I don’t know why Nissan gets so much flak for its ancient Frontier and 370Z when there’s a fellow Japanese automaker equally guilty of neglecting its lineup: Toyota. The Tundra pickup, for instance, was first introduced in 2007 and hasn’t seen any significant changes since. The brand’s Sequoia and Land Cruiser SUVs are both just a year younger, making their debuts in 2008. And nearly as geriatric as the Tundra, Sequoia, and Land Cruiser is the SUV I’ve spent the last couple weeks driving, the 2020 Toyota 4Runner Venture. Although the 4Runner Venture is a new special edition trim level for 2020, the 4Runner has been soldiering on with little love from Toyota since it was born back in 2009—a lifetime ago in automotive years. So that begs the question, if you’re in the market for a rugged, robust, off-road-capable SUV, is the Toyota 4Runner a good buy?
What’s the Toyota 4Runner Venture?
The 4Runner Venture will be mechanically familiar to anyone who’s shopped for a 4Runner in the past decade. Built on a traditional body-on-frame platform shared with the Toyota Tacoma, Land Cruiser Prado, and Lexus GX, the 2020 4Runner Venture sports Toyota’s old 4.0-liter V-6 under its hood. Upgraded since its 2002 debut with Toyota’s dual variable valve timing technology, it makes 270 hp and 278 lb-ft of torque on all new 4Runners. It’s paired with a five-speed automatic gearbox and, standard on the Venture trim, four-wheel drive.
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Based on the 4Runner TRD Off-Road Premium, the “special edition” 4Runner Venture also comes standard with an electronically locking rear differential and Toyota’s Multi-Terrain Select and Crawl Control off-road systems. Venture-exclusive bits include a Yakima cargo basket on the roof, 4Runner TRD Pro wheels with a matte-gray finish, all-weather floormats, and black painted mirrors and door handles. The most significant option on our 4Runner Venture tester was Toyota’s Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS, for $1,750), which features hydraulic piping that automatically disconnects the 4Runner’s anti-roll bars when it senses a wheel in the air off-road, dropping it back down to the ground.
How Does the Toyota 4Runner Drive?
In the age of the crossover, the 4Runner drives like a throwback to a mostly bygone era. Its 4.0-liter V-6 may be big for a six-cylinder, but its 270 horses and 278 lb-ft of torque are now eclipsed by more modern powertrains in competitors, like Jeep’s 3.6-liter V-6 and eight-speed auto combo, found in both the Wrangler (285 hp) and Grand Cherokee (295 hp), or the former’s hybridized 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4, which produces 270 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque.
No one will mistake the 4Runner for being quick, but the old 4.0-liter and five-speed combo is a less frustrating drive partner than the 3.5-liter V-6 and six-speed auto that replaced this powertrain in the Tacoma. The 4Runner’s torque comes on relatively low in its powerband, which, when combined with the five-speed’s longggg gear ratios (and assuming you keep your foot buried in the throttle), gives the Toyota class-competitive acceleration and passing performance. That’s assuming the auto is in the right gear, of course, as shifts are as slow and slurred as our crew after an evening of aged brown liquids.
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More impressive than the way it accelerates is the way our KDSS-equipped 4Runner rides. Despite its light, vague steering and penchant for midcorner axle hop and chassis shudder on harsh impacts both on- and off-road, the 4Runner’s KDSS system still does a remarkable job at quieting down the ride. Working hand in hand with its high-sidewall tires, the 4Runner floats over bumps rather well, minimizing the transfer of impacts into the cabin and to the driver.
What’s the 4Runner’s Interior Like?
Speaking of the average consumer, the 4Runner’s cabin more than anything else will betray the Toyota’s age. The world has changed much in the last decade, but the 4Runner hasn’t; the biggest differences between the 2020 4Runner and 2010 model is a revised dash with a digital driver’s instrument display, some minor tweaks to the center stack, and a new 8.0-inch infotainment system compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The cabin is functional but dated when compared with those of the Jeep Wrangler, the similarly old Grand Cherokee, and the upcoming 2021 Ford Bronco. The front seats are comfortable—though headroom is tight due to a combination of our tester’s optional moonroof and the 4Runner’s low roofline—and the back seat is spacious. The 4Runner’s sliding rear cargo deck, a $350 option, is also quite useful. It slides the whole cargo floor backward over the rear bumper, eliminating the need to reach deep into the Toyota’s deep cargo area to snag loose items.
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There’s without a doubt room for improvement, though. For starters, the cabin is loud. Thanks to the optional TRD exhaust’s banal drone at highway speeds and a general lack of sound deadening, you’ll likely find yourself constantly reaching for the volume knob on the freeway in an attempt to hear your music. Material quality and fit and finish are also at least a generation behind what Toyota has proven itself capable of on newer vehicles, like the RAV4.
How Much Does the 4Runner Venture Cost?
More than any other place, here’s where the 4Runner Venture runs into its biggest hurdle: It’s a poor value. At $48,227 as tested ($44,755 to start), the 4Runner Venture is undercut by both the Wrangler and Grand Cherokee. A comparably equipped Wrangler Unlimited Sport S can be had for $44,910, or, if having a special edition is a must for you, $45,560 for a Wrangler Unlimited Willys with a more efficient turbocharged engine and eight-speed automatic. A Grand Cherokee would be even cheaper—a similarly spec’d Grand Cherokee North Edition can be had for $44,305. Both not only offer up more refined cabins and modern powertrains than the Toyota (not to mention at least equal off-road capability), but, adding insult to injury, are decidedly more efficient, too. The EPA rates the 4Runner Venture at 16/19/17 mpg city/highway/combined, while the Grand Cherokee nets 18/25/21 mpg, and the Wrangler 18/22/20 mpg with the V-6, or 21/22/21 mpg with the turbo-four. Of course, both the Wrangler and Grand Cherokee can become significantly more expensive and even crest $60,000 fully loaded, but their base models are so capable, they still outshine the 4Runner Venture.
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So, Is the Toyota 4Runner a Good Buy?
On my first day of Media 101 at St. Bonaventure University, I learned that as a journalist, you should never ask a question in a headline that you don’t answer. So as to not disappoint professor John Hanchette: Is the 2020 4Runner a good purchase? In a word, no. Buying a new 2020 4Runner is a lot like buying a new iPhone 4 at iPhone 11 prices—yes, there’s lots to love about the iPhone 4, but it doesn’t necessarily meet all of our modern needs, especially at the 2020 asking price. The 4Runner is handsome, off-road capable, and rides well, but the competitors offer up better performance, better efficiency, and better quality for the money.
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