standard with four-wheel drive unless otherwise stated.
SR5 (RWD): $40,140
TRD Sport (RWD): $43,000
SR5 Premium (RWD): $43,200
TRD Off-Road: $43,985
TRD Off-Road Premium: $46,565
40th Anniversary Edition: $47,705
TRD Pro: $54,605
It’s important to note that these trim levels don’t just represent a gradual increase in equipment like in other Toyotas (LE, XLE, etc). The TRD Sport and Limited are more on-road oriented with an adaptive suspension system, bigger wheels and different, less-rugged styling (the Limited gets the most luxury features, too). The TRD Off-Road trims adds standard four-wheel drive, a locking rear differential, wider tires, Multi-terrain Select off-road settings, Crawl Control (a sort of off-road cruise control), and different exterior trim. The KDSS suspension upgrade is exclusive to the TRD Off-Roads. The TRD Pro may not get KDSS, but it’s still the most hardcore off-roader of the group thanks to its Fox shocks, TRD-tuned front springs, a TRD cat-back exhaust (it’s loud and annoying), a huge roof rack, LED foglights, 1/4-inch thick front skid plate, unique styling, 17-inch matte black wheels, Nitto Grappler all-terrain tires (they make the steering worse) and special floor mats. This is also the only trim available in Solar Octane.
Besides ABS and eight airbags, every 2023 4Runner comes standard with forward collision warning with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic warning, and automatic high beams.
In government crash tests, the 4Runner received four out of five stars for overall and frontal crash protection, five stars for side protection and a three-star rollover rating. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave it the best-possible rating of “Good” in all crash categories except the newest “small overlap front: driver side” category where it got a second-worst “Marginal.” This isn’t surprising given that the 4Runner was engineered long before this test was devised and manufacturers were obliged to design crash structures to accommodate it. The IIHS hasn’t updated its headlight rating yet for the ’23 4Runner and its newly standard LEDs.