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The 2021 Toyota 4Runner Is Effectively the Harrison Ford of SUVs

The 4Runner is distinctive, defiantly old-school and plays its one role magnificently.

toyota 4runner
Tyler Duffy

What is the 4Runner Venture Special Edition?

The Toyota 4Runner is a boxy, midsize, body-on-frame, off-road specialist SUV. I drove the 2021 Venture Special Edition trim for a week. It’s built off the TRD Off-Road Premium and adds a Yakima Megawarrior Cargo Basket, blacked-out detailing, black TRD Alloy wheels and TRD headrests for an extra $1,570.

Is the 4Runner Venture new?

The trim level is a couple of years old, but the vehicle is significantly older. Toyota put this generation 4Runner into production back in 2009, and the last facelift came for the 2014 model year. The 4Runner’s 4.0-liter V6 engine is even older, dating back to 2002.

Why hasn’t Toyota updated it? The market swung in the 4Runner’s favor. Toyota sells three times as many of them as they did when the model debuted. Much like Harrison Ford, it's managed to remain relevant in its roles long past the date many people might have once expected.

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Why is the 4Runner special?

Toyota is renowned for build quality. And the 4Runner may be the most bulletproof and reliable vehicle they make. What separates the 4Runner from equally durable Toyotas like the Camry is ruggedness, both in off-road capability and outward appearance. The 4Runner is distinctive, defiantly old-school, and does not care what’s parked next to it. It plays its one role magnificently (and as often as Americans keep coming back for more). It sounds a bit gruff at times. It is the Harrison Ford of SUVs.

toyota 4runner
Tyler Duffy
toyota 4runner
Tyler Duffy

How does the 4Runner drive?

The 4Runner offers the charming qualities that made SUVs popular in the first place. You don’t get the crispness, finesse and car-like handling of the best modern crossovers, but you do get formidable ride height and excellent visibility. The power output — 270 hp and 278 lb-ft of torque — is reasonable, and delivered relatively smoothly.

My tester also delivered a comfortable and reasonably composed on-road ride, thanks in part to Toyota’s optional Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS) that limits body roll. And beyond all that, there's something deeply reassuring about driving a relentless mountain goat that you know will get you home in any type of weather.

The drawback is, you don’t get the same fuel efficiency as modern SUVs. With that old V6 and a tried-and-true five-speed automatic transmission, the EPA rates the 2021 4Runner at a putrid 16 mpg city, 19 mpg combined —and you may not achieve that in real driving. The comparable four-door V6 Jeep Wrangler, by comparison, earns 19 mpg city and 24 mpg highway — and there are three more fuel-efficient Wrangler engine choices than that.

What’s the 4Runner like inside?

The 4Runner doesn’t have the newest interior, but if you can ignore the primordial switchgear, the inside feels plush and comfortable, with a passenger compartment that's certainly spacious enough for most.

The bigger virtue is in the rear, which offers a massive, boxy space to throw luggage and gear. Up to 47.2 cubic feet of stuff will fit back there with the seats up, and a potential 89.7 with them folded beats out most rides on the road. And literally on top of all that, you have a roof rack.

toyota 4runner
Tyler Duffy

How much does the 4Runner Venture cost?

The 4Runner starts at $36,765, but reaches past $50,000 if you level up to the TRD Pro. The Venture Special Edition comes in a bit above midway between, starting at $44,895. It gives a little bit of the TRD Pro flair without the full expenditure. My test vehicle came out to $48,199.

If sticker price seems steep, don't forget that you have to factor in the outstanding residual value. That mitigates the cost on the back end if you're buying — and makes the 4Runner cheaper to lease than you might anticipate.

What are the alternatives to the 4Runner Venture?

There’s not really a direct competitor for the 4Runner. Most manufacturers take their large, midsize SUVs in a more family-friendly direction. But the 4Runner Venture buyer may be cross-shopping with a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon ($42,620) or a Ford Bronco Badlands ($42,095)

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2021 Toyota 4Runner Venture Special Edition

Powertrain: 4.0-liter V6; 5-speed automatic; 4x4

Horsepower: 270

Torque: 278 lb-ft

EPA Fuel Economy: 16 mpg city, 19 mpg highway

Seats: 5

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