We recently tested the Lexus GX460, and found its luxury, combined with impressive off-road equipment made it one of the most capable off-road luxury SUVs. Like the Lexus, the Toyota 4Runner finds itself in a specialist segment of the SUV market.
Most buyers want car-like comforts, safety equipment and thoughtful utility. But actual go-for-it, extreme all-terrain capability is low on the list of people who will challenging the mall or Home Depot. A smaller group, though, still lives for what an SUV can do, where it can take you, and how it will get you back. For that crowd, Toyota makes the 4Runner TRD Pro. Is it the ultimate adventure vehicle? Let’s find out.
One look at the TRD Pro and you know, this SUV means business.
Like all 4Runners, this is a square-jawed, deeply chiseled look, that starts with a massive front grille, a deep frown from LED headlights, and cool cut-outs that end in LED fog lights. There’s a hood scoop with black accents that give an extra powerful look.
Those clued into the TRD Pro trim will also notice that instead of the traditional badge, the name TOYOTA is spelled out in big block letters, and it looks retro and cool. If you’re willing to drop down a little, you can also see the TRD Pro stamped front aluminum skid plate below the grille. Very cool.
The profile is pure SUV, and pure off-road. It starts a specially tuned TRD suspension that lets the 4Runner sit high and proud on new-for-‘21, 17-inch matte-black TRD alloy wheels with massive P265/70R17 Nitto Terra Grappler tires. Special TRD Pro black badging on the C pillar makes no mistake about which model this is.
The finishing touch is the TRD Roof Rack that would make any overlander happy. We were equally happy that even with the added height and roof rack our tester could still fit into our garage without any scraping.
The rear keeps that sporty theme going with more blacked-out badging, a color-keyed rear spoiler, blacked-out bumper step and lower fascia. A 4Runner tradition, the power lowering rear window remains here – great for longer items like a surfboard, or even just getting some extra airflow to cool off the truck.
Making our 4Runner even more of a standout was the new-for-2021 Lunar Rock exterior, a soft cement-like color that accentuates the rugged lines and turns heads.
Truck Function with Style
Inside is as rugged and capable looking as the outside. You won’t find a fancy digital dashboard here – and we wouldn’t want one. Large analog gauges stare at you through a chunky leather-wrapped wheel, while a nicely sized 8.0-inch touchscreen serves up info, including Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and available Wi-Fi hotspot. We also enjoyed the standard 15-speaker JBL audio system and navigation. All the tech you need, and features that were notably missing on the Lexus GX 460 we recently tested.
We also like the sizing of the knobs and controls – big and beefy, easy to use even with gloves on. Toyota knows how to design a vehicle for the real world. There’s a capable cockpit feel to everything too, from window controls mounted on top of the door panels (a little awkward, but you get used to it), to switches for the Multi-Terrain Select and Crawl Control mounted in an overhead console above the rearview mirror.
With a body-on-frame construction, you get a little less headroom than other SUVs, but we never felt cramped, and we appreciated the standard power moonroof bringing in loads of sunlight and fresh air.
To make sure the interior holds up to off-road abuse, the big comfortable seats are covered in SofTex faux leather that looks great and up to adventure. TRD lettering on the front headrests is a nice custom touch. We also found the front seats to be extremely supportive – a real plus in a vehicle designed for long journeys over tough terrain.
The rear seats are equally comfortable. The design does show its age though – you’ll have to remove the headrests before you can fold the seats forward to create a flat floor. When you do fold them the 4Runner’s boxy shape serves up loads of cargo room. The large rear hatch makes for easy loading, but with no power control, you get a bit of a workout, especially when pulling it shut. Shorter drivers may find it a bit of reach as well.
Making up for that, you can power lower the rear window, making it easy to toss stuff in – or carry longer oversize items.
You can get most of this above goodness in any 4Runner. What sets it apart is the dedication to off-road performance. Let’s start with the common ground – all 4Runners are powered by Toyota’s familiar 4.0-liter, V6 engine producing a stout 270-horsepower and 278 lb.-ft. of torque. Attached to a 5-speed automatic (many competitors now have 8- or 9 speed autos), we were pleasantly surprised that the big Toy feels quick and responsive – they really know how to choose the 5 gears they have to work with.
The off-road equipment starts with a part-time 4WD system with Active TRAC, and adds a locking rear differential, Multi-terrain Select and Crawl Control. Grip? You got it!
The chassis is up to any exploits, with full body-on-frame construction that’s impressively tough, plus TRD-tuned coil springs with an added inch of clearance up front. Re-tuned 2.5-inch Fox Internal Bypass Shocks are on all four corners, and the rear shocks also feature piggy-back style remote reservoirs for damping performance in extreme conditions. Toyota says that Pro badge is not just cosmetic – it stands for truly capable off-road performance in the most challenging places. We believe it.
So, while we didn’t get a chance to try all these goodies off road, there is a surprising payoff on-road, with a buttery smooth ride thanks to those tall tires and long travel suspension. There’s also this unshakeable feeling of go-anywhere confidence that you get from behind the wheel. You just find yourself naturally driving with one arm casually draped over the top of the steering wheel. Hey, whatever comes up – you handle it!
The steering is firm and direct, and although there’s a bit of roll, the control is so good it’s fun to toss around. And the Pro sounds the part with a nice full, exhaust note that really sings as the revs build. It makes you smile. The proportions are just right, too – large enough for families and fun activities, but easy to fit into parking spots around town.
Top of the Mountain Price?
Well, yes, but there’s also good news. A 4×2 4Runner SR5 with V6 starts at a reasonable $36,765, and it will have all the inherent toughness you could want. It may be all the rugged SUV you really need. Plus, the resale values on all 4Runners is fantastic.
If you want the TRD goodness but aren’t ready for the full-bore Pro model, there is the TRD Off-Road trim, with much of the off-road equipment of the PRO, but leaves off some of the pricier items. It might be the perfect blend of rugged and value, starting at $40,730 with standard 4WD.
The TRD Pro is the most expensive of the 9 4Runner trims and starts at $50,740. A nice selection of accessories, plus $1,175 for delivery, and our tester rang the bell at $52,727.
The Pro carves out a slim niche in the world of SUV’s, being supremely off-road capable, but we’d also look at the larger, and capable Kia Telluride at $50,180. We’d also look at the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk at $53,575. Anyone of the three is a great choice. Of the three, we like the perfect blend of the Toyota’s rugged looks and capability.
Whether your ultimate adventure is the Rubicon, a ski trip, or just navigating the mall, the 2021 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro gives you incredible capability, comfort, and style.
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.