2023 Toyota 4Runner 40th Anniversary: Past is Nice, Bring On the Future

Strong points
  • Reliable and durable
  • Vast and versatile cargo area
  • 40th Anniversary Edition stands out
Weak points
  • Poor fuel economy
  • Obsolete chassis, engine and interior
  • Competitors are more capable
Full report

Following the Tundra (2022) and Sequoia (2023), the Tacoma and 4Runner are expected to get a full redesign of their own for the 2024 model year. For the latter, it is long overdue: the current generation dates back to 2010.

In order to maintain interest among consumers, Toyota gave the 2023 model expanded safety content and brought back the 4Runner TRD Sport it added the previous year. There’s also a new 40th Anniversary limited edition that is rather cool.

Only 400 units are available in Canada, and we recently spent time in one. Below are our impressions.

Photo: Guillaume Rivard

Racing Nostalgia

The original 4Runner was built on the Toyota pickup platform, which founded the heritage of Toyota’s success in off-road racing. As an homage to those early racers, the 4Runner 40th Anniversary Edition fittingly wears retro-inspired yellow/orange/red graphics. The body can be specified in White, Midnight Black Metallic (our favourite) or Barcelona Red Metallic. There are bronze-coloured alloy wheels and badges, plus a TOYOTA heritage grille up front.

When opening up the liftgate, you’ll find a nice little Easter egg, too: the evolution of the 4Runner is illustrated through five generations. Let’s just say the silhouette has pretty much stayed the same over the years.

Photo: Guillaume Rivard

Cargo space is quite ample at 1,336 litres (this model has a five-passenger configuration only). It increases to 2,540 litres by folding the rear seats, which offer that oh-so-practical 40/20/40 split. Dual power outlets (including 120V and 12V) add convenience.

It can be hard to access the stuff you put deep into the trunk, though, as the bumper step gets in the way. On the flip side, this step comes in handy for those who need to load or unload items from the optional roof rack.

Photo: Guillaume Rivard

Dated Interior

The high-riding Toyota 4Runner requires some effort to climb on-board, especially for shorter adults and kids, and the available running boards are not that helpful. Ground clearance is a good 9.6 inches at minimum. Inside, the controls, gauges and displays will take you back to another era. Yep, this is the definition of a dated interior. Bronze-coloured stitching, a unique dashboard plate and 40th Anniversary logos on the front seat headrests are the only clues you’re sitting in something special.

Toyota’s new multimedia system is coming in the next generation. In the meantime, the one in the 2023 4Runner is not very attractive or user-friendly, barely earning a passing grade. The navigation maps are a good example. The touchscreen has decent enough size, is easily within reach, and compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Photo: Guillaume Rivard

The seats in the 4Runner are designed to accommodate larger drivers (but lack lateral support) and are upholstered in synthetic leather, which is easier to keep clean than fabric or real leather—perfect for a rugged 4x4 that loves to get dirty. Visibility is generally good, though the rear window wiper fails to clear a wide enough surface.  

20-Year-Old Powertrain

The 2023 Toyota 4Runner relies on the same 4.0-litre V6 engine and five-speed automatic transmission as 20 years ago. That’s right. The former is a proven and durable unit, albeit loud and rough most of the time. Output is a reasonable 270 horsepower, but the good thing is that torque is higher at 278 pound-feet, facilitating acceleration on and off the road as well as towing (max capacity is 5,000 pounds).

Photo: Guillaume Rivard

Obviously, with just five forward gears, the V6 has to work that much harder, and fuel consumption is disastrous as a result: 13.8 L/100 km according to Natural Resources Canada, 14.1 L/100 km at the end of our winter test, which featured a mix of street, highway and off-road driving (mostly on dirt and snow-covered roads). The silver lining is that regular gasoline will suffice.

Smoother and quieter on the road than a Jeep Wrangler, which is one of its two direct rivals along with the Ford Bronco, the 4Runner is handicapped by a higher centre of gravity and has a tendency to nosedive under hard braking. What’s more, steering lacks precision and often requires corrections through the steering wheel.

Photo: Guillaume Rivard

Since the local trails were nearly all covered in deep snow, the time we spent off the road mostly consisted of gravel and dirt roads, though with a fair share of potholes and depressions. The 4Runner took the punches like a pro. Keep in mind that the 40th Anniversary Edition is no better equipped than the base model. If you want a locking rear differential, multi-terrain selector and monitor, front skid plate, beefed-up suspension, off-road tires and more, you need to turn to the TRD Off Road or TRD Pro model.

Our Verdict

The 4Runner doesn’t have quite what it takes to keep pace with a Wrangler or Bronco. The chassis and design are simply obsolete. Why should you buy one in 2023? Because it’s a Toyota, first and foremost. Reliability, durability and residual value are all part of the package.

Photo: Guillaume Rivard

Pricing starts at $51,050, which is right on par with comparable four-door Wranglers and Broncos. Add an extra $3,330 for the 40th Anniversary Edition, plus $1,890 freight and PDI.

Now, you need to ask yourself two questions. First, do you really need it? If not, a Toyota Highlander could probably be more your thing. Second, can you wait a bit longer? The next-generation 4Runner is coming with a new chassis, powertrain and interior, fresh styling and increased sophistication. Sure, it’s always risky to jump on a first-year product, but we’d be more confident in buying from Toyota than from Ford (or Jeep) in such case.

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