They say you can’t really teach an old dog new tricks, but “they” clearly haven’t met the 2021 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro. By all accounts, it’s a fossil: strip away the off-road cosplay loved by suburbanites and overlanding enthusiasts alike, and the 4Runner’s bones have been around for more than a decade. In the world of cars, that’s not just old — that’s prehistoric.
Now, depending on how you look at it, that’s either a good or a bad thing. This latest 4Runner is only the fifth generation of a species whose lineage can be traced back to the mid-1980s; that’s five generations in 30, almost 40 years! Having debuted in 2009 for the 2010 model year, the fifth-gen 4Runner already felt a little old and outdated by the time it was refreshed in 2014. So, this definitely goes without saying: the 4Runner isn’t exactly the freshest option out there.
But while many car companies are in a rat race to deliver the biggest screens, the most useless tech, and as little driver involvement as possible, there’s an endearing honesty to the 4Runner. It’s not old, it’s proven. It’s a faithful and flawed companion that’ll happily take you deep into the great outdoors and back to civilization in a day — maybe two or three, if you pack enough gear and grub. This kind of loyalty is something no Bronco, Defender, or Wrangler can match.
Pop the hood and the 4Runner is rudimentary as you’d expect. A normally aspirated 4.0L V6 is your only option, putting out a modest 270 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque — no turbochargers, no electric wizardry up its sleeve, just a proven engine that simply gets the job done. The 4Runner puts the power down via an equally old-fashioned six-speed automatic transmission, and the standard four-wheel-drive system is there to save your bacon in case you get too cocky on that muddy and rutted trail.
On the road, nothing about the 4Runner’s driving experience truly stands out — and that’s a good thing. You climb in, poke the start button beside the steering wheel, shift into drive, and you go about your business. That’s the beauty of the 4Runner: despite it’s rough-and-tumble attitude, it’s surprisingly well-mannered. The knobby Nitto all-terrain tires let in a bit more road noise than you may be used to, but it’s far from overwhelming, and wind noise is minimal.
The upgraded Fox shocks turn even the gnarliest imperfections into muffled thumps, and perhaps best of all, you’re not constantly sawing at the wheel to keep the 4Runner in a straight line on the highway. Consider that an instant step up over the Jeep Wrangler.
All that said, there are two massive caveats. The first is fuel economy: Toyota officially rates the 4Runner TRD Pro’s drinking problem at 14.3 L/100 kilometres in the city, and 11.9 on the highway. That said, after about 1,200-plus kilometres — most of that being on the highway, thanks to a round trip to the cottage and back — we averaged 13.6 L/100 kilometres. That’s not great, although the fact that the 4Runner happily chugs 87-octane gas eases the sting.
The second caveat is a two-parter: the six-speed automatic isn’t the smartest transmission out there, what with its tendency to hold onto gears for a very long time. This is especially apparent on the highway and with the adaptive cruise control active, where even on the slightest inclines, the transmission kicks down a gear and refuses to upshift, holding the engine above 3,000 RPM even after the road levels off for a moment too long. Throw in the upgraded exhaust system exclusive to the TRD Pro, and the drone will wear on you very quickly. It sounds great around town, but on the highway, it’s a nuisance.
In addition to the questionable exhaust system, the upgraded Fox shocks, and the wicked meaty Nitto all-terrain tires, the TRD Pro gains a handful of other upgrades over lesser 4Runners, including crawl control and terrain modes for the four-wheel-drive system, a TRD-branded skid plate, a locking rear differential, and an integrated roof rack that’s very effective at carrying doughnut-shaped pool toys, among other enhancements.
It’s a pretty cool piece of kit, especially from the outside and finished in Lunar Rock, a primer grey-ish hue with a hint of green. Smartly, all 4Runner TRD Pros now come with standard LED headlights for 2021, a definite upgrade over the halogens from previous years. Now, if only Toyota did something about that exhaust system.
Inside, the 4Runner really shows its age — but again, depending on how you look at it, that’s either a good or a bad thing. The overall layout is basic, the overall materials aren’t much to write home about, and the eight-inch display handling infotainment could be more crisp, although standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity takes care of that. Regardless, even in this day and age of 3D-this, gesture-controlled-that, and digital-everything, the 4Runner’s cabin is refreshingly analogue: the gauges are well-marked, the physical buttons and dials handling the radio and climate control are a blessing, and there’s a generous supply of storage cubbies and pockets. There’s plenty of legroom up front, although taller rear passengers might bonk their heads on a lip spanning across the headliner.
Cargo space is extremely generous at about 1,336 litres with the seats up. The rear seat bench cleverly flips up, making way for taller items you may need to haul or allowing the rear seat backs to fold completely flat, opening up the hold to a cavernous 2,540 litres. More than enough space for a week away at the cottage for two, but be warned: the cargo floor is rather high off the ground, so loading heavier items is a challenge. Lift with your legs.
Price-wise, the 2021 4Runner starts at $47,260 for the Trail, but stepping up to the TRD Pro shoots the price up to $62,430. That’s a hefty chunk of change; if you’re all about that off-road look, you’ll probably be happier with the $52,380 TRD Off Road or the $57,030 Venture, if you want a few more bells and whistles.
The endearingly flawed 2021 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro may be a rolling fossil, but its strong sales, steadfast fan base, and frankly absurd resale value defy its age. Turns out, you can teach an old dog new tricks after all.