History of the Toyota 4Runner

The Toyota 4Runner was the first of Toyota's comfort-driven SUVs.  Unlike the Land Cruiser, the 4Runner was designed around the rugged frame of the truck, and made to be a little more comfortable.  Years given are Toyota model years, and not necessarily the years in which the 4Runner was released.


In mid 1984, for the 1985 model year, Toyota brought to market a revolutionary new vehicle - the 4Runner.  Based on the mechanicals of its rugged pickup, the 4Runner combined the versatility and go anywhere ability of 4WD with the comfort and utility found in passenger cars.  It had a fiberglass top covering the cargo area which could be removed for open-air driving.  

This first generation of 4Runner was available in 2 models.  The first was a little more than a pickup truck with a covered cargo area.  Its emphasis was on utility.  With seats on the front only, the rear of the vehicle was intended to be used for cargo.  The second was designed to carry up to five passengers.  It included a rear seat (with seatbelts for 3 occupants) which could be folded flat for additional storage space.  The passenger model was available in the SR5 grade, and included a larger fuel tank and more luxurious interior appointments.  Both models were powered by the 2.4L 22R four-cylinder engine coupled to a five speed manual transmission with two speed transfer case, and all had manual locking front hubs.


Toyota added the Hi-Trac independent front suspension to the 4Runner, giving it more ground clearance and improved ride quality.  In addition to the improved ride, Toyota gave the 4Runner an injection of power with the addition of a turbocharged engine available on SR5 models.


The SR5 trim was available on all models, both truck and passenger, but the turbo engine was still confined to passenger models.  Slight changes to the grille, headlights, and striping were also new for 1987.


More power was the topic for '88. Toyota introduced the 3.0L V6 engine to the 4Runner.  Because the V6 was more suited to the off-road environment that the 4Runner was designed for, the turbo model was discontinued, leaving only the V6 and four-cylinder engines.


Introduced in spring of 1989, Toyota unleashed an entirely new breed of 4Runner.  Based on the completely redesigned line of pickup trucks, the new 4Runner was muscular and aggressive looking, but still capable of delivering the off-road performance for which Toyota's four-wheel drive trucks had long been known.  The vehicle was now available in either two or four door configuration, with either a four or six cylinder engine and with either two or four wheel drive.  The new styling eliminated the removable fiberglass top, making the vehicle quieter and more weather tight.  The 1990 4Runner was among the Consumers Digest "Best Buys" report and awarded the "Best Compact SUV in Initial Quality" title by J.D. Power & Associates.


The 4Runner wins two more awards, again the "Best Compact SUV in Initial Quality" buy J.D. Power as well as "Best Compact SUV in Customer Satisfaction" also by J.D. Power.


Minor revisions in styling came in 1992, including flush headlamps and new grille and molding treatments.  Leather seats are now an option as well.  Again, J.D. Power awards the 4Runner the same awards as in 1991.


J.D. Power names the 4Runner "Best Compact Sport Utility"


Safety was emphasized and the 4Runner received side-impact protection, a center (third) brake light, and the option of four-wheel anti-lock brakes on all V6 models.  Fully optioned with a CD-player, eight speaker stereo, sunroof, leather seats and anti-lock brakes, 4Runner's price was approaching $30,000, quite a departure from its beginnings some ten years earlier as a glorified truck.  But 4Runner hadn't forgotten its off-road heritage either, and remained as strong as a back-woods performer as ever.  Again, the "Best Compact SUV in Initial Quality" award is given to the 4Runner by J.D. Power.


Toyota's most popular SUV received a complete redesign, including all new engines, chassis, interior and exterior styling, enhanced safety equipment and added utility.  It was the first 4Runner to not share wither body panels for a frame with Toyota's compact pickup trucks.  This was the 3rd generation of 4Runners.

Available in 2 or 4 wheel drive, in base, SR5 and Limited trim, and with 2 engine choices there was a 4Runner for everyone.  Engine choices were a 2.7L 4 cylinder or a 3.4L V6, both with twin cam, multi-valve designs.

The new chassis was stiffer for improved steering feel and more precise suspension travel, and was two inches longer to increase wheelbase for a more stable ride.  Front suspension was a coil spring with double wishbone design replacing the previous Hi-Trac system, which resulted in greater wheel travel and ride comfort.

Other features on the new 4Runner included a one piece lift up tailgate with power window, larger outside mirrors, much increased interior volume with greater head and legroom and a lowered step-in and cargo loading height.  For safety, dual airbags were included along with four-wheel ABS, side door impact beams and ALR/ELR seatbelts front and rear.

Awards for this model included a runner-up for the "Compact 4-Door SUV Best Buy" by Four Wheeler magazine, and "Most Appealing Compact SUV" by J.D. Power.


4Runner saw only minor changes including the addition of a 2WD Limited model, revised seat fabric in SR5 models, the ability to order 16-inch alloy wheels on 2WD models and 2 new Preferred Equipment Packages.

A number of awards were given out in this year:  "1997 Top Three Vehicles in Initial Quality - Compact SUV" - J.D. Power.  "Best SUV" - Consumer Reports magazine.  "Top 10 Trucks Overall Resale Value After Three Years of Ownership" - ADP Autosource Survey.  "1997 Total Quality Award - Medium SUV Segment" - Strategic Vision, Inc.


Again, only minor changes in 1998.  Rotary style HVAC controls, new 4 spoke steering wheel and revised audio head units were the only improvements.


This was the 4th year for the 3rd generation 4Runner.  More standard features and options equipped this model than any other 4Runner to date.  All 1999 4Runners receive a redesigned front bumper, valence cover and grille with multi-reflector headlamps with an auto-off function, a new center console with dual cupholders, an overhead console with garage door/sunglass holder, two power outlets in the center cluster and an LCD odometer with digital dual trip meters.  In addition, SR5 grades no feature as standard heated outside mirrors and cruise control as well as an upgraded optional Sports Package which includes color-keyed bumpers with projector fog lamps, fender flares, a new wheel design and a sporty hood scoop.

The 1999 4Runner Limited model received a new multi-mode 4WD system as standard.  The new multi-mode feature is actually a full-time all-wheel-drive system with 2WD capability and can be used in normal driving conditions on all types of roads including dry, hard surfaces such as pavement.

Awards for 1999 are the "Best Compact SUV in Initial Quality" by J.D. Power and the "Best Compact SUV Segment" also by J.D. Power.


All 4Runner models are standard equipped with the 3.4 liter V6 engine and automatic transmission, Vehicle Skid Control with traction control, multi-mode 4WD and a 2WD/4WD selector switch and a pre-wired trailer hitch harness.  The brake booster is changed to hydraulic assisted and the rear differential lock has been discontinued.  the 2001 4Runner also boasts new interior additions and three new exterior colors.


What does 4Runner mean?  Combine 4-wheel drive and off-road Runner and you have a 4Runner, Toyota's fun-to-drive off-road vehicle.

All 4Runners are built at the Tahara Plant in Tahara, Japan.

All of the above information is provided by Toyota Motor Company, Inc.