I have now driven every generation of 4Runner, here's my take on each one

My mother bought this still new 2016 Trail Premium 4Runner a couple weeks ago. It was quite the bargain with 7K off sticker. This rounds out my experience with all generations. Here’s my rambling take on each one:

1st Generation (1984-1989): Kind of like a really comfortable tractor. Oozes character, but generally miserable to drive in modern traffic. The removable top is actually fun, but is not fun to take off nor put back on. I’ve only done it once. I have driven several 1st gens.


2nd Generation (1990-1995): Still rather utilitarian, but much more civilized and livable than its predecessor. The rear tailgate was okay, the window therein was prone to malfunction. The 3.0L V6 is terrible, as you probably know. Surprisingly flat in corners, unusually fun to drive for something so heavy and slow. I’ve owned two of these, and driven several more.

3rd Generation (1996-2002): Take everything that was wrong with the 2nd gen and fix it, that’s the 3rd gen. I’ve only driven two of these, the 3.4L V6 is very good, but still no powerhouse. Rear hatch > tailgate. This could be the best all around.

4th Generation (2003-2009): The first time I drove my dad’s, I thought “wow, this is kind of huge.” Not huge in general, but huge compared to its predecessors. The 4.7L V8 is a blast to drive. The 4.0L V6 is perfectly fine. If you ever thought about getting one of these, get the V8. It still maintains the relative flatness in corners, so is fairly fun to drive.

5th Generation (2010-present): YUGE. Seriously. Having been so well accustomed to these vehicles over the years, my mom’s 5th gen felt absolutely massive. The ride isn’t particularly comfortable over rough surfaces, but smooths out nicely on the highway. It definitely feels like a truck. The only engine option is the V6, and it feels refined enough to be “pretty good” at this point. The above standard build quality is readily apparent, no creaks or rattles whatsoever. The interior doesn’t feel particularly premium, but still quite good. I don’t care for the steering feel of this generation. Not sure if it’s electric now or not. My mom’s has a bunch of off road gadgets that I’m sure will never get used. I may buy it from her in a few years. Also the 4WD is actuated by a lever instead of a dial, which I prefer and adds to the off road aesthetic.


So there you have it. A barely intelligible series of takes on a legendary lineup. In all seriousness, 4Runner’s are very well screwed together, and can take a surprising amount of abuse. But as HHFP says, reliable doesn’t mean maintenance free. Take care of them and they last.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter