The 2020 Toyota 4Runner needs no introduction. The original, introduced in the mid-1980s, was essentially a pickup truck with a back seat, a rear roll bar, and a removable roof. Today, a 4Runner is more sophisticated than that, but when you boil this SUV down to its essentials, it serves the same purpose it always has. This is a tough-as-nails, ready-for-anything, truck-based SUV.
Toyota last redesigned the 4Runner for the 2010 model year. Since then, it’s undergone a minor restyling and has added new features along with safety and infotainment technologies. Case in point, the 2020 4Runner get s a collection of advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS) as standard equipment. It also comes with a new infotainment system that includes Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Amazon Alexa.
But at its core, the 2020 4Runner is largely the same as the 2010 version. Back then, Toyota offered a Trail Edition for the 4Runner, and the new-for-2020 4Runner Venture Special Edition is reminiscent of that model. Based on the TRD Off-Road Premium, the Venture Special Edition comes with gunmetal-finish 17-inch TRD wheels, a Yakima Megawarrior roof rack, and blacked out exterior trim.
Photo: Christian Wardlaw
For this review, J.D. Power evaluated a Toyota 4Runner Venture Special Edition equipped with a Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS), a TRD Pro exhaust system, a power sunroof, running boards, a sliding rear cargo deck, a cargo cover, a cargo mat, and carpeted floor mats. The price came to $48,977, including the $1,120 destination charge.
What Owners Say…
Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the 2020 4Runner, it is helpful to understand who buys this midsize SUV, and what they like most and least about their vehicles.
According to J.D. Power data, 57% of 4Runner owners are male (vs. 56% for the segment), and they earn about the same money in terms of median annual household income ($115,682 vs. $116,933). However, 4Runner owners are younger with a median age of 48 (vs. 56). In fact, 66% of 4Runner owners identify as a member of Generation X, Y, or Z (vs. 47%).
Most frequently, 4Runner owners identify as Price Buyers (29%) followed by Performance Buyers (24%). At the same time, though, 4Runner owners are less likely to agree that a first consideration when choosing a new vehicle is miles per gallon (36% vs. 56% for the segment), and are less likely to strongly agree that they avoid vehicles that they think will have high maintenance costs (60% vs. 65%).
Costs are, however, a consideration when it comes to safety and the environment. J.D. Power data shows that 78% of 4Runner owners agree that they’re willing to pay extra to ensure their vehicle has the latest safety features (vs. 83% for the segment), and 39% agree that they are willing to pay extra for a vehicle that is environmentally friendly (vs. 52%).
Quality and reliability are important to 4Runner owners, with 64% of them strongly agreeing that quality of workmanship is a first consideration when choosing a new vehicle (vs. 51% for the segment) while 79% strongly agree that a first consideration is reliability (vs. 67%).
Toyota 4Runner owners like the looks of this SUV. Our data shows that 78% of them prefer a vehicle that stands out from the crowd (vs. 69% for the segment), and that 71% disagree that a vehicle is just a way of getting from place to place (vs. 63%).
Owners say their favorite things about the 4Runner are (in descending order) the exterior styling, driving dynamics, interior design, and the seats and the visibility and safety (in a tie). Owners indicate their least favorite things about the 4Runner are (in descending order) the storage and space, engine/transmission and climate control system (in a tie), infotainment system, and by a significant margin, fuel economy.
In the J.D Power 2019 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, the 4Runner ranked 16th out of 19 midsize SUVs.
What Our Expert Says…
In the sections that follow, our expert provides his own perceptions about how the 2020 Toyota 4Runner measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the APEAL Study.
The 4Runner Venture Special Edition is about form and function. With gray TRD wheels and blacked-out emblems and badges, it has a custom appearance amplified by the test vehicle’s Barcelona Red paint. The huge Yakima roof basket adds function – along with aerodynamic drag and wind noise. The look is undeniably cool, but unless you actually plan to use that rack, I recommend sticking with the TRD Off Road and adding the blacked-out look and TRD wheels separately.
Photo: Christian Wardlaw
Climb into a Toyota 4Runner and you’re transported back to a time when clearly labeled buttons, knobs, and switches controlled a vehicle’s functions. Aside from the 8-inch touchscreen display, there is nothing high-tech about the 4Runner’s interior.
Photo: Christian Wardlaw
Better yet, the 4Runner is made for foul weather and getting dirty. Almost every interior surface is flat and plastic, making for easy clean-up. And the controls are oversized, perfect for when you’re wearing gloves because baby it is cold outside.
Getting into and out of a 4Runner can be tricky if you’ve got shorter legs or you’re wearing something that you’d rather not get dirty. But once you’re aboard, the Toyota 4Runner is comfortable for everyone.
The test vehicle included SofTex simulated leather that is soft but also oddly sticky. Heated front cushions stand ready to ward off a winter chill, but ventilated seats are offered only with the real leather in the Limited or Nightshade versions of the SUV.
Adults will find the 4Runner’s rear seat to be quite comfortable, with enough space to cross your legs and ride in comfort. Air conditioning vents help, too, and new-for-2020 USB ports keep devices charged up. A third-row seat is an affordable $305 option for the 4Runner.
Climate Control System
Automatic climate control is available for the 4Runner, but only with Limited and Nightshade trim. Other 4Runners have an old-school manual air conditioning system operated using huge knobs.
Moderate temperatures did not tax the system, and it took a while to remember that when I got too cold or too warm, I needed to adjust the system. It wasn’t going to take care of the situation for me, like so many modern SUVs do. But I like this about the 4Runner.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto have become so popular that some people choose one vehicle over another just to get the feature. Now, for 2020, the Toyota 4Runner has both, along with Amazon Alexa integration, Wi-Fi Connect service, and a standard 8-inch touchscreen display.
Equipped with eight speakers, the sound system produces lots of bass, which helped to overcome the incessant wind noise from the roof rack and the non-stop bleating from the optional TRD exhaust system. You can get JBL components, but only with Limited or Nightshade trim.
Equipped with a dynamic navigation system, the test 4Runner had a decent voice recognition system. My favorite thing, though, is the navigation map breadcrumb feature that shows you the path you took to get wherever you are. This is truly invaluable when traveling in uncharted territory.
In addition to its new infotainment system, the 2020 4Runner also gains revised instrumentation with a 4.2-inch driver information system and two new USB ports for the back seat.
Storage and Space
There is no shortage of storage or space inside of a 4Runner, making this an exceptionally practical SUV.
Up front, Toyota carves out bins, trays, and compartments wherever it can. In back, the cargo area holds up to 47.2 cu.-ft. of cargo behind the rear seat and as much as 89.7 cu.-ft. with the rear seat folded down. Every 4Runner also includes a 120-volt, 3-prong household-style power outlet in the cargo area, as well as a side storage bin and several trays.
Due to the high and distant cargo load floor, owners can opt for something called a rear slide deck. Able to hold 440 pounds, this is a tray that slides out from the cargo area to help when you’re loading heavy items into the SUV.
Visibility and Safety
Once you’ve climbed aboard a 4Runner, you enjoy a commanding view forward, though the long, flat, and scooped hood can be a liability when off-roading. Direct overhead visibility is also compromised due to the SUV’s low roofline and fairly vertical windshield, and the standard reversing camera is fairly low-tech.
Large side mirrors make it easy to see your blind spots, though, which is especially helpful because a blind-spot warning system is not available for the 4Runner. And don’t look for a rear cross-traffic warning system on this SUV, either.
However, for 2020, the 4Runner now has standard Toyota Safety Sense. In this application, TSS includes adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, and automatic high-beam headlights. The 2020 4Runner also includes a 3-year free trial to Safety Connect services, including automatic collision notification and emergency calling capability.
While TSS is neither as sophisticated nor as refined as TSS 2.0, which Toyota is adding to its other models with each redesign, it’s a good thing it comes standard because the 4Runner does not perform well in safety tests. Side-impact protection is not a problem. Frontal-impact protection is, however, an issue. And I can personally attest that the headlights are awful unless you run them on high-beams.
Safety ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) do not inspire confidence. In addition to a Poor rating for the headlights, the 4Runner scores a Marginal rating in the small overlap frontal-impact test.
In crash tests conducted by the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the 4Runner earns a middling 3-star rating for frontal impact protection for the front passenger, and 4 stars for driver. The rollover resistance rating is only 3 stars, too.
A tried-and-true 4.0-liter V6 engine is standard in the 4Runner, cranking out 270 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 278 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,400 rpm. A 5-speed automatic transmission powers the rear wheels unless you opt for the part-time or full-time four-wheel-drive system, and the 4Runner’s maximum tow rating is 5,000 pounds.
Charged with motivating 4,750 lbs. of curb weight, the V6 supplies adequate acceleration, and you need to prod it for that. Drive normally, and you’ll be going nowhere fast. The transmission is agreeable, and it holds a lower gear when descending a grade. However, when climbing hills, the 5-speed kept upshifting at the earliest opportunity, causing plenty of hunting in our local mountains.
I’d advise against the optional TRD exhaust system, which costs almost $800. It drones and bleats and becomes tiresome in short order. Plus, it makes the 4Runner sound like a clapped-out 20-year-old Honda Civic driven by a 16-year-old kid who can’t use a clutch pedal, and nobody wants that.
The EPA estimates that a 4Runner with 4WD should get 18 mpg in combined driving. My family and I used the SUV for a wide range of activities that involved plenty of highway driving, and the SUV averaged 16.8 mpg.
One of those activities also involved some off-roading near Ojai, California. In fact, I do believe I got the front end airborne over one whoop-de-doo, the kids whoopin’ it up in the back seat the entire time.
This is what the 4Runner is engineered to do. A heavy, traditional, body-on-frame SUV, it sits on a double-wishbone front axle, 4-link beam rear axle, coil spring suspension with a whopping 9.6 inches of ground clearance. The 4Runner Venture includes a 2-speed manual transfer case with low range, a driver-selectable rear locking differential, multi-terrain select drivetrain settings, an active traction control system, and CRAWL Control, which is basically an ultra-low-speed cruise control system for off-roading.
If you just read that paragraph and you have no idea what any of it means or how to use it, a Toyota 4Runner is not the right SUV for you. Here’s why.
On pavement, the steering is slow, vague, and disconnected. The 4-wheel-ventilated disc brakes are strong but touchy, grabby, and hard to modulate. The 265/70R17 tires howl pretty early in corners and curves. And the 4Runner throws its weight around on its suspension quite a bit. This is not a vehicle that encourages fast driving. It is fairly slow in terms of acceleration, and 70 mph feels like an appropriate cruising speed on highways.
At the same time, the 4Runner feels indestructible. It is tightly screwed together, and the tough underpinnings pummel lousy paved and dirt surfaces into submission. It caters to adventure, giving you the tools necessary to get well off the beaten path.
And in that respect, a Toyota 4Runner is what a true SUV is all about. No barriers.
Thanks to its rugged good looks, obvious off-roading talents, roomy interior, huge cargo area, and essential technologies, the 2020 Toyota 4Runner is an exceptionally likeable SUV in spite its age. With better safety ratings, it would be easy to recommend to people who love to take the road less traveled and have plenty of room in their budgets for gas.
Christian Wardlaw is a veteran automotive journalist with over 25 years of experience in test-driving vehicles. In addition to JDPower.com, his work has appeared in numerous new- and used-car buying guides, newspapers, and automotive industry trade journals.
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