Toyota 4Runner Generations: Through the Years

Take a look at the changes from all the Toyota 4Runner generations as it transformed from a chopped truck into a modern off-roading SUV!

The Spirit of an Off-Roader

Toyota 4Runners -

Toyota 4Runners – |  Shop Toyota 4Runner on

While the generations of the Toyota 4Runner have significantly evolved from their origins, this SUV is still firmly rooted in off-roading. Its off-roading credentials were well-established in racing over the Baja peninsula. In its original incarnation, the 4Runner was offered on a shortened truck chassis, like the Chevy K5 Blazer. It also had a removable top, like the original Ford Bronco. See the design and color changes for yourself as you read about engine upgrades and updated features throughout the more than four decades of the Toyota 4Runner.

First Generation Toyota 4Runner (1984–1989)

1985 Toyota 4Runner -
1985 Toyota 4Runner -
  • Off-road racing was riding a peak in popularity in the early- to mid-1980s, having added stadium and short course races across the country alongside traditional desert racing. Terms from that exciting sport then entered the enthusiast’s vocabulary.
  • A prerunner is an off-roader used by racers to scope out the course before a desert event. No doubt inspired by that term, Toyota named their new 4WD model the 4Runner (forerunner or 4WD runner, if you will).
  • Introduced in 1984, the first generation 4Runner was based on the N30 Toyota Pickup, or Hilux, as it was known in most of the rest of the world.
1985 Toyota 4Runner -
1985 Toyota 4Runner -
  • The 1984 4Runner had a shortened wheelbase and removable hardtop, mirroring many classic off-roaders.
  • The first 4Runner was available only in 4WD with a solid front axle. It was powered by a 100 horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder 22R engine, which was mated to a five-speed manual transmission.
  • An available SR5 trim package upgraded the interior with additional gauges, better fabrics, and a rear seat.
  • The 1985 Toyota 4Runner received an upgraded 22R-E engine with electronic fuel injection. This upped the 4Runner to 116 horsepower.
1989 Toyota 4Runner -
1989 Toyota 4Runner -
  • Toyota replaced the 4Runner’s solid front axle with independent front suspension for the 1986 model. This increased track width by three inches.
  • A turbocharged version of the 22R engine was also introduced in 1986, too.
  • For the 1988 Toyota 4Runner, an optional 3.0-liter 3VZ-E V6 engine replaced the turbo four-cylinder.
  • Every first-generation 4Runner (and every model since, for that matter) was built by workers at the Tahara Assembly Plant in Tahara, Aichi, Japan.

Second Generation Toyota 4Runner (1990–1995)

1990 Toyota 4Runner 2-Door -
1990 Toyota 4Runner 2-Door -
  • While second-generation 4Runner models continued to be based on the Toyota pickup, the newer ones featured an integrated steel body mounted on the carried-over frame.
  • Most second-generation 4Runners were sold as four-door models, but two-door versions were available during the 1990 and 1991 model years. They were dropped after that.
  • Initial second-generation Improvements included optional shift-on-the-move 4WD, an upgraded interior, increased cargo space, and a new coil spring rear suspension system that replaced the old-school leaf spring setup.
  • Turning somewhat from its off-roading-inspired origins, the second generation 4Runner was available only in a RWD configuration.
1994 Toyota 4Runner 4-Door -
1994 Toyota 4Runner 4-Door -
  • For the first time, leather seating was an option in the 1992 4Runner. Power steering was also made standard on all trim levels.
  • The RWD version of 4Runner was dropped for the 1993 model year due to low customer demand.
  • More available creature comforts were added to the 1994 Toyota 4Runner, including an eight-speaker CD audio system, anti-lock brakes, and a sunroof.
  • With Americans shifting their buying preferences from family minivans to family SUVs, Toyota responded with the Limited trim for the 1995 4Runner. It featured wood trim and leather seating.

Third Generation Toyota 4Runner (1996–2002)

1996 Toyota 4Runner -
1996 Toyota 4Runner -
  • For the first time, Toyota set the third generation 4Runner on its own chassis. The 1996 Toyota 4Runner no longer shared the same body as the Tacoma pickup truck (though much of the running gear was the same).
  • The 1996 4Runner was a completely redesigned model with a greater emphasis on suburban utility and meeting higher safety standards.
  • Riding on a longer wheelbase, the new body structure provided more interior passenger room and more generous cargo space.
  • Toyota brought back the RWD configuration for the 1996 4Runner, which lowered the price and improved fuel economy.
1996 Toyota 4Runner -
1996 Toyota 4Runner -
  • A new base 2.7-liter 3RZ four-cylinder engine replaced the long-in-the-tooth 22R unit, while a new 3.4-liter 5VZ V6 replaced the outgoing 3VZ, adding 38 and 33 horsepower, respectively. The 2.7-liter totaled 150 horsepower with 177 lb-ft of torque, and the 3.4-liter made 183 horsepower with 217 lb-ft of torque.
  • The 1997 Toyota 4Runner added the 2WD Limited trim to its lineup. The SR5 trim received minor cabin updates in the form of new fabrics.
  • By 1999, the Toyota 4Runner was featured in the backdrop on dozens of TV shows like Baywatch, Seinfeld, NYPD Blue, the X-Files, Friends, ER. Those with a keen eye may have noticed it in movies like Kindergarten Cop, Highlander, and Men in Black.
2001 Toyota 4Runner -
2001 Toyota 4Runner -
  • The combination of a cassette tape, CD player, and AM/FM radio was added as standard on 2000 Toyota 4Runner SR5 and Limited trims.
  • Toyota added to the safety of the 4Runner with Vehicle Skid Control, Electronic Brake Force Distribution, and A-TRAC (Active Traction Control) for the 2001 model.
  • 2001 Toyota 4Runners were available in three trim levels: the SR-5 (which was now the base), a middle-level Sport, and the premium Limited Edition.
  • The 2002 Toyota 4Runner was the last model in the third generation of the popular SUV. It didn’t receive major updates. The 2002 4Runner base model was selling for $26,335.

Fourth Generation Toyota 4Runner (2003–2009)

2003 Toyota 4Runner -
2003 Toyota 4Runner -
  • The fourth-generation 2003 4Runner was moved onto the Toyota J120 platform, sold in many global markets as the Land Cruiser Prado and in the US as the Lexus GX 470.
  • Though smoother and more car-like in exterior design than previous 4Runners, the fourth-generation model continued to offer greater off-road capabilities than many competitors, several of which had moved to car-based platforms.
  • The 2003 4Runner retained a full ladder frame construction with a separate body shell.
  • To further confirm its off-road credentials, all 2000 4runners were equipped with skid plates for the engine, transfer case, and fuel tank.
Fourth Gen Toyota 4Runner V8 -
Fourth Gen Toyota 4Runner V8 -
  • There were two optional 4WD systems: a full-time AWD system on V8 models and a part-time system on V6 models, both utilizing a lockable Torsen center differential.
  • The new Sport Edition was equipped with larger front brakes and a system called X-REAS (X-Relative Absorber System) designed to reduce body lean during hard cornering.
  • Power was produced by an all-new 4.0 L GR-FE V6 that made 245 horsepower and 282 lb-ft of torque.
  • A 235-horsepower 4.7-liter 2UZ-FE V8 engine was optional for the first time in the 2004 Toyota 4Runner.
  • The combination of increased power and its stout ladder frame construction earned the fourth-generation 4Runner tow ratings of up to 7,200 lbs in the 2004 model.
2008 Toyota 4Runner -
2008 Toyota 4Runner -
  • In a first for the 4Runner, an optional third-row seat was available. On SR5 and Limited models.
  • For the 2005 model year, the addition of VVT-i (variable valve timing) increased output to 270 horsepower and 330 lb-ft of torque. The V6 was coupled to a four-speed automatic while the V8 was upgraded to a new five-speed automatic transmission in this model, too.
  • Headlamps, bumpers, and the grille were all updated on the outside of the 2006 Toyota 4Runner.
  • To close out the fourth generation, Toyota offered a Trail Edition package with the 2009 model year. The package includes an electronic locking rear differential, traction control, and Bilstein dampers.

Fifth Generation Toyota 4Runner (2010–Now)

