2020 Toyota 4Runner first drive review: Same as it ever was -- mostly

The Toyota 4Runner hasn't had a major update in ages, but for 2020, it gets a few noteworthy improvements.

Emme Hall Former editor for CNET Cars
I love two-seater, RWD convertibles and own a 2004 Mazdaspeed Miata for pavement fun and a lifted 2001 Miata for pre-running. I race air-cooled Volkswagens in desert races like the Mint 400 and the Baja 1000. I have won the Rebelle Rally, seven-day navigational challenge, twice and I am the only driver to compete in an EV, the Rivian R1T.
Emme Hall
3 min read

I'd like to know what kind of eye cream the is using, because after all these years, Toyota's ol' gal still looks fantastic. For 2020, the 4Runner gets a number of noteworthy updates, not unlike those found on the refreshed pickup truck.

For starters, Toyota's new Safety Sense-P suite of driving aids is now standard across all trims. That means every 2020 4Runner comes with pre-collision warning with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning, automatic high-beam headlights and high-speed adaptive cruise control (read: it doesn't work under 25 miles per hour). However, those looking for blind-spot monitoring will be disappointed. It's still not available on any trim.

2020 Toyota 4Runner TRD Off Road
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2020 Toyota 4Runner TRD Off Road

The face of the 2020 4Runner is forever young.


Another big update is found inside, where the 4Runner gets improved compatibility with phones. The infotainment system itself carries over unchanged, displayed on an 8-inch touchscreen. But now the 4Runner comes with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Amazon Alexa compatibility. Freaking finally.

Otherwise, the 4Runner's cabin is mostly the same as it ever was. Up front, the driver gets a redesigned instrument panel, while rear-seat passengers now have access to two USB ports.

Where things haven't changed is under the hood -- the 4Runner still uses Toyota's super-old, 4.0-liter, naturally aspirated V6 engine. It produces an only adequate 270 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque, and runs through a smooth but unsophisticated five-speed automatic transmission.

On paved roads, the 4Runner's powertrain really shows its age. Granted, the high altitudes of the Rocky Mountains don't help -- naturally aspirated engines always suffer at higher altitudes. But with only meh amounts of power and a lazy transmission, the 4,500-pound SUV feels downright slow in these conditions.

2020 Toyota 4Runner
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2020 Toyota 4Runner

Add this to the list of things I thought I'd never see: Apple CarPlay in the 2020 Toyota 4Runner.


Where the 4Runner excels most is off the beaten path. It's one of the few body-on-frame SUVs in the midsize class, meaning it's a lot tougher than a or . The TRD Off-Road and TRD Pro trims come with an electronically locking rear differential, a Multi-Terrain Select system and Crawl Control. Together, these systems allow the 4Runner to scamper up the slick rocks of Moab, Utah, and crawl over the rocky passes near Ouray, Colorado.

The Multi-Terrain Select system has modes for Mud and Sand, Loose Rock, Rock and Dirt, Mogul and Rock. Each can modify wheel spin and throttle sensitivity to take on the rough stuff like royalty. The five-level Crawl Control manages throttle and braking, allowing the driver to concentrate on picking the best line through tough terrain. It's a cool feature, but it's pretty noisy and I don't find myself using it that much.

If you think you'll really be venturing off the grid, the TRD Pro trim is the 4Runner for you. The Nitto Terra Grappler tires on the TRD Pro are a bit grabbier than the all-terrains on the TRD Off-Road, and the Pro utilizes 2.5-inch Fox internal bypass shocks with remote piggyback reservoirs in the rear. The front of the TRD Pro has a 1-inch lift over other 4Runners, and only the Pro gets a new cat-back exhaust that sounds great.

2020 Toyota 4Runner still looks awesome

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There's plenty of room to carry all your off-road gear, thanks to 47.2 cubic feet of space behind the second row of seats. Fold those down, and cargo space expands to 90 cubes. And hey, the 4Runner is the only SUV that offers a power rear hatchback window to let in some more wind.

Added capability comes thanks to a 1,500-pound payload capacity, and the 4Runner is rated to tow as much as 5,000 pounds.

Look for the 2020 4Runner to hit dealerships as early as late August, at which point final pricing should be available. Given its modest updates, don't expect prices to change too much from the 2019 4Runner.

There are few vehicles that can stick around for this long without an update and still be as cool as the 4Runner. It looks great, has serious off-road chops and now comes with better driving aids and better phone integration. The 2020 model year tweaks might not be huge, but they make an endearing SUV a little easier to live with.

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