old dog, new trends

2020 Toyota 4Runner Venture Special Edition: The SUV We Want the Land Cruiser to Be


March 26, 2020 Cars By Photo by Toyota
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The 4Runner is Toyota’s badass body-on-frame mid-size off-roader. While another vehicle may wear the Land Cruiser badge, this SUV is the closest spiritual successor to the iconic FJ40 Land Cruiser — and is, at least for now, the closest thing the Jeep Wrangler has to a direct competitor. The 4Runner is venerated for its impressive build quality and trail-bashing prowess.

It’s also among the most venerable SUVs on the market. Toyota last overhauled the 4Runner for the 2010 model year, which means this off-roader’s bones date back more than a decade — making it ancient in car years.

Still, that doesn’t mean Toyota has given up on keeping this aging SUV fresh. Recently, I drove the new-for-2020 Toyota 4Runner Venture Special Edition, a trim designed for venturing out into the world…and, yes, looking cool and trendy while doing so.

The 4Runner is well-built, capable, and exceptionally cool-looking. Like the Land Cruiser, it delivers the off-roader feels the way few modern crossovers do. It also is incredibly old, consumes fuel inefficiently, and doesn’t offer much car for an initial outlay of cash that’s close to $50,000 in this spec.

All that said, my wife and I still kind of wanted a 4Runner after living with it for a while.

The Venture Special Edition is on-trend.

The Venture Special Edition is an extension of the 4Runner’s TRD Premium Off-Road trim, which rests in the mid-range on the luxury between the standard TRD Off-Road and the top-level TRD Pro and packs the model’s most advanced off-road tech.  For a $1,815 price over the TRD Premium, the Venture hits two of the automotive industry’s biggest trends: blacked-out detailing and overlanding.

The Venture Special Edition blacks out the Toyota and 4Runner badging on the exterior, and deletes the TRD Off-Road badge from the C-pillar for a cleaner look. It gives the 4Runner black mirrors, black door handles and a black rear spoiler. It also includes some cargo accessories; there’s a Yakima MegaWarrior roof rack — pro tip: don’t forget that it’s on the roof before you enter a parking garage — and an available sliding cargo deck.

The 4Runner is what we want the Land Cruiser to be.

This generation of the iconic Land Cruiser has been around a while, and the flaws are apparent. It’s not hard to look at the portly, pricey Land Cruiser and think it should be about 1,000 pounds lighter, $40,000 less expensive and place more emphasis on off-road ability than luxury — ideally while retaining its cool appearance and the sense of security offered by its capability and reliability. That car exists; it’s the 4Runner.

Indeed, it’s easy to get sucked in by this Toyota’s off-road-ready charm. There’s a comfort in being prepared for anything (barring a gasoline shortage), and this rig leaves you feeling ready to take on whatever hell the world throws at you. In fact, my wife and I found the 4Runner endearing enough to half-heartedly run the numbers on a purchase…and to try to rationalize the fuel consumption.

But the 4Runner is still ancient.

2009 was a long time ago in car terms. Trucks and SUVs have evolved by great leaps since then…yet the 4Runner hasn’t. The SUV still uses a big 4.0-liter V6, connected to an automatic transmission with just five gears. It handles like a boat. It’s slow. It’s loud. It achieves an unpleasant 19 mpg on the highway, and suffers from other annoying, old-school SUV issues as well, like taking an inordinate amount of time to warm up.

Want more proof? I drove a Jeep Gladiator right after the 4Runner, and that Toyota glow melted away very quickly. The difference between the two cars felt like I entered a time machine (and, it should be noted, the Gladiator uses a similarly-aged V6 yet does much more with it).

Few cars can match the 4Runner’s emotive appeal. But it’s hard making a value case for it when competitors offer so much more at this price point.

Price as Tested: $48,877
Drivetrain: 4.0-liter V6, 5-speed automatic, 4-wheel-drive
Power: 270 hp, 278 lb-ft
Fuel Economy: 16 city, 19 highway
Seats: 5

Toyota provided this product for review.

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Tyler Duffy

Tyler Duffy is Gear Patrol's Motoring Staff Writer. He used to write about sports for The Big Lead and The Athletic. He has a black belt in toddler wrangling. He's based outside Detroit.

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