The Toyota 4Runner began life as a smallish, two-door SUV but eventually morphed into the mid-size, rugged SUV that it is today. When it started production in 1983, the earliest versions were essentially Toyota 4x4 pickup trucks with a rollbar and hard shell over the bed and rear seats installed inside. Throughout its lifespan, the 4Runner has earned a reputation as one of the more capable and rugged SUVs on the market and enjoys a fiercely loyal following.
2010 - Present Toyota 4Runner (N280 5th Generation)
In 2009, the fifth-generation 4Runner debuted as a 2010 model. Its exterior design moved away from the more rounded lines of the previous generation, and instead took a cue from the 4Runner's truck-based heritage. This generation initially offered three trim levels, two of which carried over from before. The new addition was the 4WD Trail Edition, which featured the carmaker's Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System and a rear locking differential. Engines offered in this generation included the 2.7-liter 2TR-FE inline-four and the 4.0 liter 1GR-FE V6. A four-speed automatic transmission was only available with the inline-four in 2010, with the other models featuring a five-speed automatic. Safety ratings for this generation were largely good with only one marginal rating in the small overlap frontal offset category.
2003 - 2009 Toyota 4Runner (N210 4th Generation)
By the fourth generation of 4Runner, the SUV was markedly different from its earliest beginnings. More changes to the body and chassis debuted at this point, making it look like a semi-luxury SUV in the midsize class. Though the 4Runner still had off-road credibility, it also was marketed more to on-road consumers. Available engines in this generation included the 4.0-liter V6 and a newly-introduced 4.7-liter V8. The manual transmission was dropped in favor of a four-speed and five-speed automatic. This generation came in three trim levels, including the SR5, Sport Edition and Limited. A double wishbone suspension was introduced in the front and the rear was a solid rear axle. However, in a nod to its past, this generation continued to use the body-on-frame design, which somewhat reduced interior room as well as handling on-road. This was in contrast to the Highlander, Toyota's other midsize entry, which was explicitly designed only for on-road use.
1996 - 2002 Toyota 4Runner (N180 3rd Generation)
The third generation of 4Runner saw a shift into the midsize SUV class and more deviation from the standard pickup appearance. The major redesign introduced a new body shell on a new chassis for a five-door wagon, and it no longer looked exactly like the Toyota pickups. It was aimed more at on-road consumers and became more luxurious inside and out. The main available engines included the 2.7-liter inline-four and the 3.4-liter V6. Four-speed automatic and five-speed manual transmissions remained the standard options. Other significant changes from the second generation included a longer wheelbase, more cargo and passenger space, dual airbags, lifting tailgate, all-around coil springs, ABS, and rack and pinion steering. The 1999 models further enhanced the cosmetic appearance of the 4Runner with upgraded safety bumpers, improved interior ergonomics, and a new instrument cluster. The 2001 model year also saw a newly designed grille and five-spoke wheel rims.
1990 - 1995 Toyota 4Runner (N120/N130 2nd Generation)
Although it was still a compact SUV, the 4Runner began to slowly distinguish itself from the pickups in this generation. The new generation featured an integrated body-on-frame design, though it was still identical to the pickups forward from the B-pillars. The entire metal roof was now fixed, unlike the previous generation that had a removable rear shell.
The majority of 4Runners in this generation were standard four-door SUVs, though in the early years of this generation the three-door wagon models were available. Engines in this generation included the sturdy 2.4-liter 22R-E inline four and a 3.0-liter 3VZ-E V6. On the V6 models, the gear-driven transfer case was eventually upgraded to a chain-driven case. Four-cylinder models still used the gear-driven case. This 4Runner continued to have a pickup-style tailgate that required the window to be retracted first before opening, unlike some of its rival SUVs at the time that had upward-opening tailgates with closed glass. The rear suspension system was upgraded to coil springs.
1984 - 1989 Toyota 4Runner (N60 1st Generation)
The first generation of 4Runner was scarcely more than a filled-in Toyota 4x4 pickup. It only had two doors and the front of it looked identical to the Toyota trucks of the era. While the roof above the driver and passenger was fixed-metal like the trucks, the cab covering the rear seats and the cargo area was removable; this was the only generation of 4Runner to offer this setup.
Due to the back end not being reinforced to support the top and seats, the earliest generation was known to sag in the rear. The first 1984 engine was a 2.4-liter 22R engine with a carburetor. The 1985 model upgraded the engine to a 22R-E engine with fuel injection. The first carbureted engine continued to be available until 1988. In 1986, the 4Runner had a significant redesign of the front suspension that changed it from a solid front axle to an independent suspension. This allowed the 4Runner to perform more comfortably on-road and gave the engine compartment more space to fit an eventual V6 engine, which was introduced in 1987. The transmissions offered in the first generation included a four-speed automatic and five-speed manual.