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Over The Past 12 Years, The 4Runner Hasn't Changed Much. And Maybe That's The Charm.

Brian Champagne

This is the Toyota 4Runner doing what it does best, climbing a boulder-studded hill better than your crossover can climb your paved driveway. We’ve driven four-wheel drive crossovers up a little and back down this hill. Set a dial for the terrain and speed and the 4Runner does it all, including the gas pedal, by itself.

Those crossovers even the score on-road. They’re one-piecers, the 4Runner is a body bolted to a truck frame.

“If it is an off-road platform, it needs to have high ground clearance and that’s going to mean that it gives up stability in cornering. They're kinda topheavy,” said Corey Ransom, a driver of 4Runners for the last 30 years.

“The suspension is built to take large bumps, so it is not going to be as comfortable,” Ransom said.

Ransom is in a 2007 model now.

“It was one of the last years they offered the 4.7 litter V-8 (motor),” Ransom said. 


And in his garage, a first-generation 1987 with the removable roof.


“It’s been probably 7 or 8 years it’s been sitting in here,” Ransom said. “As you can see by the layer of dust”


Toyota loaned us a 2020 and has since came out with the 2021. What’s new this year? Standard LED headlights, a new color, and special editions with an optional ice chest. Special editions let you know there aren’t any significant changes. 


For 2020 it was lane-keeping and safety tech and special editions. For 2019 it was some special editions. If you haven’t noticed on the highways yet, the 4Runner doesn’t change much. It’s had five generations, or whole new versions, since it came out in 1984. The Toyota Corolla’s had eight generations in the same time.


And that’s OK with 4Runner buyers.


“I like the fact that they are staying true to the original vehicle,” Ransom said. 


The sales chart doesn’t go up and down when the new models come out and it’s been in a climb as steep as this Hyde Park canyon hill since this latest version, which came out in 2009, was 4 years into the run.


Our loaner 2020 nav system told us the nearest Sportsman’s Warehouse was in Ogden while we were in the parking lot of the one in Logan. But finding shopping was never its claim to fame.


“I don’t think you’ll see a lot of  brand new 2020 4Runners on the slick rock in Moab,” Ransom said.


That could be because rocks in Moab don’t care that you paid 50,000 bucks for a 4Runner. But off-roaders will wait while it changes incrementally for the price to come down incrementally.


“It’s often those models that are 20 years old that they can pick up for an affordable cost, modify and make into something that can handle some extreme off-road,” Ransom said.


Brian Champagne grew up in the less-famous Central California but left after starting his television news career there. He worked 22 years in news for NBC, ABC, Fox, and CBS affiliates in four markets. He served as chief photographer for KTXL-TV in Sacramento, but worked in front of the camera, too.