Toyota began producing the 4Runner from 1983 to the present date in its assembly plants in Japan. From its original classification as a compact vehicle (1984-1995) in a pickup build with a detachable fibreglass canopy over the bed, the 4Runner has evolved into a sturdier mid-size SUV (1995-present).
The Toyota 4Runner precedes the Toyota Fortuner. It is known under various names, including Toyota Hilux Surf (Japan), Toyota Hilux 4Runner (Australia), Toyota Hilux SW4 (Brazil and Argentina), Jinhui 4Runner (China), and Zhongxing Admiral.
In its initial run, the 4Runner captured the markets in Southeast Asia, Australian, and North America on its own and alongside the Land Cruiser and Fortuner in New Zealand and Central America, and continues to roam the globe today.
Toyota Trekker (1981-1983)
The Trekker was Toyota 4Runner’s immediate predecessor and served basically as Toyota’s test vehicle in the early ‘80s to signal the advent of the 4Runner. Winnebago Industries of Iowa designed it as a pickup truck built on Toyota’s short-box chassis with a standard 2.4L 22R I4 petrol engine mated to a 5-speed manual gearbox.
Toyota sold these models mostly in the US West Coast. Each conversion kit included a fibreglass tub and bedsides, a non-removable canopy with non-vented windows, a hatchback without a tailgate, forward-folding rear seat for added cargo room, and a new cab headliner to complement the standard rear canopy headliner.
Unfortunately, these prototype Trekkers never really took off on the market. Production was short-lived, with only around 1,500 units sold in the US.
1st Generation: N60 (1984-1989)
The 1st generation 4Runner did not emerge as an entirely new model. Instead, it came after a series of meticulous modifications of the existing Toyota Hilux, improving on its hauling capability and passenger comfort.
In 1983, the Hilux received a significant facelift that warranted the ushering in of a new model - the 4Runner model year 1984. To project a look that was more SUV-looking than a plain pickup truck, it sported a fibreglass top. The modifications involved removing the panel directly behind the front seats, adding rear seats, and installing a removable fibreglass shell over the back section.
Thus began the 4Runner’s long tenure as a compact SUV powered by a 2.4L 22R carburetted petrol engine teamed up with either a 4-speed automatic transmission or 5-speed manual gearbox.
Toyota packaged the 4Runner with the same configuration and features in North America, including the more high-end SR5 with an enhanced interior, such as superior fabrics, standard rear seats, and an updated instrument panel. These 4Runners came in either plain black or white fibreglass tops.
In Australia, from 1984 to 1989, several engine options were available for the first generation 4Runner, these were:
- 2.0L 3Y I4 petrol, 5-speed manual gearbox (65 kW, 157 Nm)
- 2.4L 2L I4 diesel, 5-speed manual gearbox (55kW, 156Nm)
- 2.2L I4 petrol, 4-speed auto transmission or 5-speed manual gearbox (69kW, 179Nm)
For the model year 1985, the 4Runner acquired a new electronic fuel-injected 2.4L 22R-E inline 4-cylinder engine boosting its power from 75 kW to 86 kW. It replaced the existing carburetted engine which remained available up to 1988 only. At this time also, rear seats have now become a standard in all 1985 4Runner trim packages and no longer exclusive to the high-end SR5 model.
By 1986, the Toyota Hilux Surf/4Runner has had several significant changes to its exterior. Foremost of which was replacing the car’s existing front axle suspension to a new and more advanced Hi-Trac independent front suspension (IFS) system.
To complement this new suspension system and to fit the wider front end, the rear axle housing also increased by 3 inches. These modifications have made on-road sorties comfier, enhanced stability and handling, and significantly expanded its engine space to fit larger engine setups later on.
Other 1986 revisions on the Surf/4Runner include a new two-segment grille (previously three segments) and colour-matched canopies on the red, blue, and gold models, while other body tones continued to be available with either black or white tops.
In 1986 and 1987, Toyota offered a turbocharged edition of the existing 22R-E engine, called 22R-TE (a 2.4 L I4 turbocharged petrol engine), which came only with an automatic transmission on the 4Runner. All of these turbo versions used a standard heavy-duty rear differential.
