The increasingly iconic Toyota 4Runner soldiers into its ninth year without a full redesign. A typical car or crossover is redesigned after six. Frankly, the 4Runner was never a bastion of modernity, as its truck-based structure and interior design result in comfort, refinement and efficiency compromises that always stood in contrast to similarly priced and sized crossovers. That's still the case with the 2019 Toyota 4Runner, but its interior design and technology have only fallen further behind the times, while its handling, noise and overall comfort are worse than what you'd get in a midsize crossover like the Honda Passport or Toyota's own Highlander. Its fuel economy is comparatively abysmal.
Now, if all of that makes you think twice about the 4Runner, we've done our job. It's certainly not the most rational SUV purchase, and it's smart to consider its many downsides. That said, we also love the 4Runner and understand why you might as well. It has character in spades, especially the ultra-rugged TRD Pro trim, and can go places none of those crossovers would dare. This is a serious off-roader, yet when compared to other such vehicles it's surprisingly comfortable and genuinely large inside. Few two-row SUVs — crossover or truck-based — can match its utility. Yes it's old and less refined than a crossover, but it's also not as crude as you'd expect, and there's also something to be said about simplicity.
What's new with 4Runner for 2019?The TRD Pro trim level is upgraded. It gets Fox shocks, a new skid plate and a bulky roof rack similar to the one once available on the FJ Cruiser (its classic Voodoo Blue paint also makes its first appearance on the 4Runner TRD Pro, pictured above). A sunroof and JBL sounds system are also now standard, but the price rises by a somewhat questionable $4,000. Elsewhere in the lineup, the 4Runner Limited is offered in a new Nightshade Edition that consists of a bunch of blacked-out exterior trim.
What's the 4Runner's interior and in-car technology like?Quick answer: behind the times. The 4Runner's design is dated and excessively utilitarian at a time when most vehicles, including the new Jeep Wrangler, are increasingly refined and characterful. The materials are also on the hard and cheap side, especially compared to the similarly priced Jeep Grand Cherokee, while the various knobs and buttons are from at least two Toyota generations ago. For instance, pushing down on the turn signal produces only one blink, unlike the three-blink set up of virtually every other car.
Then there's in-car technology. The 4Runner's design dates back a decade, so it's understandable its designers didn't make enough room in the dash for the 7- or 8-inch touchscreens now common through the Toyota lineup. Understandable perhaps, but still a detriment. The remaining 6.1-inch unit is rinky-dink these days, and it's comparatively hard to identify and push its virtual buttons. It also lacks the latest infotainment connectivity functions; for example, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are not available on any 4Runner. When buying a new 4Runner you'll need to accept that you'll be getting tech that's out of date.
How big is 4Runner?Truck-based SUVs are typically smaller inside than crossovers with less useful cargo areas and lofty load heights. That's not the case with the 4Runner. Its cargo area floor is actually quite low, while the space beyond is big, boxy and a whopping 47.2 cubic feet. It also includes a 4Runner trademark: the power liftgate window that 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 is also particularly dog friendly). Another distinctive feature is the optional slide-out cargo floor (pictured below, bottom).
Maximum cargo capacity with the back seat lowered is 89.7 cubic feet, which rivals many three-row crossovers (the Highlander has only 83.7) and surpasses a Jeep Grand Cherokee (68.3).
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, it reclines and should provide plenty of space for a rear-facing child seat. 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 Subaru Ascent would probably be a better family-hauling choice.
What's 4Runner's performance and fuel economy?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.
With optional four-wheel drive, the 4Runner returns 17 mpg city, 20 mpg highway and 18 mpg combined. Standard rear-wheel drive only nets an extra 1 mpg on the highway. However, you can expect the TRD Pro and possibly the tamer TRD variants to get even worse fuel economy due to their off-road tires and even blunter aerodynamics. We averaged 17 mpg in about 250 miles of highway driving in a TRD Pro.
