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

When it comes to popular off-road SUVs, it’s hard to top the Toyota 4Runner and Jeep Wrangler. Their designs and rugged features make them the #2 and #1, respectively, least-depreciating vehicles in the US. Muscle cars get traded in for Wranglers, and the Jeep is now available with a diesel; soon, a plug-in hybrid version will be available. The Toyota 4Runner recently enjoyed one of its best sales years—but if you can’t afford a new TRD Pro, no worries, a used 4Runner is just as capable. But which is better: Toyota 4Runner or Jeep Wrangler?

The Toyota 4Runner vs. Jeep Wrangler: the on-paper specs

YouTube team Throttle House tested a 2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro against a 2019 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon on the snowy roads and fields of Canada.

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro vs. 2019 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro vs. 2019 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon | Throttle House via YouTube

Both the 4Runner and Wrangler have some shared features. The TRD Pro and Rubicon models come with Fox off-road shocks, skid plates, and four-wheel drive with transfer case. These body-on-frame SUVs are also equipped with locking differentials and V6 engines. Those engines produce similar levels of power: the 4Runner’s 4.0-liter makes 270 hp and 278 lb-ft, while the Wrangler’s 3.5-liter makes 285 hp and 260 lb-ft. The two SUVs even have similar ground clearances: the 4Runner has 9.6”, the Wrangler 10”.

But the Wrangler has some advantages over the 4Runner. The Rubicon can electronically lock both its front and rear differentials. The 4Runner TRD Pro can only lock its rear differential. The Jeep also has more aggressive off-road tires, solid axles, and electronically-disconnecting front sway bar. The Wrangler’s transmission also has more speeds than the 4Runner’s, 8 vs. 5.

However, the 4Runner has some features the Wrangler doesn’t. The TRD Pro model has various off-road driving modes, as well as crawl and hill-descent control. And while the Wrangler has a heated steering wheel, the 4Runner has heated front seats.

But how did the 4Runner TRD Pro compare to the Wrangler Rubicon when rubber met road and snow?

How does the Toyota 4Runner perform off-road compared to the Jeep Wrangler?

Throttle House didn’t take the SUVs too far off-road. But both the 4Runner and Wrangler were able to go up and over snowy hills with little issue.

The 4Runner did get stuck briefly, but that might have been due to one of the hosts going too slowly. The Wrangler was also on tires more suited for off-roading. But while the off-road tests placed the Wrangler slightly ahead, an inspection of the interior gave a surprising result.

On interiors and on-road manners

Part of the reason why the 4Runner enjoys such a strong reputation for reliability—apart from one or two troubling model years and infrequent engine and brake issues—is because Toyota hasn’t really updated the SUV that much. In fact, Jeep updated the Wrangler more recently than Toyota did the 4Runner.

2020 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon interior
2020 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon interior | Jeep

And that shows in the interiors: the Throttle House hosts found the Wrangler’s nicer. The Wrangler had a bigger, clearer infotainment screen, with off-road apps and displays. It also, according to the hosts, felt and looked more special.

2020 Toyota 4Runner interior
2020 Toyota 4Runner interior | Toyota

It is worth noting that Toyota did update the 4Runner for 2020. The updates included a larger infotainment screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, push-button start, and more standard safety features. And, while the hosts called the 4Runner’s interior “fine”, they did find the Toyota’s rear seats to be more comfortable. The 4Runner was also more spacious.

2020 Jeep Wrangler
2020 Jeep Wrangler | Jeep

But it’s on-road where the Toyota really starts to overtake the Jeep. While the Wrangler felt distinctly different and more special than almost any other vehicle, its capabilities come with downsides. There’s a lot of noise, especially at highway speeds. The solid axles, while great for rock-crawling, are less comfortable on pavement than independent suspension. They also contribute to the noise. And, while the removable roof and doors might be cool, they also contribute to the Wrangler’s poor safety ratings.

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD
2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD | Toyota

The Toyota 4Runner, meanwhile, feels simple, but somehow bulletproof. Host James compared it to an old Nokia cellphone: indestructible. It’s quieter, the ride more comfortable and composed. When it comes to just being a vehicle, the 4Runner TRD Pro beats the Wrangler Rubicon.

Which is the one to buy?

The combination of on-road refinement and off-road capability is why the 4Runner continues to be so popular. If you use your SUV to commute daily, especially if it’s on highways, the Toyota 4Runner has a lot to offer.

The Throttle House hosts, though, did give a lot of love to the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. It’s clear that Jeep has created a seriously advanced off-road SUV. If you’re willing to deal with more noise and a rougher ride, the Wrangler’s charm may win you over.

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