2023 Toyota 4Runner 40th Anniversary Review: The Right Kind of Throwback
Not every retro ride is worth the money. Then again, not every ride is as retro as this.
Car companies are going hard on nostalgia and they’re showing no signs of stopping. It's welcome in some ways—like manual transmissions with extra-low crawler gears—but in others, it feels a lot like pandering. So which side does the 2023 Toyota 4Runner 40th Anniversary Edition fall on? That's a good question. One I spent a week trying to answer as I listened to every passerby comment on the stripe.
In most ways, it's a regular 4Runner, which is already a tried-and-true throwback. The body-on-frame 4x4 has ridden atop the same platform since the 2010 model year, meaning it hasn't seen real fundamental change since it was closer to its 25th anniversary. Some harsher critics will knock Toyota for that, but I'm in the camp that believes much of the 4Runner's charm hangs on its traditional layout—it still has a five-speed automatic, for goodness' sake.
In short, the 40th Anniversary Edition feels Toyota solid and everything about it seems familiar because it is. There's enough to set it apart visually from the other 4Runners out there and it's an endearing throwback to those of yesteryear, especially if you owned one way back when. Just know that it costs a lot more than it used to in the '80s.
2023 Toyota 4Runner Specs
- Base price (40th Anniversary Edition as tested): $40,890 ($48,455)
- Powertrain: 4.0-liter V6 | 5-speed automatic transmission | selectable rear-wheel or four-wheel drive with high and low ranges
- Horsepower: 270 @ 5,600 rpm
- Torque: 278 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm
- Curb weight: 4,675 pounds
- Max towing capacity: 5,000 pounds
- Off-road angles: 33° approach | 26° departure
- Wheelbase: 109.8 inches
- Ground clearance: 9.6 inches
- EPA fuel economy: 16 mpg city | 19 highway | 17 combined
- Quick take: It's a 4Runner with an appearance package, but thanks to its traditional layout, the retro look only makes it better.
- Score: 8/10
No one is looking at Toyota for what's new in the 4x4 space. That's not necessarily a bad thing, though, especially since the automaker represents proven performance in the off-road world. Toyota has already electrified its full-size Tundra and Sequoia; the Tacoma and 4Runner are next, but just not yet. As such, this 2023 model is something people—media included—love to dunk on for its ancient underpinnings. I don’t really feel that way.
With the 40th Anniversary Edition, you're essentially getting an SR5 Premium and paying an extra $2,630 for the aesthetics. There's the tri-color stripe that runs down the side and briefly carries over to a section of the grille, as well as a fancy tailgate badge that lets everyone behind you in traffic know that you're driving a special edition. A "1 of 4040" emblem on the dash also reminds you and your passengers that what you own is relatively rare. The bronze 17-inch wheels are specific to the 40th Anniversary Edition, pulling the look together nicely.
The interior is just as simplistic. There are big knobs for the HVAC controls, quad spokes for the chunky steering wheel, and even an easy-to-read digital clock above the top vents. Again, since this generation of 4Runner has been around for eons, it hasn't taken the bait and tacked on a huge screen that sticks out of the dash. It's nicely integrated into the center stack with a smudge-free finish that's nice to use. Since the 40th Anniversary Edition is based on the SR5 Premium trim, you get leatherette seats, blind-spot monitoring, and push-button start.
One of the only pain points I'll attribute to its age is the powertrain. A 4.0-liter V6 is the 4Runner's only available engine making 270 horsepower and 278 lb-ft of torque. Both of those figures are the same as they were when the powerplant was last updated for the 2010 model year. It's paired with a similarly sluggish five-speed automatic, which is just OK.
Driving the Toyota 4Runner 40th Anniversary Edition
Even though the 4Runner is notably slow by modern standards, it's not inconveniently so. You're more than able to maintain highway speeds with it and soak in the Toyota's body-on-frame goodness. You might think that's a jab but truly, I think the ride is more than all right, especially coming from the world of HD trucks and three-row SUVs.
