Trucks & SUVs

The 2020 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro Makes Getting Into Off-Roading Easy

People put up with the Jeep Wrangler’s foibles in part because of its off-road prowess. However, for those splitting their time equally between asphalt and dirt, the Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro is a more refined alternative. But can someone completely new to off-roading make the most out of the 4Runner TRD Pro’s equipment? Luckily, there is such a newbie here at MotorBiscuit: me.

2020 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro: off-road specs and features

2020 Toyota Sequoia TRD Pro side
2020 Toyota Sequoia TRD Pro side | Toyota

The 2020 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro, like the TRD Pro versions of the Tacoma and Sequoia, has four-wheel drive with a 2-speed transfer case. But while the Tacoma has a higher payload capacity, and the Sequoia has 3 rows of seats, the 4Runner is the best off-roader of the 3, Motor1 reports.

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It’s shorter than the Tacoma or Sequoia, with a 90° bend to its TRD sports exhaust. That helps give it a 26° departure angle, the best of Toyota’s TRD Pro models. That’s combined with a 33° approach and a 19.8° break-over angle, Road & Track reports.

2020 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
2020 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro | Toyota

True, the Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro doesn’t have quite as much ground clearance as the Tacoma TRD Pro. But 9.6” of ground clearance is more than you get in a classic Land Rover Defender, Car and Driver reports. Plus, the 4Runner TRD Pro can wade into water almost 30” deep, Men’s Journal reports.

The Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro also has the necessary hardware and software to back those numbers up. The range-topping 4Runner comes with an aluminum skid plate, Fox 2.5” internal-bypass remote-reservoir shocks, TRD springs, and Nitto Terra Grappler all-terrain tires, Gear Patrol reports. That’s in addition to off-road cruise control, locking rear differential, and multiple 4WD modes, Motor Trend reports.

2020 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon rear
2020 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon rear | Jeep

Admittedly, the Jeep Wrangler and Ford Bronco do have slightly better off-road numbers than the Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro, The Drive reports. And the Wrangler Rubicon has solid axles and disconnecting sway bars, for better rock-crawling articulation. But then, as the Jeep Mojave models show, what’s good for rock-crawling isn’t always good for driving on pavement.

The off-road trail and prep

The tree-lined rocky uphill start of The Cliffs Insane Terrain Off-Road Park's Trail 1
The Cliffs Insane Terrain Off-Road Park Trail 1 uphill starting point | Matthew Skwarczek

However, none of that entered into my head when I was getting ready to off-road at The Cliffs Insane Terrain Park in Marseilles, IL. The park sprawls over several acres, with multiple trails transitioning from forested creeks to rocky hills and muddy lanes. The park is open to ATVs, side-by-sides, and motorcycles as well as trucks and SUVs. As such, some of the trails are fairly tight. And one part featured a climb up several embedded logs that looked to my eyes almost vertical.

A close-up view of the 2020 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro's transmission and 4WD shifters
2020 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro shifter detail | Matthew Skwarczek

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So, as I was getting ready in the parking lot, I was mostly focused on bringing the SUV back without scratching up its wheels. The preparations were fairly straight-forward. Put the 5-speed automatic into neutral, and shift into 4Lo. That adjusts the 4Runner TRD Pro’s traction control and enables the various off-road features. I put the Multi-Terrain Select into the Dirt setting and locked the rear differential. And I was off.

The 4Runner TRD Pro is a great off-roading intro

A rear shot of a green 2020 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro on a forest off-road trail near a creek
2020 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro rear | Matthew Skwarczek

RELATED: Which is the Better Off-Road SUV, the Toyota 4Runner or Jeep Wrangler?

Turns out, I shouldn’t have worried. The body-on-frame Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro is more capable than I am when it comes to off-roading matters. Although the SUV’s 4.0-liter V6 only makes 270 hp and 278 lb-ft, it was more than enough to let it climb hills with ease. In 4Lo with the differential locked, the Nitto tires had more than enough grip, regardless if I was driving over mud or rocks.

A green 2020 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro on a forested muddy rutted off-road trail
2020 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro on trail | Matthew Skwarczek

Speaking of mud, changing the Multi-Terrain Select to different modes does impact the 4Runner TRD Pro’s behavior. The changes are somewhat subtle, but switching from Dirt to Moguls over some well-rutted trails noticeably improved traction and smoothed the engine’s power delivery. As a result, not only did the SUV drive more easily, it jostled my head a bit less. It was also here where the 4Runner TRD Pro’s relatively-light steering became a boon. Instead of ripping at my hands, the steering wheel remained under control at all times.

At the end of the run, I found myself staring down a steep rocky hill. So, I decided to test out the 4Runner’s off-road cruise control, aka ‘Crawl Control.’ Using the system results in a series of pops and noises from the front, which I initially worried was the suspension breaking. Turns out, it was likely the stability and traction control systems applying the brakes, the Chicago Tribune explains. And it made coming down the hill a breeze. Instead of having to worry about balancing the brakes and accelerator, all I had to do was steer. It’s like I was playing an off-road video game on Easy Mode.

By the time I got to the bottom, I wanted to do it all again.

What still needs work

As much fun as I had tackling trails in the 4Runner TRD Pro, there are a few things that Toyota could improve going forward.

2020 Toyota Land Cruiser off-roading through sand
2020 Toyota Land Cruiser | Toyota

RELATED: The 2021 Toyota 4Runner’s Top TRD Trim is Missing a Key Off-Road Feature

Firstly, give the 4Runner the same camera system as the Land Cruiser. It allows the Land Cruiser’s driver to spot obstacles on the ground, and better pick their path. While I didn’t venture into the truly extreme sections, there were times where I simply couldn’t see the trail very well behind the wheel of the 4Runner. The SUV’s pillars and hood simply blocked my view. More cameras, even as an option, would prevent this.

2020 Land Rover Defender 110
2020 Land Rover Defender 110 | Land Rover

Also, the only way to access Multi-Terrain Select or Crawl Control is by shifting into 4Lo. To be fair, if you’re in a situation where you need Crawl Control, you’ll likely need 4Lo, too. But many other off-road SUVs and crossovers, including the Land Rover Defender, can freely swap their driving modes. And the 295-hp 4-door Discovery 110 starts at roughly the same price as the 4Runner TRD Pro. Though it might not have the latter’s reliability.

But these are relatively minor nitpicks. If you’ve wanted to get into off-roading, the 2020 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro is a great place to start. Or, if the $49,865 asking price is a little steep, consider getting a used one.

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