The optional four-wheel drive system provides high and low range, selected with a traditional shifter on the center console on most trim levels. The Limited, however, utilizes a knob. It also includes a locking center differential.
Despite its rugged body-on-frame construction, every 4Runner's towing capacity is only 5,000 pounds.
What's the 4Runner like to drive?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. On the other hand, should you compare it to a Jeep Wrangler or older truck-based SUVs, the 4Runner will be quiet, comfortable and handle surprisingly well. It's shockingly civil for such a rugged vehicle, and indeed, actually much closer to the Passport than the Wrangler in terms of its on-road demeanor – especially its ride quality. At the same time, it's much slower than both.
Off-road, the 4Runner is a monster, and you don't have to get the top-of-the-line TRD Pro (pictured above) to realize its potential. The TRD Off-Road (see below) will do the job just fine, as it too has massive ground clearance, 4WD Hi and Lo, a locking rear differential, Toyota's Multi-Terrain Select system, Crawl Control (essentially a low-speed cruise control for getting out of especially tricky off-road situations) and offers the KDSS disconnecting sway bars as an option. The TRD Pro only ups the ante slightly with upgraded shocks and tires — but it does offer unique colors and styling, which may ultimately be its greatest appeal. It should also be noted that its overall comfort and ride quality are still quite good despite the increased ruggedness.
What more can I read about the Toyota 4Runner?
2018 Toyota 4Runner TRD Off-Road Premium ReviewOur test of the 4Runner TRD Off-Road Premium trim level, which for most buyers, will be the sweet spot of the range. It offers most of the same capability as TRD Pro, but at a lower price.
What features are available and what's the 4Runner's price? The 2019 Toyota 4Runner starts at $36,155, including a $1,045 destination charge. This is for a rear-wheel drive model — four-wheel drive is optional on the SR5 as well as the Limited, but is included on the TRD trim levels.
Standard equipment on the base SR5 includes 17-inch alloy wheels, skid plates, a full-size spare tire, fog lights, a windshield wiper de-icer, the 4Runner's distinctive (and very cool) power liftgate window, an eight-way power driver seat, a 40/20/40-split reclining and folding back seat, cloth upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, one USB port, one house-style power outlet, a 6.1-inch touchscreen and an eight-speaker sound system with a CD player, auxiliary audio jack, HD radio and a media player interface. Remember, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are not available on any 4Runner.
The TRD Off-Road adds special styling and off-roading equipment described above in the What's It Like to Drive? section. The Premium versions of the SR5 and TRD Off-Road add heated front seats, driver lumbar adjustment, a four-way power passenger seat, SofTex vinyl upholstery, an auto-dimming mirror and a navigation system. A sunroof is an option. The TRD Pro gets its own styling and extra off-roading equipment also described above.
The one outlier in the family is the luxury-oriented 4Runner Limited, pictured below. We don't recommend it. Its extra creature comforts can't match those offered by various crossovers, while there's not enough added refinement over other trim levels to justify the tradeoff in ultimate capability. Basically, it's a poseur – both in terms of off-road and luxury cred. If you do want a more luxury-oriented off-roader, the Jeep Grand Cherokee does a much better job of representing the best of both worlds throughout its trim lineup.
Options include a sliding rear cargo deck and on the SR5 and Limited, a 50/50-split third row seat.
What's 4Runner's safety equipment and crash ratings?While standard accident avoidance tech is the norm for Toyota vehicles, the 4Runner is the exception. Forward collision warning, lane-keeping, etc., are not available at all. You do get the typical airbags, plus front knee airbags and a rearview camera.
In government crash tests, the 4Runner scored four out of five stars for overall protection, including four stars for frontal protection, five stars for side protection and three stars for rollover resistance. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave it the best-possible ratings in every crash category but the newer small-overlap front test, where it received a Marginal rating (third of four). It also received a Poor headlight rating.