Car companies benchmark their opposition vehicles while testing; Ford, for example, clearly did so with the Jeep Wrangler when designing the new Bronco. But the Wrangler is not the Bronco's only rival; many buyers will be cross-shopping it with the more dated (but still awesome) Toyota 4Runner.
Interestingly, Ford has just been spotted testing a top-of-the-line 4Runner TRD Pro. Ford Authority has spy photos of that SUV driving near Ford's headquarters in Dearborn. It has the yellow sticker Ford affixes to test vehicles, and it has a Michigan manufacturer plate — Toyotas typically have a Texas one. The 4Runner encountered some dirt at some stage, and it's missing part of its bumper.
It's hard to read any specific Bronco-related purpose into Ford benchmarking a 4Runner TRD Pro. We can presume it isn't powertrain-related, unless Ford has top-secret plans to half the number of gears in its automatic transmission or shift to a 4.0-liter V6 that delivers less torque than the brand's 2.3-liter turbo four. The Bronco exceeds the 4Runner on most off-road specifications.
No future Bronco projects that are probable but as yet unconfirmed — like an upcoming hybrid model or a high-performance Bronco Raptor — seem immediately 4Runner-related. About the only clear advantage the 4Runner has on paper over the Bronco — besides current availability — is towing capacity. The 4Runner can tow up to 5,000 lbs compared to the Bronco's 3,500 lb rating.
It's possible Ford could be benchmarking the 4Runner for a non-Bronco vehicle. Though some form of Edge Timberline, with that model expected to be canceled, feels far-fetched. We may just be looking at a simple case of due diligence. A Bronco, nearly 10 years newer, should be able to do almost everything better than a Toyota 4Runner. And it would make sense for Ford to have the best 4Runner on hand to confirm that.