Redesigned 2018 4Runner to stay body-on-frame but with a modern twist

2018 Toyota 4Runner

2018 Toyota 4Runner

What changes will make the 2018 Toyota 4Runner different?

An all-new design with evolutionary styling, a more sophisticated powertrain, and more advanced features. Unchanged will be this midsize SUV’s rugged, old-school body-on-frame construction.

The model-year ’18 redesign will launch the sixth generation of an SUV originally introduced in 1984. Note that we didn’t refer to it as a crossover: that’s because the 4Runner is among the very last of a dying breed: a midsize SUV with traditional truck-type, body-on-frame construction. Just 10 years ago, this was the SUV norm, with 4Runner accompanied by truck-like designs that included the Ford Explorer, Nissan Pathfinder, and Dodge Durango. While other midsize body-on-frame SUVs, such as the Chevrolet TrailBlazer, were retired, the Explorer, Patherfinder, and Durango morphed into crossovers, mimicking car-type construction by unifying their body and chassis into a single structure.

With demise of the Nissan Xterra in 2016, 4Runner is now the only choice for those who want an old-school SUV but not a full-size model, such as the Chevrolet Tahoe or Ford Expedition. Sometimes being alone has its advantages. Toyota sold slightly more than 100,000 4Runners in 2016, putting it in the same sales ballpark as popular midsize crossovers such as the Chevrolet Traverse, Honda Pilot, Ford Edge, and Kia Sorento.

Why should I wait for the 2018?

To get hold of an all-new model that promises to be the most comfortable and efficient 4Runner yet. It may even better the 2010-2017 generation for off-road prowess, although that’s a tall order. Expect the redesigned 4Runner to adopt the underskin engineering and V-6 powertrain of Toyota’s Tacoma midsize pickup truck, which was redesigned for model-year 2016. Room for improvement? We hope Toyota will address some of the key deficiencies of the current 4Runner, namely a bouncy ride, poor visibility, and below-average fuel economy.

Toyota will likely retain a familiar model lineup. Returning trim levels should include base SR5, uplevel SR5 Premium, and luxury Limited, plus the off-road-themed TRD Off-Road and TRD Off-Road Premium. The flagship off-roader, the TRD Pro model, is likely to experience a brief hiatus, returning for model-year 2019.

Should I buy a 2017 model instead?

Only if you can get a killer deal as dealers pair inventory ahead of the all-new ‘18s. Big discounts may be difficult to come by, though: 4Runner demand remains strong while supply is relatively limited. As such, you’re not liable to get much of a discount on a 2017, even if dealers are looking to clear showroom space for the more profitable ’18s. As noted, dedicated off-road enthusiasts interested in a 4Runner TRD Pro would do well to act quickly, lest they be compelled to cool their heels until a redesigned version of that model debuts a year or so after the rest of the line is settled in showrooms.

Will the styling be different?

Yes, but probably not radically so. We think the redesigned 2018 4Runner will have the same general profile as the outgoing model, with squared-off forms in keeping with its rugged image. Expect the front end to look similar to that of the Tacoma, with a bold grille and long hood.

Inside, the overall control layout would mirror that of the Tacoma, too, with large, clear instrumentation and Toyota’s fairly simple-to-use Entune infotainment system. Expect seating for five to again be standard. Toyota may well continue to offer a small third-row bench seat that increases capacity to seven as an option on SR5 and Limited models.

In any event, we’ll hope for more space and for slightly easier access, via larger door openings, if not a lower ride height. We also hope Toyota continues to offer a slide out cargo-floor tray on the five-seat models. To make room for its truck-like suspension and drivertrain, the 2018 4Runner’s load floor will again be higher than that of most any other midsize SUV or crossover, and the tray makes loading bulky items easier.

Any mechanical changes?

Most certainly. Expect Toyota to jettison the outgoing 4Runner’s archaic powertrain in favor of one shared with the Tacoma. Gone should be a 4.0-liter V-6 with 270 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque in favor of a far-more-modern and efficient 3.5-liter V-6. In Tacoma, this engine makes 278 horsepower and 265 pound-feet of torque, though Toyota could tweak its output for the heavier 4Runner. Also consigned to history should be the outgoing 4Runner’s sluggish 5-speed automatic transmission. Expect a 6-speed automatic as standard, but it’s possible an 8-speed automatic might also be offered.

The 2018 4Runner SR5 and Limited models would return with rear-wheel drive as standard. Optional on those models and included on the TRD Off-Road would be four-wheel drive. The SR5 and TRD Off-Road will probably continue to use a part-time setup that should not be left engaged on dry pavement, while the Limited would have a full-time system that can. Both systems would include a low-range gear set for off-road use. The TRD models would also continue with beefed-up suspensions and running gear designed for severe off-road use.

