2021 Toyota 4Runner FAQ Review

Christian Wardlaw, Independent Expert | Apr 08, 2021

Few truly rugged SUVs exist anymore. Most are nothing but glorified station wagons with extra ground clearance, fake skid plates, and gray plastic trim lining the wheel wells to protect against door dings while they’re parked at the mall.

But the 2021 Toyota 4Runner is different. It’s the real deal, made for going places and doing things about which Toyota Highlander owners can only dream. But there are prices to be paid for that capability regarding comfort, safety, fuel efficiency, and daily drivability.

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Long overdue for a complete redesign, the 2021 4Runner instead gets the following changes:

  • Trail Special Edition debuts, based on SR5 trim
  • All 4Runners get LED headlights and fog lights
  • Retuned suspension, new wheels and tires for TRD Pro

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2021 Toyota 4Runner Trail Special Edition Cement Front View

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

What are the 2021 Toyota 4Runner configurations?

Toyota offers the 2021 4Runner in SR5, TRD Off-Road, Limited, and TRD Pro trim levels, with Premium trim packages available for the SR5 and TRD Off-Road. They all seat five people, but Toyota will install a third-row seat if you must have 7-passenger capacity.

Three special edition models are also available. New for 2021, the Trail Special Edition is based on the 4Runner SR5. A Venture Special Edition builds on TRD Off-Road trim. And a Nightshade Special Edition is essentially a blacked-out version of the 4Runner Limited.

Every 4Runner comes with a 270-horsepower 4.0-liter V6 engine and a 5-speed automatic transmission. You can buy a 4Runner with rear-wheel drive, but that defeats the purpose of this vehicle. Part-time and full-time 4-wheel-drive systems are available, along with numerous off-roading technologies to ensure that you get where you’re going – and back again.

What is the 2021 Toyota 4Runner price?

Prices for the 2021 Toyota 4Runner range from $36,765 for the SR5 with rear-wheel drive to $50,745 for the TRD Pro, which has standard 4-wheel drive. Add $1,175 for destination charges.

What is the 2021 Toyota 4Runner cargo space/trunk space?

In standard 5-passenger configuration, the 4Runner holds a generous 47.2 cubic feet of cargo behind its rear seat and a maximum of 89.7 cu.-ft. with the back seat folded down.

Add the optional third-row seat, and the measurements are 9 cu.-ft. behind the third row, 46.3 cu.-ft. behind the second row, and a maximum of 88.8 cu.-ft. 

Skip the third-row seat option, and you can instead select a sliding cargo deck. It results in the same figures as with the extra seat (not the 9 cu.-ft. measurement, of course) but gives you added utility. The cargo deck can support up to 440 pounds.

Toyota does not offer a power liftgate for the 4Runner, but the rear window glass does power down to free airflow through the SUV and to carry long items with the liftgate closed.

What is the 2021 Toyota 4Runner gas mileage?

If you’re looking for a fuel-efficient SUV, the Toyota 4Runner is not it. This vehicle is a gasoholic, rated by the EPA to return 17 mpg regardless of trim level or driveline. 

During our testing, which included an hour of exploring an off-highway vehicle park with the 4-wheel-drive system engaged, we averaged 16.8 mpg. 

Based on this result and the 4Runner’s 23-gallon fuel tank capacity, you can expect just over 385 miles of driving range. You’ll stop before draining the SUV dry, of course, so plan to visit the gas station every 345 miles or so.

Is the 2021 Toyota 4Runner safe?

Barack Obama was serving his first term as president the last time Toyota redesigned the 4Runner. In other words, in automotive years, this vehicle’s platform and architecture border on ancient. Unsurprisingly, then, 2021 Toyota 4Runner safety ratings are unimpressive. 

In tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the 4Runner earns an overall rating of four out of five stars. Dig deeper, and you’ll discover a 3-star rating for front passenger protection in a frontal-impact collision and a 3-star rollover resistance rating.

Meanwhile, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the 4Runner a Marginal rating for small overlap, frontal-impact crash protection on the driver’s side of the SUV. The IIHS did not test for similar performance on the passenger’s side.

Though other models with similar off-roading capabilities face their own challenges concerning occupant protection levels, there are safer SUVs.

What is the 2021 Toyota 4Runner towing capacity?

When properly equipped, a Toyota 4Runner can tow 5,000 pounds. You might expect more, and this SUV’s platform can tow 6,500 lbs. underneath the Lexus GX 470. But the Lexus has a V8 engine, while the 4Runner makes do with a V6.

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2021 Toyota 4Runner Trail Special Edition Interior Dashboard

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

For this review, Toyota provided a Trail Special Edition with part-time 4-wheel drive, an upgraded infotainment system, a cargo cover, and a TRD skid plate. The price tag came to $43,904, including the destination charge.

To create the Trail Special Edition, Toyota adds dark gray TRD Off-Road wheels and an oversized roof rack basket to the outside. Inside, you’ll find tan seat stitching, rubber floor mats, a custom-made cooler that keeps its contents cold for up to a week, and the sliding cargo deck discussed above. Toyota will build 4,000 examples of the Trail Special Edition for the 2021 model year.

How is the 2021 Toyota 4Runner interior?

Form follows function within the Toyota 4Runner. Hard plastic is the rule rather than the exception, and Toyota designs the interior for easy clean-up. Refreshingly simple, with large and clearly marked controls, the 4Runner’s cabin requires no explanation.

Is the 2021 Toyota 4Runner comfortable?

Once you’ve climbed aboard over the tall door sills, yes, the 4Runner is comfortable. The Trail Special Edition’s cloth seats provide excellent leg support, and the upholstery looks and feels durable.