Most turbocharged editions of the 4Runner were outfitted with just about the same features as the SR5 trim, e.g., an all-digital instrument panel that included a gauge to indicate turbo boost instead of a small light indicator commonly used on base trims.
Reminiscent of the Trekker generation, the 4Runners also reached the US and other North American dealers sans rear seats. With just two seats, the car would then enter the market as a pickup truck instead of a sport vehicle. It meant avoiding mandatory higher customs duties imposed on imported sport and luxury cars. The dealers would then add the seats and seatbelts after having gone through customs.
In 1988, a 3.0L V6 petrol engine, called 3VZ-E, was introduced as another available option to the 22R-E. The V6 was a much bigger and, of course, more powerful machine but not as reliable as the previous 4-cylinder input, as some would say.
Be that as it may, these V6-fitted trucks enjoyed identical heavy-duty rear differential used in the turbocharged pickup trucks. Moreover, these generation trucks now had a new transmission and a chain-driven transfer case, which significantly reduced cab noise compared to the previous gear-driven component used on the 4-cylinder machine.
2nd Generation: N120/N130 (1989-1995)
The 2nd generation Hilux Surf/4Runner donned newly designed full-steel bodywork installed on the same frame and equipped with an all-new coil spring rear suspension system in place of the old leaf springs used in the previous model.
By late 1992, a good number of 2nd generation 4Runners were now available in 4-door models unlike the first generation 2-door pickup types which lasted until 1993, overlapping with the new generation.
The N120 4Runner enjoyed the same engines developed for the previous earlier generation, namely, the 2.4L 22R-E I4 and 3.0L 3VZ V6 engines in RWD and 4WD layouts and used the same IFS system. The V6 models now had a new and more efficient chain-driven transfer case, replacing the old gear-driven case, while the 4-cylinder versions held on to the latter.
At the time, while the majority of mid-size, full-body SUVs already enjoyed glass-integrated tailgates that opened upwards, this generation's Toyota 4Runner still maintained the retractable-glass tailgate from the previous generation. It meant retracting first the rear window upwards and then lowering the tailgate to open the backside fully.
In 1991, the 2nd generation 4Runner undertook minor facelifts for its 1992 model year, including one-piece front bumpers and new modular headlamps, replacing the old rectangular sealed beams still used in Hilux pickups.
It was the 4Runner 4-door model which featured an elegant wide-body design with extended fender flares and much wider wheels and tires, a significant departure from the Hilux pickup trucks which remained unchanged.
This Hilux-based 4Runner had a phenomenal run. It was all the rage in Australia during the '80s through the mid-90s until Toyota Australia discontinued its local sales in 1996 in favour of the more robust Land Cruiser Prado wagon.
In Australia, the 2nd generation (1989-1995) 4Runner was available in three engine variants, viz.:
- 2.4 L 22R-E I4 petrol, 5-speed manual (75 kW, 185 Nm)
- 3.0 L 3VZ-E V6 petrol, 4-speed auto/5-speed manual (105 kW, 240 Nm)
- 2.8 L 3L I4 diesel, 5-speed manual (60 kW, 183 Nm)
In terms of safety, both first and second-generation 4Runners left a lot to be desired. Their side doors (driver and passenger), with nothing more than two pieces of sheet-metal and window bars, offered scant protection in case of a side collision. It was not until stricter crash regulations in the early ’90s were doors reinforced with side-impact beams and powerful airbags installed for both driver and passenger on the 4Runner model year 1996.
3rd Generation: N180 (1995-2002)
For the 3rd generation, the 4Runner received major design changes and upgrades starting with a distinctive all-new body atop an all-new chassis, while preserving its enduring off-road capability and not compromising on-road comfort.
The changes set the new 4Runner apart from the two previous generations, including a much larger body, a longer wheelbase, all-around coil-spring suspension system, 16-inch wheels, rack-and-pinion steering system, easy lift-up tailgate, more spacious interior area and cargo room, ABS, dual airbags, sweptback contour-designed glass headlamps, and optional E-locker for the rear differential.
