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When it comes to SUVs, reputation is everything. But reputation isn’t always reality. When the cards are down, some of the most highly regarded SUVs may not be the best option. Take, for example, the Toyota 4Runner. You’ll be hard-pressed to find another SUV with as strong a reputation. And yet, other alternatives may fit a driver’s needs better than the 4Runner. Take a look at the Nissan Pathfinder – an SUV that’s gone through many ups and downs but has returned to be among the industry’s most complete midsize SUV packages. Now available with a dedicated off-road package, the 2023 Pathfinder is worth a look if a 4Runner alternative is on the board. 

What makes a good 4Runner alternative?

The 4Runner has remained popular for a few reasons. Any alternative needs to cater to similar requirements. 

For one, the 4Runner remains a pretty traditional SUV among a sea of more pedestrian crossovers. Any worthy competitor must have some rugged aesthetics and a boxy shape. Performance is also important; That is, the ability to provide sturdy, well-rounded capability in all weather conditions and terrains. Finally, reliability is perhaps the most important factor in the 4Runner’s success. It has a reputation for being one of the most durable SUVs on the road. Only a few vehicles match the 4Runner exactly, but the Nissan Pathfinder comes close. 

1. Pathfinder has a more modern powertrain 

One of the knocks against the 2023 Toyota 4Runner is its archaic engine and transmission combination. Despite its durability, the 4.0-liter V6 and five-speed automatic transmission offer sluggish acceleration and dreadful fuel economy. 

That’s where the 2023 Nissan Pathfinder differs. It, too, uses a V6 engine that Car and Driver says produces an impressive 284 horsepower (even more in the Rock Creek edition). But it’s a more modern, more efficient design than Toyota’s. Add in the fact that the Pathfinder gets a nine-speed automatic transmission with four more gears than the 4Runner and it’s easy to see how the Nissan gets superior fuel efficiency. According to Car and Driver, the Pathfinder reaches up to 27 mpg highway. By comparison, the 4Runner is rated for just 19 mpg highway. It’s clear that the Pathfinder is a much more efficient alternative to the 4Runner.

2. Much better on-road performance

A 2023 Nissan Pathfinder, an alternative option to the Toyota 4Runner, sits atop a hill overlooking gray skies and countryside.
2023 Nissan Pathfinder | Nissan

The 4Runner thrives off-road. But the price to pay is an imprecise and crashy on-road experience. The Pathfinder fares much better on pavement according to Car and Driver. That ride quality advantage comes from significant structural differences between the two SUVs. 

Toyota uses a traditional truck-based ladder frame construction for the 4Runner. By contrast, Nissan’s 4Runner alternative has sacrificed a bit of off-road capability to gain on-road composure. The Pathfinder’s unibody construction allows for more precise handling and better all-around ride comfort on pavement. It’s not as truly rugged as the 4Runner, but it’s likely to be far better on a long road trip or a daily commute. 

3. 4Runner’s interior has aged 

Nissan has cycled its Pathfinder through multiple iterations over the last decade, refreshing its interior with more modern features each time. The SUV’s cabin has fresh looks and features befitting a 2023 vehicle. The 4Runner hasn’t had a proper redesign in a decade. While the familiar cabin layout of the 4Runner may please some drivers, others might find it a little dated. 

Is the Nissan Pathfinder a reliable 4Runner alternative?

The Toyota 4Runner’s reliability is still the ace up its sleeve. RepairPal gives the 2023 model a four out of five rating. Plus, years of anecdotal evidence support reliability claims for an SUV that has mostly stayed the same since the 2000s. Meanwhile, the Pathfinder lags behind RepairPal with a 3.5 reliability rating. That’s not bad – but the Pathfinder doesn’t have the same durability cache as its Toyota rival. Still, the Pathfinder is a strong alternative if the 4Runner isn’t one’s cup of tea.  


The 2023 Nissan Pathfinder Is an Underrated SUV