I'd be lying if I said there was no body roll going around corners, but it'd also be wrong of me to criticize the 4Runner too brutally here. This rig handles slight turns off the highway with surprising composure, meaning the transition from 55 mph on smooth pavement to 45 mph on bumpy rural roads is actually pretty pleasant. And given the SUV's less-than-stellar power output, it's no surprise that it shines at two-lane highway speeds and below.
By nature, the 4Runner is meant to go off-road. The 40th Anniversary Edition rides on road-friendly Bridgestone Dueler H/T tires, and while they aren't the grippy all-terrains you might expect, they provide solid versatility. In fact, I like them better than the Nitto Terra Grapplers on the 4Runner TRD Pro (review coming soon). The roughly 32-inch rollers are quiet around town and more than capable of crawling around on the loose creek rock that we have at our property.
The two-speed transfer case and A-TRAC active traction control are what you get for traveling off-pavement—no locking diff, Crawl Control, or Multi-Terrain Select here like you get in more hardcore 4Runners. That's okay, though, as this was never meant to sit atop Toyota's 4x4 hierarchy. But it's plenty apt off-road even without the doo-dads and gadgets.
The Highs and Lows
Some might lament the 2023 4Runner for its uncompetitive spec sheet stats, but I think the simple formula it sticks to is the main reason to buy one. Everything works as you want it to, and it probably will for decades to come. Everything feels so well put together—typical for Toyota—which can't be said for every 4x4 on the market today. Plus, it has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which is really all anyone needs on the infotainment front.
The other side of the coin is that the 4.0-liter V6 sucks gas down like nobody's business. That'd be more excusable if it returned great performance, but as we already know, it doesn't. During my week with the Toyota, I saw roughly 17 mpg according to the onboard computer. Some full-size trucks do better than that.
Oh, and there's no remote start. It should have remote start.
Toyota 4Runner 40th Anniversary Edition Features, Options, and Competition
The 40th Anniversary Edition isn’t available with any extra add-on packages, so what you see is what you get. Part-time four-wheel drive is standard here while it’s optional on SR5 Premium, the trim this is based on. This special celebratory model is offered in three colors: Black, white, and red. I think black is the right move, but white is fine too. Red would look weird, though, since it blends in with the stripes.
While the 4Runner only comes with a fixed roof, it's frequently cross-shopped with the four-door Jeep Wrangler and Ford Bronco. They share the same type of adventurous ethos with body-on-frame constrcution, 4x4, and two-speed transfer cases. The Bronco is obviously newer, and because the JL-generation Wrangler was introduced for the 2018 model year, the 4Runner is the oldest of the bunch. Even still, they offer about the same value around the $50,000 mark when you compare the 4Runner 40th Anniversary Edition to the Jeep Wrangler Sahara and Ford Bronco Outer Banks.
I'm a fan of this Anniversary spec, and if I were in the market for a 4Runner, I'd definitely consider one of these—if I could find one. It scratches the nostalgia itch without being too cheesy. I'd also be all right ditching the retro lipstick and gaining more off-road capability with the TRD Off-Road Premium for a couple of thousand dollars less. That gives you a locking rear diff and hill assist control, as well as the (extremely glitchy) Crawl Control and Multi-Terrain Select.
As you can tell from the graphic here, the 4Runner lags behind its competitors in terms of fuel economy. That 17 mpg combined figure from the EPA reflects what I got during my real-world testing, which consisted mostly of 55-mph highway driving. Nobody should expect a traditional 4x4 to get great gas mileage, but when the Bronco, Wrangler, and Grand Cherokee show what's possible, it's hard not to wish for something better out of the 4Runner.
Value and Verdict
From the get-go, the objective of my test was to decide whether or not the 2023 Toyota 4Runner 40th Anniversary Edition is worth the premium. I feel like it is, personally, because it's one of the purest throwback rigs you can get today. Sure, it'd be better if that five-speed automatic were a stick shift, but Toyota fully embraces the SUV's body-on-frame architecture instead of trying to pass it off as something it's not. I can appreciate that.
While it's still hard for some of us to get past the nearly $50,000 sticker price after destination, that's the way it goes these days. Everything costs lots of money, and if you're an enthusiast, you want your hard-earned dollar to go toward a rewarding experience. As long as you aren’t expecting a Lexus-like experience, the 4Runner still provides that after all these years.
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