The rear seat is remarkably roomy. Adults will find plenty of space for stretching out, and the test vehicle included rear air conditioning vents and USB charging ports. My 10-year-old, who is short for her age, remarked on how easy it was to see out.

Drivers have a power window control panel with automatic operation for all four windows. When equipped with a power sunroof and with the rear liftgate glass and all windows lowered, the 4Runner provides an open-air feeling akin to a Jeep Wrangler, but without removing a top and windows (and storing them) to achieve it.

Does the 2021 Toyota 4Runner drive itself?

No, the Toyota 4Runner does not drive itself. Standard equipment includes an adaptive cruise control system, but it doesn’t provide stop-and-go capability. Lane-centering assistance technology is unavailable for the 4Runner. But even if it did have these features, no vehicles currently sold in the U.S. qualify as fully autonomous, or self-driving.

The adaptive cruise control is part of the 4Runner’s standard Toyota Safety Sense-P (TSS-P) collection of advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS). It also includes forward-collision warning with pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, and automatic high-beam headlights. 

Note that a blind-spot warning system with rear cross-traffic warning is unavailable for the 4Runner. Also, note that the lane-departure warning system’s incessant beeping soon irritates a driver, prompting disuse.

Does the 2021 Toyota 4Runner have AWD?

No, but it does have 4-wheel drive (4WD), and this explainer can help you understand the difference.

Depending on the version of the 4Runner, a part-time 4WD system is standard or optional, featuring a 2-speed transfer case and brake-induced A-Trac technology to control wheelspin and put power to the wheels with the most traction. Limited and Nightshade Special Edition versions have a full-time 4WD system with a Torsen locking center differential. Hill-start assistance and downhill assist control are standard on all 4Runners.

Choose the TRD Off-Road, Venture Special Edition, or TRD Pro model, and the 4Runner has a locking rear differential. Crawl Control is also standard for these models; it is an off-road, low-speed cruise control that powers the SUV across rugged terrain, freeing the driver to focus on choosing the best path forward. These versions of the 4Runner also include Multi-Terrain Select, which offers multiple traction settings for different types of surfaces. 

In combination with the 4Runner’s 9.6 inches of ground clearance, 33-degree approach angle, and 26-degree departure angle, these systems make this Toyota a capable off-roader.

Is the 2021 Toyota 4Runner fun to drive?

Undeniably, the 4Runner is a blast to drive in mud and dirt (and likely in snow, in the sand, and on any unpaved surface). But unless the novelty of piloting a vehicle that drives like a traditional, old-school SUV is appealing to you, the 4Runner is not enjoyable as a daily driver.

Though the 270-horsepower 4.0-liter V6 supplies decent acceleration, the 4Runner’s heft and lack of refinement make the SUV feel slow and sluggish. You’re unlikely to jeopardize your driver’s license while driving one because when you’re traveling at 75 mph, it definitely feels like it. Surprisingly, especially considering the Trail Special Edition’s big roof rack basket, wind noise is not as loud as expected on the highway.

The 4Runner’s steering wheel seemingly takes driver input as a suggestion rather than a command, and parking or making U-turns requires more muscle and effort than you might prefer. The 4Runner’s brake pedal is also hard to smoothly modulate, especially in traffic. At all times, the 4Runner feels ponderous on pavement, with bumps and holes reverberating throughout its structure. 

While these traits reflect the 4Runner’s aging, truck-based underpinnings, they’re also typical of any vehicle designed primarily for off-road capability. For example, a Jeep Wrangler is similarly unpleasant when used for anything but its intended purpose. 

People who buy vehicles like these and who expect raw and unrefined driving characteristics on paved roads will find the traits endearing to a degree. People who don’t expect a 4Runner to drive like an old truck won’t.

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2021 Toyota 4Runner Trail Special Edition Cement Rear View

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Though the Toyota 4Runner looks, feels, and drives like its indestructible, this SUV does not rank highly for dependability, quality, or appeal. 

For example, in the J.D. Power 2020 Automotive Performance, Execution, and Layout (APEAL) Study, in the midsize SUV segment, according to the people who own one, the 4Runner ranked eighth out of eight vehicles for overall appeal. When it comes to the 4Runner, dissatisfaction with fuel economy is, by far, the most significant complaint from owners.

Toyota as a brand ranks highly (fourth) in the J.D. Power 2021 Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS). But it ranks below the segment average (21st) in the J.D. Power 2020 Initial Quality Study (IQS), and Toyota ranks second from last among mass-market brands in the J.D. Power 2020 Automotive Performance, Execution, and Layout (APEAL) Study.

The data would suggest that the answer to the question above is “No.” But you must consider the Toyota 4Runner in context. It is a truck, not a car. It is rated to get 17 mpg in combined driving, so lousy fuel economy should come as no surprise to anyone who buys it. It’s design and engineering are more than a decade old, so it’s not a modern vehicle. It is made for exploring well off the beaten path, not driving to the elementary school, the grocery store, or the mall.

If you buy a Toyota 4Runner for its ultimate purpose, you’ll be happier with the decision. If you buy it for its rugged image while expecting it to drive like a Camry, you’ll be disappointed.

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Consumers likely cross-shop the 4Runner with a variety of SUVs, including a long list of fancied-up station wagons that are known as crossovers. There are, however, just three other midsize models from mass-market brands that can boast similar off-roading capabilities. They include the upcoming Ford Bronco, the Jeep Grand Cherokee, and the Jeep Wrangler.

Christian Wardlaw is a veteran digital automotive journalist with over 25 years of experience in test-driving vehicles. In addition to JDPower.com, his work has appeared in numerous new- and used-car buying guides, newspapers, and automotive industry trade journals.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2022 J.D. Power

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