When Toyota first brought the Toyota 4Runner to market, the Japanese company was trying to take advantage of a trend they had seen in many countries. Aftermarket companies were installing fiberglass bed caps on Toyota trucks for use as a compact SUV. Toyota decided to go one step farther and produce a compact SUV based on the Toyota Hilux pickup. The predecessor of the Toyota 4Runner was little more than a factory-prepped truck with a fiberglass cap, but the design proved popular. Toyota hired Winnebago to build the fiberglass cap for the little SUV.
For Model Year 1984, Toyota redesigned the initial platform and removed the back wall of the cab, which integrated front and rear cabin space like that of the Toyota Land Cruiser and the Ford Bronco. Because the design was based on existing vehicles, the SUV was easy to service using existing repair manuals before the 4Runner manuals were available.
First and Second-Generation 4Runners Set the Stage
Not only did the 4Runner prove itself as a potent sales driver, but the compact SUV also proved itself off-road. Toyota trucks had earned a reputation for robust reliability, a commodity essential to adventurers and outdoors enthusiasts. These rugged little Utes were powered by the same engine and drivetrain as the contemporary Toyota truck. They also suffered from the same troubles, like anemic power, but added a few other issues. The fiberglass top had a tendency to leak, while the added weight made the first two generations of Toyota 4Runner particularly slow.
The Third Generation Brings 4Runner into its Own
The third-generation Toyota 4Runner is perhaps the most iconic and well-recognized of the entire model line. The engineers at Toyota did away with the fiberglass top and introduced an all-new steel body for the model year 1996. Toyota dropped the unpopular three-door version in favor of a five-door body style the make continues to use today. New engine choices and much better transmission options kept the 4Runner competitive at a time when many car companies began to introduce compact and mid-size SUVs like the Ford Explorer.
The third-generation 4Runner was the first to feature stability control, electronic rear locks, and standard airbags. The first All-Wheel Drive 4Runner was introduced in 1999. The 4Runner continued to gain in popularity among American car buyers. In 1997, Toyota sold more than 128,000 4Runners. Sales continued to be strong, with Toyota amassing more than 110,000 4Runners sold each year for the remainder of the model run, except for the final two years of production.
Generation 4 -Everything You Like, Only Better
The Fourth Generation Toyota 4Runner introduced an optional V8 to the range for the first time.
The immensely popular V6 continued to amaze and even produced more horsepower and nearly as much torque as the V8 until the introduction of Toyotas Variable Valve Timing technology for the model year 2005. The V8 models received a full-time all-wheel drive. The 4Runner models powered by V6 engines had this technology available as an option.
The biggest change for the Generation 4 vehicles was tot he suspension. Gone was the tried-and-true system of old. An all-new X-REAS suspension that was standard on Sport models and an available option on SR5 and Limited models. The new suspension linked hydraulic dampers to a central valve to instantaneously prevent excessive body roll in hard cornering. This technology addressed the growing concerns of safety organizations such as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Numerous manufacturers of SUVs were trying to find solutions for the tendency of the top-heavy vehicles to roll over when drivers turned sharply, such as when avoiding an accident.
Four-wheel drive models also had a couple of additional features that really set the models apart from competitor vehicles. Toyota engineered an electronic control system to ease up-hill and down-hill starts and stops. The system electronically regulates the engine and brakes to prevent slipping. These features were also available options for 2wd models.
This generation received one of the best ratings by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety for preventing occupant deaths in crashes. The 4Runner scored four out of five stars overall for crash protection and rollover prevention in the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration evaluations.
The Fifth Generation Goes Big
The Toyota 4Runner was once sold in numerous countries worldwide. By the introduction of the fifth generation in 2010, the 4Runner was primarily sold only in North America. Sales in the UK ended in 2006, while Japanese sales ended in 2009.
American buyers have always wanted bigger everything when it comes to trucks and SUVs, and the fifth-generation 4Runner didn’t disappoint. The SUV now had more passenger room, cargo space, and towing capabilities. It had new, more powerful engines and electronic technology to compensate for driver error, even off-road.
Base model 4Runners now tipped the scales at over 4,400 lbs, an increase of more than 1,000 lbs from the original design. Powerful engines easily compensated for the added weight. Whereas the first generation was known for sluggish performance, the newest 4Runner provided plenty of horsepower and torque for any driver.
Many companies that build SUVs start out with a competent off-road vehicle, then slowly degrade capabilities in favor of highway comfort and noise control. While Toyota has certainly made the newest 4Runners quieter and more comfortable than previous models, the ability to get the tires dirty has never been better.
A new Trail Package provided enhanced suspension performance and several electronic controls to assist off-road drivers. This created one of the best factory off-roading vehicles on the market today short of buying a true, purpose-built off-road machine.
Sales have rebounded from the Great Recession of 2008-09. During those years, Toyota saw a significant drop-off in sales, falling all the way to fewer than 20,000 SUVs sold in 2009. Toyota has sold more than 110,000 4Runners each year since 2016.
Durability has Lead to Immense Popularity
Many vehicles become popular because of TV or movies. Still, others incorporate iconic designs, psychotic powerplants, or are simply super rare. The 4Runner checks none of these boxes, yet has been recognized as one of the top five vehicles in the world people continue to drive well beyond 200,000 miles. The reason is simple. Toyota 4Runners are just that well built. Armed with a 4Runner service manual, anyone can repair these trucks. Even the most complicated, modern iterations are simple to service by the average DIYer.
Resale values continue to stay high, and some of the more coveted models have recently begun increasing in value. In particular, the third-generation 4Runners remain highly popular for off-road enthusiasts, outdoor sports, and generally as a reliable vehicle that performs well in adverse conditions.
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