Along with these significant changes also came new engines, courtesy of the new Toyota Tacoma pickups:
- 2.7L 3RZ-FE I4, which replaced the 4Runner’s former 2.4L 22R-E I4 engine and generated 110 kW power and 240 Nm torque
- The 3.4L 5VZ-FE V6, replacing the previous 3.0L 3VZ-E V6 and has a peak output of 136 kW and 294 Nm
In 1996, the Land Cruiser Prado (branded as Colorado) replaced the 4Runner in the UK market.
For MY 1997 and MY 1998, the 4Runner welcomed a few fine-tuning in the electronics section, like an ergonomically-designed switch control panel. It also featured a colour-keyed cargo top, a redesigned airbag (driver’s side) system, and a redesigned 4-spoke steering wheel which stored the airbag.
The 4Runner 1999 model year saw significant improvement in both the exterior and interior sections, foremost of which was a newly designed ‘fat lip’ front bumper which replaced the old bumper and made for an expanded crush zone over the front frame. It also included projector-style fog lamps, upgraded side marker and front turn signal lights, and multi-parabola style headlights.
The more upscale ‘Limited’ and ‘Highlander’ (badged as ‘Sport Edition’ later) trim models enjoyed bold front and rear bumpers, colour-keyed running boards, and trendy mud flaps and fender flares. It featured a newly designed instrument panel with a digital odometer, ergonomic interior with reorganised switch controls for easy reach and visibility. The 'Limited' trims came with a more advanced stereo system and new electronic temp control. At the time, the Multimatic transmission (MMT) was an optional feature available for 4WD 4Runners that would provide an AWD function.
For MY 2001, the 4Runner acquired distinctive changes mostly to its outer surface. It consisted of a redesigned front grille, taillights, side-view mirror, and 5-spoke wheels (SR5 and ‘Limited’ trims included) and remodelled climate control components using three knobs and two buttons, replacing the 1999 model year version's two knobs and two sliders.
Remember the optional MMT and the E-locker for the rear differential in the 1999 4WD models? This time the MMT had become standard to all 4WD 4Runner models, though Toyota shelved the E-locker entirely in 2001. At the close of the 3rd generation, the 2002 model year sported a new chromed hatchback trim around the license plate to distinguish it from previous models that still wore tailgates.
4th Generation: N210 (2002-2009)
The 4th generation 4Runner debuted in October 2002 for the 2003 model year and introduced three trim levels - the SR5, Limited, and Sport Edition models. Both the SR5 and Sport versions sported grey hard-plastic claddings and bumpers, while a non-functional hood scoop was added to the Sport Edition version, to lend it an elegant and tougher-looking appearance.
Significantly, this generation 4Runner had a standard all-new LEV-certified 4.0L 1GR-FE V6 engine (183, 382 Nm). Also, an ULEV-certified 4.7L 2UZ-FE V8 engine (175 kW, 434 Nm) was available for the first time.
The addition of the Toyota VVT-i system to the 2005 model year in late 2004 significantly increased power output to 200 kW and 427 Nm of torque. More than anything else, it enhanced fuel economy, with around 17 mpg in urban runs and 20 mpg on highways for the V6s, and 15 to 19 mpg for the V8s.
The 4th generation 4Runner still used the same body-on-frame construction together with some vital exterior designs derived from its sibling, the Land Cruiser Prado. Its front suspension used a double-wishbone while the rear employed a solid axle for improved strength and durability in off-roading.
The Sport Edition trim of the 4Runner acquired an all-new standard suspension system, the Cross-Linked Relative Absorber System (X-REAS). It helped enhance on-road handling by linking each of the car's shocks to its diagonal counterpart through a hydraulic gas chamber, effectively minimising body roll around tight corners. The X-REAS technology was optionally available for the SR5 and Limited trims, which also sometimes included a self-levelling, height-adjustable rear air suspension, depending on the market.
Changes that were true to all 4Runner trims include durable skid plates for the engine, Hill-Start Assist Control (HAC) system, and Downhill Assist Control (DAC) for regulating the brakes and throttle automatically (driver-free) at restrained speeds.
Additional standard features perked up the car, such as remote keyless entry, tilt and telescopic steering wheel, power driver’s lumbar support, single-zone automatic climate control system, power rear tailgate window, and a tow hitch receiver secured fast to the rear frame cross member.