Will fuel economy improve?

Count on it. Its body-on-frame design, portly curb weight, and boxy shape mean the 2018 4Runner’s EPA ratings will still be nowhere near those of similarly sized crossovers. However, the redesigned model should improve upon the 2017 4Runners’s EPA ratings of 17/21/18 mpg city/highway/combined with rear-wheel drive and 17/20/18 with four-wheel drive.

Will it have new features?

Yes, most likely on the safety front. As with many recently updated Toyota vehicles, the company is including a suite of driver-assistance features as standard equipment on all models. Dubbed “Toyota Safety Sense-P,” the package contains radar-based adaptive cruise control that can maintain a set following distance; autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection; lane-departure warning with automatic steering correction; and automatic high-beam headlight control. None of these features is available on the outgoing 4Runner. Including them on the 2018 will make it eligible for Top Safety Pick status from the influential Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. We also expect blind-spot alert with rear cross-traffic detection to be available for the first time on the 2018 4Runner as well.

SR5 models likely will come standard with Entune and support for in-dash navigation through a connected smartphone with a dedicated GPS app. They’ll also have a power driver seat and hill-start assist that keeps the vehicle from rolling backward when on a steep incline. The TRD Off-Road adds heavy-duty suspension tuning with Toyota’s CRAWL Control, which is a traction aid for extreme off-road conditions, and an electronic locking rear differential. SR5 Premium and TRD Off-Road Premium would add built-in GPS navigation that doesn’t require a smartphone app and Toyota’s “SofTex” leatherette upholstery. Limiteds would have genuine leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, front- and rear-obstacle detection, Toyota’s Safety Connect telematics service, keyless entry with pushbutton ignition, and dual-zone automatic climate control.

How will 2018 prices be different?

They’ll almost certainly be higher. The 2017 4Runner has a decent level of standard equipment and few factory options, so its starting prices trend a bit higher than most midsize-class crossovers. It’s also one of the few North American-market vehicles that Toyota sources from its native Japan, as opposed to the United States or Canada, making its pricing a bit more sensitive to fluctuations in the value of the Yen relative to the Dollar.

Figure on a 2018 4Runner SR5 with rear-wheel drive to start at about $36,000 (estimated base prices include Toyota’s destination fee, which was $940 on the ’17 model). Estimated base price for the 2018 SR5 Premium is $38,000. Expect the TRD Off-Road and Off-Road Premium to be priced from roughly $39,000 and $41,000, respectively. Estimated base price for the rear-drive Limited is $43,500. Expect the SR5’s part-time 4WD to add about $1,700 extra while the Limited’s full-time setup would again run about $2,000.

It’s hard to gauge what the 2018 4Runner’s factory options would cost, as Toyota is offering special pricing promotions on them for the 2017 model. For example, a power sunroof costs just $100 on the SR5 Premium and TRD Off-Road Premium. Expect this feature to be closer to $1,000 on the ’18. Figure on paying about the same for the available third-row seat on the SR5 and Limited. Toyota could bundle the sunroof and aft-most seat into one package for a small discount as well.

TRD Off-Road models would also be available with Toyota’s Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS) for about $1,000. KDSS automatically adjusts suspension tuning and the anti-roll bars to suit stable on- or off-road driving. It’s well worth the investment if you plan to do any sort of off-roading in your 4Runner.

When will it come out?

Expect a 2018 Toyota 4Runner release date during the second half of 2017.

Best competitors

GMC Acadia All Terrain, Land Rover Discovery Sport, Jeep Grand Cherokee. Note that the outgoing 4Runner shares its basic body-on-frame design with an SUV called the GX, marketed by Toyota’s upscale Lexus division. The more expensive GX has different styling and, befitting its premium status, is more luxurious and also comes with a V-8 engine.

What change would make it better?

We expect the 2018 redesign to address most of our complaints about the current 4Runner, including poor outward visibility, back-of-the-pack fuel economy, and hobby-horse ride. The Jeep Grand Cherokee is the only similarly sized vehicle that approaches 4Runner for off-road prowess, but it only seats and can be even more costly when optioned. The GMC Acadia All Terrain model has more off-road hardware than its siblings, but it still won’t take you places that the 4Runner can manage with ease. Land Rover’s new Discovery Sport is a worthy off-roading alternative. It is smaller than the 4Runner, but is priced in a similar ballpark, starting around $38,000.

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]