Toyota 4Runner: Basic Utility to Luxury Mid-Size Luxury SUV
Original Toyota 4Runner 1984-1989
The 4Runner began production in 1984 for the same model year. The original was a two-door, two-seater model but dealers often installed a back row or additional two back seats after delivery. The 4Runner’s original classification as a two-seater truck was to avoid additional import and customs fees in the U.S. associated with four-seater SUVs.
This model was a no-frills truck/bare-bones SUV hybrid with the rear compartment being a covered and connected storage area for gear, camping supplies and other. Similar to a Jeep, the fiberglass shell covering the rear was removable to allow open-air driving. The main feature advertised by Toyota was the ground clearance which was the highest of any small to mid-size SUV available at the time.
This 1st generation model was available in 4-speed automatic and 5-speed manual transmission. The 1984 model offered a carbureted 2.4 L 22R 8 valve SOHC with 100 hp and 4 wheel drive. This engine remained available as an option until 1988. The 1985 model offered a fuel-injected 2.4 L 22R-E I4 engine with 116 hp. Rear seats also started to be installed at the manufacturer level instead of aftermarket at the dealerships. In 1986, a turbocharged version of the 22R was introduced, the 22R-TE. There was also separate diesel, and turbo diesel models available. A 3.0 L V6 offering 145 hp was introduced in 1988. The 3Y and 4Y engines were available primarily in the New Zealand market. These models were reduced part engines.
2nd generation 4Runner
The 2nd generation 4Runner was introduced in the Spring of 1989 and addressed the feedback from its customers and dealers regarding rear suspension sag. The biggest upgrade for this generation was a new coil-spring rear suspension system to prevent the sagging due to the addition of the rear seats in many of the models to what was really a front seat only mid-range truck base. Toyota also introduced a set of rear doors. This addition was more successful than the upgrade of the rear suspension as the complaints of sagging continued. This generation was advertised as not just a utility vehicle but an alternative to the mini-van which had been gaining in popularity. To compete with the mini-van, the 4Runner introduced limited-edition models with leather seats, wood grain trim, a sunroof, and an eight-speaker stereo system. This trend towards upgrading the ride towards a more luxury feel has continued over the years.
The 4Runner remained different from traditional SUVs at the time, featuring a retractable glass tailgate which required first retracting the rear window into the tailgate then lowering the tailgate. Similar to the pickup truck of which the 4Runner was based.
Safety ratings for the 1st and 2nd generation 4Runners were considered poor and the crash test ratings reflected this. The driver side rating was 1 star, the passenger side, 4 stars. To improve the 4Runner’s appeal to safety-conscious purchaser’s as an alternative to the mini-van, Toyota added a 3rd brake light, side-impact protection, and anti-lock brakes as an option on V6 models. Airbags were not added until the next model year.
The 2nd generation 4Runner had the same prior generation engines.
3rd generation 4Runner
The 3rd generation 4Runner was a significant upgrade from previous models and featured an all-new body along with chassis; a total redesign. While maintaining the general look that made the 4Runner popular, the restyling positioned it further towards the luxury class.
Continuing the 4Runner’s move from basic utility truck to family luxury SUV, Toyota added a roomier interior, lift-up tailgate, and side-step rails. The aesthetics and design of the center console were also improved and updated, keeping in line with the model’s move towards luxury. These improvements were made while still maintaining the utility and rugged features for those wanting an off-road vehicle.
The 4Runner changed the available engine options to those installed in their new 1st generation Toyota Tacoma pickup trucks. This also reduced the number of engines available to a 2.7 L 3RZ-FE I4 with 150 hp, a 3.4 L 5VZ-FE V6 with 183 hp, and a 3.0 L 1KZ-TE turbodiesel I4
4th generation 4Runner
The 4th generation 4Runner continued with improvements to the chassis and body while continuing to position it in the mid-size luxury SUV class.
Toyota continued to improve safety and fitted this model with the Toyota Star Safety System which included anti-lock brakes, electronic brakeforce distribution, brake assist, traction control, and Vehicle Stability Control. The safety improvements allowed the 4Runner to have one of the lowest death rates for all vehicles on the road while still having a “Poor” rating for rear impact protection.
The 4th generation 4Runner included another upgrade of the engines available with a 4.0 L 1GR-FE V6 with 245 hp, a 4.7 L 2UZ-FE V8 with 235 hp, a 4.7 L 2UZ-FE VVT-i, 3.0 L 1KZ-TE I4 turbodiesel and 3.0 L 1KD-FTV I4 diesel.
5th generation 4Runner
The 5th and current generation of the 4Runner retains the traditional look which has made the 4Runner popular. The 5th generation featured a new model called the Trail model which came only in 4WD. The Trail Edition includes Toyota’s Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System and Crawl Control placing it firmly in the Toyota luxury class. It also includes a rear locking differential which allowed for better traction and control in offroading and other non-traditional pavement driving situations.
The 5th generation 4Runner reduced the available engines available to the 2.7 L 2TR-FE I4 with 157 hp and the 4.0 L 1GR-FE V6 with 270 hp.
Overall the Toyota 4Runner has had a great run and a relatively stable history coming from a utility truck/SUV hybrid to its current status as a luxury SUV.