2021 Toyota 4Runner Review

The Toyota 4Runner hasn't changed much in the past decade — but don't consider that a negative.

Michael Harley
EVP Product, Editor-in-Chief
PROS
  • Strong off-road capabilities
  • Rugged chassis and mechanicals
  • Reliable powertrain
  • Strong resale value
CONS
  • Vehicle is outdated
  • Driving dynamics are poor
  • Cabin ergonomics are challenged

The 2021 Toyota 4Runner is a four-door, five-passenger, SUV with traditional body-on-frame architecture. Today’s 4Runner is a fifth-generation model, last completely redesigned for the 2009 model year (Toyota last refreshed the vehicle in 2020). All 4Runner models are fitted with naturally-aspirated V6 engines and an automatic transmission. Base models are rear-wheel drive, but four-wheel drive with a low-range transfer case is optional. The 2021 Toyota 4Runner starts at just under $37,000.

4Runner Powertrain

Toyota keeps things very simple in the powertrain department by offering only one engine and transmission combination. Standard fitment is a naturally-aspirated 4.0-liter V6 (270 hp/278 lb-ft of torque) mated to a 5-speed automatic transmission. Rear-wheel drive (4×2) is standard, but Toyota also offers part-time 4×4 and full-time 4×4 gearboxes (the low-range transfer case is only available on the 4×4 SR5 and TRD Off-Road trims).

All 2021 Toyota 4Runner models are rated at 16 mpg city/19 mpg highway, regardless of whether they are 4×2 or 4×4 models.

2021 Toyota 4Runner Review

4Runner Driving Experience

The Toyota 4Runner utilizes traditional “body-on-frame” architecture that is rugged, durable, and heavy — it is how pick-up trucks are made (passenger cars use “unibody” architecture that is lighter, less durable but more rigid). As a result, the 4Runner’s on-road driving dynamics are truck-like. The vehicle feels heavy and a bit ponderous around town and the steering is slow. Highway travel is a bit more comfortable, but passing acceleration is lackluster.

The long-travel suspension, which is designed to absorb impacts off-road, makes the ride bumpy. Braking is strong, but the large all-season (or off-road) tires increase stopping distances.

2021 Toyota 4Runner Review

The standard V6 engine and 5-speed transmission are archaic, as most of the industry has moved on to turbocharged engines (that offer more torque off the line) and 8- to 10-speed transmissions (that are more fuel efficient). The Toyota 4Runner will accelerate from a standstill to 60 mph in about 8 seconds, which is about average.

Take the Toyota 4Runner off-road and things improve dramatically. Abundant ground clearance makes climbing over curbs and rocks easy. Strong approach, departure, and break-over angles make traversing riverbeds and trails effortless. And electronic traction controls such as Multi-terrain Select and Crawl Control ensure that even the most challenging obstacles are overcome. The 2021 Toyota 4Runner is a pleasure to drive off the pavement.

2021 Toyota 4Runner Review

2022 Toytoa 4Runner Trim Levels and Pricing

  • 4Runner 4×2 SR5 V6 (starts at just under $37,000) – LED headlamps, 17-inch wheels, privacy glass, and more
  • 4Runner 4×4 SR5 V6 (starts at just under $39,000) – LED headlamps, 17-inch wheels, privacy glass, and more
  • 4Runner 4×2 SR5 Premium V6 (starts at just under $40,000) – Adds color-keyed bumpers, smart key, and more
  • 4Runner 4×4 SR5 Premium V6 (starts at just under $42,000) – Adds color-keyed bumpers, smart key, and more
  • 4Runner 4×4 Trail Edition (starts at just over $41,500) – Adds Yakima LoadWarrior cargo basket, 17-inch TRD dark grey wheels, and more
  • 4Runner Venture Edition V6 (starts at about $45,000) – Adds Yakima MagaWarrior cargo basket, skid plat on the transfer case, and more
  • 4Runner 4×4 TRD Off-Road V6 (starts at about $41,000) – TRD badging, color-keyed bumpers, door handles, and more
  • 4Runner 4×4 TRD Off-Road Premium V6 (starts at just over $43,000) – Adds Smart Key with pushbutton start, power moonroof, and more
  • 4Runner 4×2 Limited V6 (starts at about $45,500) – 20-inch alloy wheels, power moonroof, color-keyed bumpers, and more
  • 4Runner 4×4 Limited V6 (starts at just under $48,000) – 20-inch alloy wheels, power moonroof, color-keyed bumpers, and more
  • 4Runner 4×2 Nightshade V6 (starts at just over $47,000) – 20-inch wheels in black, black badging, black accents on the exterior trim, and more
  • 4Runner 4×4 Nightshade V6 (starts at just under $50,000) – 20-inch wheels in black, black badging, black accents on the exterior trim, and more
  • 4Runner 4×4 TRD Pro V6 (starts at just over $50,000) – Fox internal bypass shocks, TRD-tuned suspension, TRD roof rack, and more

If you are looking for a more accurate idea of pricing or options, you can build and price a 4Runner on Toyota’s official website

2021 Toyota 4Runner Review

What is our Favorite Version of the 4Runner?

We don’t often recommend the most expensive model in the lineup, but in this case, we are making an exception. The 4Runner 4×4 TRD Pro V6 (at just over $50,000) is our choice as it has upgraded suspension and off-road componentry that is worth the slight premium in price. The TRD Pro is capable of tackling even the most challenging trails right off the showroom floor.

Who Should Buy a 2021 Toyota 4Runner?

The Toyota 4Runner is a traditional body-on-frame SUV that shares platforms with the Toyota Tacoma pickup (another vehicle that CarExpert recommends) — think of it as a capable truck, not a comfort-first luxury crossover. While most buyers will be better served by the car-like Toyota Highlander, those who are adventurous and enjoy the outdoors, or those seeking much more capability, will find the 4Runner a near-perfect fit.

2021 Toyota 4Runner Review

CarExpert’s Take

The Toyota 4Runner is a traditional body-on-frame truck that hasn’t changed much in the past decade — but don’t consider that a negative. While on-road driving dynamics and ergonomics are outdated, the mechanical bits are proven and outstanding. Adventurists and off-roading purists swear by the 4Runner. The SUV is reliable, rugged, and capable, which are qualities that make the 4Runner a favorite of those who live active lifestyles. Toss in extraordinarily strong resale value, and it’s easy to overlook the inadequacies. Toyota has a genuine winner on its hands.

Add the 2021 Toyota 4Runner to CarExpert’s recommended list.

2021 Toyota 4Runner Review

4Runner Competitors to Consider

  • Ford Bronco
  • Jeep Wrangler Unlimited
  • Jeep Grand Cherokee
  • Land Rover Discovery

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OVERALL RATING8
Show Breakdown
Cost of Ownership 8.8
Ride Comfort 7.4
Safety 8.1
Fit for Purpose 9.1
Handling Dynamics 7.2
Interior Practicality and Space 8.1
Fuel Efficiency 7.5
Value for Money 8.5
Performance 7.4
Technology Infotainment 8.3