The Toyota 4Runner is Ancient: Why is It Still Popular?
It may be a fossil by modern SUV standards. Still, the fossil-fueled 2023 4Runner remains one of the most popular vehicles in Toyota’s lineup. Nearly 40 years of cult-classic popularity has culminated in a recent renaissance for the Toyota 4Runner. Demand is up, and prices remain high — even though the current generation 4Runner has been around for a decade. What gives?
The 2023 Toyota 4Runner retains its popularity by occupying a unique position of durability and capability amid the height of the off-road craze.
4Runner remains a top seller for Toyota despite age
If there is any vehicle that has pulled off resting on its laurels, the 4Runner is it. Toyota’s brawny SUV hasn’t changed much in the last 10 years. It uses old technology: a 20-year-old V6, a five-speed automatic transmission, a solid rear axle, and a brutishly square body with little regard for aerodynamics. Put it all together, and the 4Runner’s mpg average sits solidly in the mid-teens. On paper, modern competitors run circles around the 4Runner.
And yet, it sells. Toyota sold more than 100,000 4Runners in 2022, According to Car Figures Automotive Data & Intelligence. In fact, Toyota has sold more than 100,000 4Runners every year since 2016, per its own reporting. The SUV is as popular as ever.
The SUV is known for its toughness
The Toyota 4Runner has a reputation for simple durability. Its design is time-tested, with many anecdotes of owners running their 4Runners for hundreds of thousands of miles on routine maintenance alone.
SUVs are getting complicated. Turbocharged engines, active suspension, and ten-speed transmissions are rampant. While these advancements can help SUVs keep up with modern comfort and efficiency sentiments, they can also lead to more maintenance appointments.
In this case, the 4Runner zigs while most others zag. Its archaic ladder frame design, ancient V6, and outdated five-speed automatic transmission are indeed boons to the 4Runner reliability reputation.
Off-road culture keeps it going
Off-roading has reached its zenith within car culture. Its rise over the last decade has kept the Toyota 4Runner popular and competitive.
The 4Runner occupies a relatively unique space in the off-road vehicle market. It’s a truck-based, body-on-frame, high-ground clearance SUV with a solid rear axle and available four-wheel drive — just the combination of features off-road enthusiasts crave. But unlike the Jeep Wrangler and Ford Bronco, it’s a fully enclosed SUV that some drivers may find more livable. On the other hand, many believe the 4Runner delivers superior reliability to competitors like the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Land Rover Defender. It’s a sweet spot in the market that the 4Runner happens to nail.
Should You Buy a 4Runner or Another Toyota SUV?
While the Toyota 4Runner remains popular among SUV drivers, it serves a specific use case. It’s tough as nails, capable as hell, and boasts outstanding resale value. But the SUV lags far behind rivals, and even Toyota peers, regarding ride quality, safety, technology and fuel efficiency.
If an old-school SUV with analog charm is the goal, then the 4Runner will be a runaway success. But if comfort and efficiency are higher priorities than off-road prowess, Toyota’s other two sales-leading SUVs take the prize: the 2023 RAV4 and 2023 Highlander.