2010 Toyota 4Runner -
2010 Toyota 4Runner -
  • Now, based on the J150 platform, which it again shares with the global Land Cruiser Prado and the Lexus GX series, the 2010 Toyota 4Runner made its debut in the heart of truck country: at the 2009 Texas State Fair.
  • The 2010 4Runner was Initially available in three trim levels with the base SR5 trim and the top-of-the-line Limited trim available in 2WD or 4WD. The Trail Edition was only available in 4WD.
  • The SR5 and Trail Edition 4WDs were fitted with a part-time 4WD drive system, while the Limited came equipped with full-time 4WD. The Trail Edition featured Toyota’s Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS) and Crawl Control and a rear locking differential.
2010 Toyota 4Runner -
2010 Toyota 4Runner -
  • Standard power came from a new 4.0-liter V6 engine with Dual VVTi that produced 270 horsepower and 278 lb-ft of torque. Optional was a budget-oriented 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine available in 2WD models, though it soon disappeared due to low customer demand.
  • Toyota also dropped the 4.7-liter V8 engine from the 2011 4Runner lineup. Toyota stressed the increased power output and improved fuel economy of the V6, though it lost 2,000 lbs of towing capacity as a result.
  • 2012 Toyota 4Runners still offered the optional third-row seat with a passenger capacity of seven people.
2014 Toyota 4Runner -
2014 Toyota 4Runner -
  • New headlights and a little bit of new exterior styling were some of the minor updates for the 2014 Toyota 4Runner. Every 2014 model also came with a revamped cabin, which included a touchscreen audio system and smartphone integration.
  • For the 2015 4Runner, Toyota introduced the new TRD Pro trim, which included Bilstein shocks with remote reservoirs, tuned front springs, and a front skid plate.
  • Given the TRD label’s success in pulling in customers, Toyota renamed the 2016 4Runner Trail and Trail Premium the TRD Off-Road and TRD Off-Road Premium, though they do not share the same off-road suspension as the TRD Pro model.
2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro -
2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro -
  • Toyota set out to prove the capabilities of the 2017 4Runner TRD Pro at the Baja 1000. With only a change of tires, the 4Runner TRD Pro took on the same 1,130 route as the racers without so much as a hiccup.
  • The 2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro was given new Fox shock absorbers, a new skid plate, and a new roof rack. A Limited Nightshade Edition was also made available with a black-out color scheme.
  • A suite of Toyota Safety Sense technologies was added to the 4Runner for 2020 Toyota 4Runner. That suite included an eight-inch infotainment touchscreen with Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Amazon Alexa integration.
  • Also new for 2020 was the implementation of Toyota Safety Sense, which included a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with a sway warning system, automatic high beams, and dynamic radar cruise control.
2021 Toyota 4Runner Trail Special Edition -
2021 Toyota 4Runner Trail Special Edition -
  • The 2021 4Runner included a Trail Special Edition, several TRD Pro upgrades, and revised LED headlights across all trim levels.
  • The Trail Special Edition featured extra storage with a Toyota-branded 40-quart cooler and a sliding cargo tray.
  • The most significant changes in 2021 models were to the TRD Pro trim. Most apparent was the 17-inch flow form wheels and Nitto Terra Grappler tires. Other upgrades include re-tuned 2.5-inch Fox bypass shocks and new front springs that raise the ride height by an inch.
2022 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro -
2022 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro -
  • One more trim, the TRD Sport, was added to the 2022 Toyota 4Runner lineup. LED headlights became standard across the lineup.
  • Still part of the fifth generation, the 2023 4Runner starts at $39,555.
  • 2023 marks the 40th anniversary of the SUV that was first introduced in 1983. To celebrate, there are 4040 models of a special edition SR5. This model comes in red, white, or black paint. It also comes with a set of 17-inch wheels.
2023 Toyota 4Runner Anniversary Edition -

2023 Toyota 4Runner Anniversary Edition – |  Shop Toyota 4Runner on

  • Bronze stitching on leatherette seats and the shift knob can be found inside the 40th anniversary edition. Special badging can also be found in the headrests, on the floor mats, and other areas inside the vehicle.
  • Also new for the first time, blind-spot monitoring and a rear cross-traffic alert are standard on every 2023 model.
  • You can read about all the specs, towing capabilities, cargo space, and features in our 2023 Toyota 4Runner review.
  • We have even more 4Runner content in our Budget Buy: Toyota 4Runner vs Ford Explorer comparison.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in September 2016 and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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Jesse Batson

Jesse Batson earned his journalism degree from South Dakota State University. No stranger to newsgathering and reporting, Jesse spent 13 years in TV news. 10 of those years were spent working in Charlotte, NC, home of NASCAR. A highlight of his time there was being able to take a lap around the Charlotte Motor Speedway. His interest in vehicles, starting with Matchbox cars, a Big Wheel, and the Transformers, evolved into taking photos of motocross events. Now, he puts his research skills to use on car culture, reviews, and comparisons.

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  1. Mark Marky September 21, 2016

    The 2003-2009 was the nicest the current ugliest !

  2. Rick January 16, 2021

    This is the best 4Runner article I’ve read in a very long time. Most of the current ones you read are written by someone who seems to wish every SUV in existence was a bubble SUV only made for the daily commute. They never seem to get it. 4Runners are obviously not for them. Once again, well done.

    1. Team January 18, 2021

      Thanks Rick!


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