The Toyota 4Runner has been a certified adventure SUV since the original rolled out in 1984. With its core DNA as a body-on-frame, do-anything SUV fully intact, the 4Runner enters 2021 with a new Trail Special Edition. Whether the destination is a secluded trailhead, local boat ramp, or traffic-clogged school drop-off zone, the 4Runner gets its crew there with comfort, versatility, and proven Toyota reliability. Based on the SR5, the new 4Runner Trail Edition combines sharpened outdoors flavor and capability with rock-solid Toyota value. Toyota will build 4,000 4Runner Trail models for 2021, joined in the showroom by Tacoma and Tundra pickup Trail Editions. You could say the 2021 Toyota 4Runner is definitely not your typical crossover, instead a relic of a bygone era, however this classic style is undoubtedly a big part of the 4Runner’s appeal.
A first for the 4Runner lineup, all grades gain LED headlamps (low beams) as standard equipment for 2021. Available Trail exterior color choices include Army Green, Cement, Midnight Black, and Super White. The 4Runner Trail features black exterior badging, plus black seating with tan stitching. A sliding rear cargo tray makes it easier to load and unload gear, while a Yakima LoadWarrior rooftop cargo basket carries more of it. Black front and rear Toyota “4Runner” overlays add additional style and flair, and all-weather floor liners help catch the outdoor elements that come in on occupants’ feet. The 4Runner Trail Edition is the only way to get a very cool 40-quart cooler, custom-made for Toyota in the U.S.
The 4Runner’s 4.0-liter V-6 engine, 270 hp and 278 lb-ft (less horsepower than a Toyota Highlander) and dated 5-speed automatic transmission (5 fewer gears than a Ford Explorer or Chevy Tahoe) can team with either rear-, four-, or all-wheel drive. Entry-level SR5 models are rear-wheel drive, while all other trims except the tippity-top Limited model come with selectable, part-time four-wheel drive. Those models have a manually selectable two-speed transfer case with a low-range setting. Limited models have full-time all-wheel drive with a Torsen center differential that can apportion torque to the front or rear wheels as necessary, depending on road conditions and which wheels have traction.
When it comes to on road handling the less said the better the ride is neither smooth nor quiet and unfortunately every 2021 4Runner is rated at a lowly 16 mpg in the city and 19 mpg on the highway. Other competitors in this market have similar city ratings but do significantly better on the highway.
The interior of the 4Runner is not what you’d call state-of-the-art, but it does manage to comfortably fit everyone front and rear. 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. Our test vehicle came fitted with the pull-out cargo deck. This is designed to make loading and unloading heavy items, up to 440 pounds easier. It can also double as a tailgate for seating. This also provides a flat load floor when the second-row seats are folded, but it does mean several inches of height are lost in the back. Even so, we do not think the inches lost factor as you still have an impressive amount of room behind the second row.
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. 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 the Jeep Grand Cherokee (68.3) and Honda Passport (77.9). There is also the 4Runner-trademark power rear window that allows you to secure long items like surfboards 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). Despite its rugged body-on-frame construction, every 4Runner’s towing capacity is only 5,000 pounds.
Every 4Runner features an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system. The interface includes a set of physical buttons as well as rotary volume and tuning knobs. The system, called Entune, comes standard with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Amazon Alexa integration. Simple tasks like changing radio stations are generally easy to perform, but it’s not the quickest system nor most modern in appearance. That’s a Toyota-wide issue, though, rather than a 4Runner-specific one. A built-in navigation system and a 15-speaker JBL audio system are available upgrades.
The 2021 4Runner starts at $37,515, including destination, for the base SR5 with rear-wheel drive. The 4×4 SR5 model starts at $39,390. The new Trail Edition at $39,490 4×2 or $42,975 4×4. The TRD Off-Road $41,480. From there, the SR5 Premium at $40,725 4×2 or $45,575 4×4 and TRD Off-Road Premium $43,690 the Venture Special Edition $45,795. The Limited $46,570 4×2 or $48,605 4×4 and Nightshade $47,985 4×2 or $50,020 4×4 are more luxury-oriented versions of the 4Runner. Then there’s the TRD Pro $51,645.
Toyota provides two years of complimentary scheduled maintenance, which is a rarity in this class, while the coverage in other categories matches industry norms. This is a Limited warranty that covers three years or 36,000 miles and a Powertrain warranty that covers five years or 60,000 miles.
Toyota has modernized the 4Runner with an impressive amount of standard driver assists and infotainment features for 2021. But Toyota last redesigned the current-generation 4Runner back in 2010. On the one hand, that’s great as it has the same rugged truck-based chassis, capable suspension, ample clearances and bulletproof reliability that makes it a darling among off-roaders across the globe AND it keeps its residual values sky-high. However what it does mean is that if you want great fuel economy and a comfortable ride around town you have the wrong SUV. But if climbing mountains, fording rivers and crossing deserts is your calling then the 4Runner is one of the best choices for you.