The 4Runner Trail couldn’t be further from today’s modern SUV.
We’re officially in the thick of winter here in Ontario and even my rutted and seldom plowed residential street is enough to have everyone thinking some capability. That’s where this 2021 Toyota 4Runner Trail comes in. The fifth generation has been running on minor tweaks and updates since its last complete overhaul in 2009, and while definitely showing its age, the 4Runner has a loyal following among outdoor enthusiasts, off-roaders, or anyone who need absolute reliability and relative comfort.
New for 2021 is the “Trail” model of which Toyota will only be making 4000 copies. The Trail is the purest form of the 4Runner, stripped down to the bare necessities, with a focus on off-road adventure capabilities. Opting for the Trail package take $2,710 off the base price of standard 4Runner SR5, in exchange for removing features such as the sunroof, heated seats, automatic climate control, rear air ducts, etc. In place of those features, you get a basket style roof-rack, blacked out badging, dark gray 17-inch TRD off-road wheels, a very handy rear cargo slider and a color-matched cooler.
Clearly, the package is meant for those who intend on spending time around their 4Runner, and not just inside of it. The basket, cooler and sliding cargo tray are a campers dream, and the rear cargo area is very well thought out for camping with plenty of storage cubbies, and both 120V and 12V outlets. On theme, the Trail is only available in two colors; Army Green and Cement Grey. It is handsome with great proportions and solid boxy lines; the design has aged very well. Also of note for 2021, all models of the 4Runner are now standard with LED headlamps, a much needed upgrade from the inadequate halogens.
Where the 4Runner has not aged so well is inside the cabin. Despite some updates like a large infotainment screen and a slew of new electronic driving aids, the interior feels at least 15 years older than it really is. Most surfaces are hard plastic and while it’s surely going to be hard wearing, overall fit and finish is well below expectations for an SUV at this price point. Controls are clear, clean and very basic, and the three large dials for the manual climate controls almost feel like a throwback at this day and age.
The space however, is well utilized with handy storage in the deep door pockets, deep cupholders, a large center armrest storage bin, and various trays and slots in the console for your everyday carry items. The 4Runner’s infotainment system looks dated and is cumbersome to navigate, but does have the capability to display some interesting information such as detailed readouts of fuel economy over time. The system is also compatible with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, so most smartphone uses will likely opt to run those systems rather than spend time in the native system.
The 4Runner is available with a small third row seat if you’re so inclined, but out test vehicle was not so equipped. It does offer plenty of head and leg room for adults, and the durable feeling fabric seats in ours are plenty comfortable. That said, not having heated seats, or a heated steering wheel, in a vehicle positioned for outdoor adventure, in Canada, is a bit of a miss in my opinion. You do, however, get the 4Runner signature power retractable rear window, which didn’t see any use this time of year, but is certainly a nice feature to have in the warm months for a nice breeze.
The 4Runner has long since been powered by a 4.0-liter V6, outputting 270 horsepower at 5,600RPM and 278 lb-ft. of torque at 4,400RPM. A five-speed automatic sends power to all four wheels through a part-time four-wheel-drive system. The engine is by no means quick, but it does feel responsive and torquey around town at lower speeds. On the highway, or under heavy throttle, the V6 runs out of breath quickly and can feel like it’s making a lot more noise than power.
On the road, the 4Runner feels more refined and confident than other off-roaders such as the Jeep Wrangler, but the solid body-on-frame construction and off-road setup mean it drives in a more truck-like manner than most of the competition in the mid-size SUV segment. Ride quality is respectable, and on-center steering feel is fairly positive, but it does tend to wander on the highway and the cabin can be a noisy place thanks noise from wind, tires and the familiar hum of the 4.0-liter V6.
Quick maneuvers or fast cornering are not what the 4Runner is about, and its driving dynamics reflect that. We did get a significant snow-fall during our test week, and I took the opportunity to get acquainted with how it handled unplowed back roads as well as snow-covered gravel service trails, and the 4Runner was clearly in its element. In 4HI and with the electronic locking differential engaged, the Toyota made effortless progress over any terrain or obstacle.
Fuel economy is another low point for the 4Runner. Toyota Canada rates fuel consumption at 14.3L/100km city and 11.9L/100km highway, requiring regular 87-octane fuel. Our test, in winter conditions consisted of mostly highway and open road driving, with a short off-road stint. During that time we observed 15.0L/100km, significantly worse than the official rating suggests. The massive 87-liter tank does mean drivers will be able to go extended periods without needing to refuel.
The base price for a standard 4Runner SR5 is $48,670, but with the $2,710 discount applied for the Trail model, this drops down to $45,960. Value is what you make it though; and while spending in excess of $45,000 on an SUV with manual climate control and cloth seats might seem a bit strange at first, the 4Runner’s history suggests it’s going to retain a lot more of that value than any other competitor on the market.
Moreso, while the 4Runner might officially compete in the midsize SUV segment, it’s not really competitive in that it doesn’t play in the same space as most of the others. This is not a refined, car-like SUV loaded with the latest tech and gadgets for a family. This is a purpose built, off-roader, with livable on-road manners, and time tested reliability, durability and resale.
The 2021 Toyota 4Runner Trail couldn’t be further from today’s modern SUV. In many ways, spending a week driving it was a bit of a throwback to a simpler time. The 4Runner’s strong sales and ridiculous resale also prove that a lot of the typical metrics we use to evaluate vehicles are often skewed to what most buyers want, not what all buyers want. Cearly there are still plenty of buyers out there for these genuinely rugged SUVs.