The 2020 Toyota 4Runner is a solid choice for weekend warriors made better this year thanks to more safety gear, but pavement-pounders should look elsewhere.
The 2020 Toyota 4Runner is an SUV that may owe its continued existence to the way the “Jurassic Park” franchise reignited an interest in dinosaurs.
The 4Runner’s basic, off-road design makes it a relic compared to car-like crossover SUVs. Beneath its bulky exterior, the 4Runner has a separate frame and a solid rear axle, heavy-metal bits typically associated with pickup trucks. Those rugged parts give the 4Runner serious off-roading capability, especially in TRD Off Road and TRD Pro configurations. The 4Runner SR5 gets the basics right, while the decked-out 4Runner Limited seems to miss the point, at least to us.
Overall, we rate the 2020 4Runner at 5.0 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
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This year, the 4Runner gets a needed infusion of collision-avoidance tech including automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control. Its infotainment system now features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. That new gear turns the 4Runner into a dinosaur with a flip phone, but that’s an upgrade over last year’s two cans and a string.
Underhood, the 4Runner has a 4.0-liter V-6 rated at 270 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque. A 5-speed automatic transmission sends power to the wheels. Rear-wheel drive is standard, but the 4Runner makes more sense with the optional four-wheel-drive system. The 4Runner is heavy and rides on big tires that give it unstoppable performance off-road but can leave it with ponderous handling on pavement. Opt for the 4Runner TRD Off Road and the truck can be equipped with trick, hydraulically actuated sway bars that reduce lean in curves while aiding suspension droop off-road to keep the wheels on terra firma. The 4Runner TRD Pro discards that setup for Fox dual-reservoir shocks and a 2.5-inch suspension lift that gives it a plush ride and serious capability. On the highway, the 4Runner’s steering is nervous, though this year’s newly standard adaptive cruise control should make it a more relaxing road-tripper.
Step up into the 4Runner—hiking boots help—and you’ll find big, soft seats and a chunky dashboard. The seats sit low to the ground and head room isn’t extravagant. The optional third-row seat feels like an afterthought. Cargo is treated to around 90 cubic feet of space with the rear seats folded, but don’t look for a power liftgate.
No 4Runner is inexpensive, but both TRD versions are less expensive and better equipped for daily driver use than similar Jeep Wranglers.
The 2020 Toyota 4Runner has old-school styling that has aged well.
With its sharp front end, the 2020 Toyota 4Runner is an attention-grabber. We rate it at 6 out of 10, with a point above average for its ability to stand out in a crowd. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The 2020 4Runner has a blocky profile that’s a page out of the history books. It sits high off the ground and rides on tires nearly as tall as the roof of some sports cars. The 4Runner’s front end has big air intakes and sharp headlights that dig deep into its flared fenders. This year, the grille design is tweaked to house sensors for the automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control systems, but you’ll have to look closely to spot the differences. At the rear, the 4Runner’s styling isn’t as cohesive. Its tailgate is bland and isn’t integrated into the rest of the truck’s design.
All four 4Runner trim levels have different personalities, especially the chrome-laden 4Runner Limited and the high-riding 4Runner TRD Pro.
Inside, the SUVs have a blocky dashboard that puts an 8.0-inch touchscreen up high. Enormous audio and climate control knobs are comically overwrought. Tough cloth seats come standard, but many 4Runners on dealer lots are upholstered in easy-to-clean synthetic or real leather trim.
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The 2020 Toyota 4Runner won’t make you yearn for a curvy road, but it can be reasonably polished in certain configurations.
Shop carefully as the 2020 Toyota 4Runner has a different personality depending on what’s underneath. We rate the entire lineup at 5 out of 10, dialing a point back for sloppy handling that we add back for its serious off-road chops in most trims. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
All 4Runners use a 4.0-liter V-6 rated at 270 hp and 278 lb-ft of torque. The engine is paired to a 5-speed automatic transmission that’s down three gears to most competitors. 4Runner SR5 and Limited trims come standard with rear-wheel drive and a part-time four-wheel-drive system is optional on SR5 and standard with either TRD trim. Only the 4Runner Limited offers a four-wheel-drive system that can be used on dry pavement.
These SUVs ride on big tires and have a lot of ground clearance, so it’s not surprising that they can be a handful on pavement. Most versions bounce softy over big bumps and have light steering that requires extra corrections at speed. Their brakes are plenty strong, but suffer from numb pedal feel.
Any version is decently capable at taming a dirt road, though TRD 4Runners offer more confidence thanks to some impressive four-wheeling gear. The TRD Off Road adds a locking rear differential, a knob that tailors the traction control system to different conditions such as mud or rocks, and an off-road cruise control system that can lope the SUV along at a snail’s pace over serious moguls. The crawl control system is effective but incredibly loud. We recommend the optional Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System on the 4Runner TRD Off Road, which consists of thicker, hydraulically actuated sway bars that reduce lean on pavement and increase wheel travel off-road. The suspension doesn’t transform the 4Runner, but it helps quell the sloppy standard suspension.
Opt for the 4Runner TRD Pro and Toyota slaps a lifted suspension underneath paired to Fox shocks that give it a plush ride on or away from pavement. For most users, the suspension is probably overkill, though its ride quality is remarkably compliant. The 4Runner Limited goes in the opposite direction with its 20-inch wheels and relatively short tire sidewalls that give it a stiff ride. Off-roady SUVs with big wheels don’t make much sense to us.
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The 2020 Toyota 4Runner is spacious, but not all that comfortable inside.
The 2020 Toyota 4Runner has a relatively short cabin with a high floor and a low roof. It’s not ideal for passengers, though its big footprint means there’s plenty of space inside for gear.
We rate it at 5 out of 10, dialing a point back for an interior that’s a chore to climb into but adding one for good cargo utility. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The 4Runner’s front seats are large and plush. Drivers and front-seat passengers sit with their legs out, rather than the chairlike upright position more common in SUVs. The rear seat has decent space for outboard passengers but the middle position is tight. A cramped third row of seats is optional on some trim levels, although we’d look at other vehicles if hauling more than four passengers is a priority. Head room is acceptable in every seat, but not generous with the optional sunroof. High window sills and beefy roof pillars mean outward vision is not great.
The 4Runner doesn’t offer a power tailgate like many competitors, but its rear window slides down at the touch of a button. Cargo space is good at around 48 cubic feet with the second-row seat upright and nearly 90 cubes with it folded. There’s just 9 cubic feet behind the optional third row, however.
To make up for the 4Runner’s high cargo floor, Toyota offers a handy slide-out floor as an option on 4Runner SUVs without the third row.
Even in Limited trim, the 4Runner is not especially luxurious inside. The standard cloth upholstery has a durable, tough feel. The optional synthetic and real leather trim is a good choice for those bound to get their SUVs dirty because it’ll be easier to clean.
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Newly standard active safety tech addresses a major deficit for the 2020 Toyota 4Runner.
The 2020 Toyota 4Runner now comes standard with a full suite of active safety tech including automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and blind-spot monitors. That’s enough for a point above average, but it loses points for unimpressive federal and independent crash tests. It’s a 4 out of 10 on our scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The NHTSA rated the 4Runner at four out of five stars overall, including four stars for frontal crash, five for side-impact crashes, and three stars in the calculated rollover evaluation.
The IIHS agrees. The 4Runner earned “Good” scores in many crash tests, but the “Marginal” in the driver-side small-overlap test that simulates impact with an object such as an oncoming car or a utility pole is concerning. The 4Runner’s headlights rated “Poor” in the IIHS’ testing, too.
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