Think of the 4Runner as the anti-crossover. These days plenty of car-based soft-roaders are given aesthetic enhancements to convey ruggedness. That’s never been the case with the Toyota 4Runner, which, from its start, has been built for capability when the pavement ends. It has a body-on-frame chassis, available locking differentials, and—of course—four-wheel drive, but it’s still spacious and comfortable around town. Now in its fifth generation, the vehicle continues to improve on its core competencies. Read on to learn how far it’s come and see 4Runner photos from every generation.
First Generation (1984–1989)
At first, the 4Runner was little more than a modified Hilux pickup truck. Based on the two-door truck, a fiberglass shell went over the bed, rear seats were installed, and upholstery was added to make it more comfortable. In what became a 4Runner signature, it also got a retractable windshield in the rear tailgate. Midway through this generation it switched from a solid front axle to independent suspension to enhance road manners, and those early models are highly sought after by off-road enthusiasts. Most came equipped with the venerable 2.4-liter 22RE I-4 engine producing about 100 hp, but a turbocharged version of this engine and a 3.0-liter V-6 were also available.
Second Generation (1990–1995)
Although it was still based on the Hilux pickup frame, the second-gen 4Runner received a unique body to set it apart, now with rear doors to better accommodate passengers. The front independent suspension developed in the first generation carried over, but rear leaf springs were replaced by coils. Again, the base engine was a 2.4-liter I-4 with a 3.0-liter V-6 available as an upgrade. V-6 cars got a chain-driven transfer case to reduce noise, but the I-4’s gear-driven unit is considered more robust.
Third Generation (1996–2002)
In generation three, the 4Runner became its own thing. It got an all-new body sitting on a chassis that wasn’t shared with a pickup. Engines grew to a 2.7-liter I-4 base and 3.4-liter V-6 upgrade. Off-road capability remained a focus, but numerous changes helped make it a nicer road car. Body styling was smoothed, the wheelbase was lengthened, and the interior was thoroughly revised to improve space and ergonomics.
Fourth Generation (2003–2009)
The shift toward a more road-oriented SUV continued with the fourth generation. It kept its body-on-frame underpinnings, but exterior styling became more rounded and car-like. Again, the interior became more spacious and better appointed. Four-cylinder engines were dropped in favor of a 4.0-liter V-6, and a 4.7-liter V-8 was made available. Both used a lockable Torsen center differential, which, while not ultimately as trail-capable as independent axle lockers, is more usable in everyday situations.
Fifth Generation (2009–Present)
Today’s 4Runner increases in comfort and capability. Now powered exclusively by a 270-hp 4.0-liter V-6 (an I-4 was only briefly available), it’s more luxurious than before. For off-road enthusiasts, a TRD Pro trim adds upgraded shocks, springs, tires, and skidplates to make it trail-ready straight off the lot. In 2019 it gained modern driver-assist technology and additional USB ports. The 4Runner’s status as a rugged SUV that can be driven every day makes it a hit with consumers: Year-over-year sales continue to climb.
The post Here’s How the Toyota 4Runner Has Changed Over Five Generations appeared first on MotorTrend.