If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It

2024 Toyota 4Runner TRD Off Road

Price: $58,055 CAD

Colour: Solar Octane

It used to be that if something worked, you left it alone. Why mess with things that are working as they were designed? This has never really been a strict philosophy in the world of cars. The continuous push toward whatever is new and shiny is forever vying for our attention, showcasing all the latest gadgets, bits and bobs and newest iterations of car design. There are exceptions to this, however. You have to look real hard, but they’re there. Take as an example the 2024 Toyota 4Runner. There have been five generations of this vehicle over a total production run of 40 years and counting. That’s an average lifespan of 8 years for each version of this car. That’s a solid statistic for any vehicle. Of course, not all generations of the 4Runner lasted the same amount of time. The current generation went on sale in 2010. Yes, indeed math wizards, that was 14 years ago. You know when a carmaker keeps a design in production, largely unchanged, for that long it has to be something very special. And indeed it is.

Despite my status as a bottom dwelling auto journalist, it may surprise you I don’t have access to all vehicles from all carmakers. I only recently started driving Toyota product so I must draw deeply upon my past to find the last time I was in a 4Runner. It goes all the way back to the mid 90’s. My best friend’s aunt and uncle were 4Runner people. They had a Gen 2 and drove it for nearly a decade before they replaced it with… a Gen 3 4Runner. It must be noted they didn’t have the heart to get rid of their old one. It sat off to the side of the driveway waiting patiently for a call back to service that, during the time I knew them, never came. I admired this elderly, immigrant couples devotion to this vehicle. They had other cars. Much nicer ones even. Whenever they needed to go anywhere as a family however, they always went there in their beloved Toyota 4×4. I remember asking them both why they loved the 4Runner so much. They said because it was part of the family. It was always there. It always took care of them. Uncle said he liked particularly that there was no prestige attached to the 4Runner. It was a pretty simple thing, but it was the best built thing he’d ever owned. He mentioned how he’d occasionally fall into a conversation with a fellow 4Runner enthusiast while out in the world. They’d share stories and spend far too much time extolling the virtues of this mysteriously enthralling car. It was my first encounter with the cult that surrounds this unique vehicle.

I will admit my favorite generation of the 4Runner has always been the Gen 2. Perhaps because of my experiences with it as an impressionable youth, but it goes deeper than that. I loved the way that generation of 4Runner looked. Squared off but with smooth corners. Handsome face. Slim hips and balanced proportions. By this time of course Toyota was widely regarded as one of, if not the most, reliable makers of cars. There were strong contenders like Honda, but nobody really rivalled Toyota for the basic toughness and rugged engineering. One thing Honda, nor anyone else, ever achieved was Toyota’s global dominance of the truck market. It started with the Land Cruiser and grew through various pickup trucks beloved by militia groups around the world. 1984 heralded the arrival of the 4runner. They had a winner out of the box and that quickly became an icon too.

Toyota has been pathological about not messing up this car. They are obsessed with changing as little as possible from one generation to the next. The evolution of this vehicle has been slow and curated with such care the likes of which you just don’t see in a modern auto industry largely run by faceless corporate entities. Fast forward to 2010 and we got the newest version of the 4Runner. Upon first glance you knew it was a 4Runner. It looked quite similar to it’s relatives but also felt new. It was also handsome. Was this the generation of 4Runner that would finally be converted to a simple branding exercise to be sold to soccer moms around the world? Nope, not in the slightest. It may have been bought by lots of soccer moms, but underneath the new face, it was still the remarkably simple and honest bush warrior it always was. 14 years later that has been proven year after year as not only has Toyota barely touched it, but people continue to buy it in remarkable numbers. Over 100,000 4Runners are sold every year. That’s a lot of units of a car that, by design, isn’t very modern, doesn’t drive terribly well and returns very mediocre fuel economy. Why do so many people buy them when there are so many other choices? People respect honesty. The 4Runner is what it is. It hasn’t been softened or compromised and it won’t apologize for still being one of the few vehicles made that is actually built to a specific purpose. In this case that purpose is mastering the off-road environment. What makes the 4Runner a little underwhelming in the city (try overtaking while going up a hill and you’ll know what I mean), is what makes it so incredible in the bush. The low gearing, predictable power band and dead simple (read reliable) build structure means that the 4Runner can and will do anything you need it to while having the time of your life off the beaten path.

What does the future hold for the current generation of the 4Runner? If rumor and speculation is to be believed we will see an all-new version for the 2025 model year. That means of course that 2024 will be our final opportunity to buy this testament to simplicity as a new car. A new 4Runner will likely feature some sort of turbo arrangement or even possibly a hybrid power train… god help us all. Of course, we won’t know anything for some time and truly only whatever god you believe in knows for sure. I will say this, however. No matter the unrelenting nature of progress, homogenization and forced evolution constantly on display in the car business, every once in a while the decision is made that one car will say no. That vehicle will be held true to the ethos under which it was originally conceived and it will retain the soul with which it’s designers envisioned 40 years ago. The 4Runner is just such a vehicle.

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