On the other hand, the options available consisted of a DVD-based navigation system, power moonroof, 10-speaker JBL Synthesis stereo system, a third-row seating configuration, rear-seat audio, an electrochromic auto-dimming rearview mirror, integrated HomeLink Wireless Control System, backup camera system, and a host of other features.
5th Generation: N280 (2009-Present)
In 2009, the 5th generation 4Runner debuted at the State Fair of Texas with three trims available – SR5 (base), Trail, and Limited. The SR5 and Limited trims are available either as 2WD or 4WD, while the Trail Edition is only available as 4WD. It uses the same platform as the Toyota FJ Cruiser model, with the SR5 and Trail Edition 4WD trims having a part-time 4WD system, and the Limited trim equipped with a full-time 4WD just like the Prado.
For more efficient handling, the A-TRAC (Active Traction Control) system is now standard equipment for all 4Runner trims. With a rear locking differential, the new Trail Edition now has Toyota’s Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS) and Crawl Control, features that used to be exclusive for topnotch Toyota vehicles.
For the 2WD versions, a 2.7L I4 engine was still available until Toyota scrapped it following the 2010 model year. For MY 2014, the 4Runner had its front and rear ends brushed up with all-new projector headlamps and transparent LED taillights. The car’s interior was likewise brought up to date with upgraded dash and centre console, incorporating Toyota’s Optitron instrument panel gauges for all trims, and an all-black leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob added.
Although the drivetrain remained unchanged, the brake lines were enhanced for greater brake pedal feel, and an electronic Trailer Sway Control system was added for secure handling when towing.
Also standard to all trims is the 4.0L V6 engine with Dual VVT-I, which generates 201 kW power and 377 Nm torque and comes with a 5-speed automatic transmission.
In 2014, 4Runner TRD Pro MY 2015 debuted in the US as an off-road-designed SUV package. It came with a distinctive T-O-Y-O-T-A grille badging, instead of the traditional Toyota logo, all-black leather TRD seats, Entune infotainment system with a 6.1-inch touchscreen display, rear backup camera, GPS navigation (optional), HD Radio, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, and Toyota Safety Connect.
The TRD Pro model has the edge over most 4Runners due to its strong underpinning. It features a top-of-the-line suspension system that softens the ride in off-road sorties, reliable remote-reservoir TRD Bilstein shocks, durable TRD custom-tuned Eibach coil springs, and a sturdy TRD skid plate for underside protection.
Aside from the two colours available on all trims, exclusive colour for each model year of the TRD Pro was also available. So for MY 2015, there’s Inferno Orange, MY 2016 Quicksand, MY 2017 Cement, MY 2018 Cavalry Blue, MY 2019 Voodoo Blue, and MY 2020 Army Green. For MY 2019, Toyota made a bold move by offering the ‘Nightshade’ option package for its 4Runner Limited model, which blacked out just about anything inside and out, from the badging through the lower front and rear-end bumpers, the 20-inch wheels, the outer door handles and mirrors, the rocker panels, and to the window mouldings.
Under the hood of all Nightshade models is a 4.0L V6 engine driving power to the wheels through a 5-speed automatic transmission.
This early in 2019, Toyota is all set in upgrading all 4Runner trims, including the TRD Pro model, for its 2020 model year version. A peek at some of those updates would show the Toyota Safety Sense-P (TSS-P) Pre-Collision System (PCS) as standard and two extra rear-seat USB ports. The TRD Pro, on the other hand, will receive an upgraded grille configuration to provide room to the front radar sensor for TSS-P, and a JBL premium amplified audio system.
A 2019 survey by iSeeCars.com revealed that the 4Runner ranked fifth for the ‘longest-lasting vehicles’ in the United States, with 3.9% of the models reaching over 200,000 miles – quite a remarkable feat, indeed! Finding parts for a car that has been around longer than some of us could prove a pain. That's what Carpart is here for - to help you locate hard-to-find auto parts and connect you to sellers who have them in their garages. All it takes is a mouse click to check what Carpart.com.au has in stock for you!