As a backwoods exploration companion, the 2023 Toyota 4Runner excels. With the 4Runner, Toyota offers a relatively inexpensive and highly capable SUV that emphasizes off-road ability over on-road plushness. The 4Runner squares off against the Ford Bronco and Jeep Wrangler, plus the Honda Passport and Subaru Outback. For most drivers, the choppy ride, sloppy handling, and lousy fuel consumption are a tough tradeoff for a rugged personality. If your weekend adventures involve treks along the Continental Divide, however, the 4Runner offers some semblance of refinement to go with its knobby tires.
The 4Runner enters its 40th model year this year, and to celebrate the automaker has a new limited-edition model with retro-inspired graphics and badges. Blind-spot monitors are newly standard. Otherwise, the lineup sticks with SR5, TRD Sport, TRD Off-Road, Limited, and TRD Pro trims all powered by a 4.0-liter V-6 teamed with a 5-speed automatic gearbox. Rear-wheel-drive is standard on some trims with four-wheel drive an option. At just 17 mpg combined, the 4Runner is decidedly thirsty.
The 2023 Toyota 4Runner looks best covered in dirt. By conventional measures, the blocky lines and angles that compose the 2023 Toyota 4Runner do not make an especially pretty face, instead it’s a chunky manly face. Maybe it’s the test of time, this model has only had one update in 14 model years, but we still dig it.
The 4Runner comes in two basic flavors. SR5, TRD Off-Road and TRD Pro versions have the same almost feline-like fascia. Add the non-functional hood scoop fitted to TRD models and then the TRD PRO’s totally tubular roof rack and there’s even more to like. TRD Sport and Limited versions swap in a more street-oriented look that doesn’t suit this model as well.
Though poorly suited to daily-driver use, the 4Runner has the goods for serious off-roading. Rear-wheel drive is standard, but the 4Runner makes far more sense in four-wheel-drive configuration. The smooth 4.0-liter V-6 under the 4Runner’s big hood musters a low 270 hp, which isn’t enough to move this bulky SUV with any authority. It’s teamed with a dated 5-speed automatic gearbox and, in most versions, a simple part-time four-wheel-drive system.
Heavy steering and a soft, occasionally bouncy ride make the 4Runner a tiring companion on pavement and in town. Its handling is ponderous at any speed, though the optional Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System does an admirable job reducing body lean in cornering. That same system also increases wheel travel off-road, so it’s worth seeking out. With loads of ground clearance and wide availability of a locking rear differential, the 4Runner is at its best on a trail.
TRD Off-Road and TRD Pro versions both have a host of traction control modes and a rather loud system called Crawl Control that lopes these big SUVs along at a walking pace for especially difficult terrain. TRD Pros also add a higher suspension and Fox shocks for more capability and a price that undercuts equivalent tech from the aftermarket.
The 2023 Toyota 4Runner is not a fuel-efficient vehicle. The EPA ratings of 16 mpg city, 19 highway, 17 combined regardless of trim are among the lowest you’ll find in any new SUV. Even some competitors with decent off-road capability can top 20 mpg on the highway. Fault here goes to a dated engine and a transmission that’s light on gears; oh, and that blocky shape.
There are safer SUVs out there than the 2023 Toyota 4Runner. The 2023 Toyota 4Runner comes standard with plenty of crash-avoidance tech including automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, its safety record needs improvement. The NHTSA says it’s a four-star SUV overall, while the IIHS gives it mixed ratings with a slew of “Good” scores marred by a “Marginal” in the challenging small-overlap test on the driver’s side. Notably, the IIHS has not conducted that test on the passenger’s side, looked at this model’s latest headlight design, or evaluated its crash-avoidance features.
Inside, the 4Runner has an overwrought dash with gigantic knobs and buttons. They’re easy enough to sort through, but the look was tired a decade ago. 4Runners we’ve driven have had a quality feel inside, but they don’t feel even remotely luxurious so don’t look for expansive passenger space or luxurious furnishings inside the 2023 Toyota 4Runner. The high step-in height and limited room for adults in rows two and three earn the 4Runner no points, though its big cargo area is an asset.
The front seats are comfortable enough whether upholstered in cloth, synthetic leather, or real leather. The 4Runner has just 33 inches of rear-seat leg room, and the optional third-row is cramped even for kids. Better yet is cargo space, which can grow from 48 to a hefty 90 cubic feet with the rear seatback folded. A slide-out tray that can accommodate heavy loads cancels out the high liftover height, too.
The 2023 Toyota 4Runner has decent in-car tech, standard crash-avoidance features, and a broad lineup. While not a conventional bargain, the 4Runner squares off well against its admittedly pricey Jeep Wrangler and Ford Bronco rivals. Figure $39,520 for a base SR5, or about $2,000 more with much-recommended four-wheel drive. For most drivers, the SR5 is just fine with its 8.0-inch touchscreen including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, its power features, and its cloth seats. Synthetic leather and a sunroof are reasonably affordable upgrades, if you must.
Toyota is building 4,040 examples of its 40th Anniversary model, which have special stripes and wheels plus embroidered trim inside but no functional upgrades. Limited and TRD Sport versions have a more road-oriented suspension and special trim, but to us they miss the point of the 4Runner. You’re better off with a crossover if you don’t plan to go off-road.
Our money would be on the $43,865 TRD Off-Road with its additional traction control modes and locking rear differential. We’d also add the optional Kinetic Dynamic Suspension system. If you’re planning to go way off-road, you may be tempted to pony up the upcharge to the TRD Pro, which has a higher-riding suspension with Fox shocks, skid plates, and a few other items. It costs at least $54,485.
At the end of our week, we came away super impressed that Toyota has been able to bring stellar capability and refinement with reliability and a warranty to the true off-road enthusiast. If your weekend adventures involve mudding, rock climbing, or taking your outdoor gear to some of the most remote extremes on the planet, the 2023 Toyota 4Runner should be at the top of your list because no one else does it better.