Car review: 2021 Toyota 4Runner 4×4 Trail Special Edition

By Larry Lark, contributor

If the great outdoors is your playground, it only makes sense the 2021 Toyota 4Runner 4×4 Trail Special Edition is the vehicle to take you there.

Whether the destination is a secluded trailhead, local boat ramp, or traffic-clogged school drop-off zone, the 4Runner gets its crew there with comfort, versatility, and proven Toyota reliability.

The Toyota 4Runner has been a bonafide, certified, fortified adventure SUV since the original rolled out in 1984. With its core DNA as a body-on-frame, do-anything SUV fully intact, the 4Runner enters 2021 with a new Trail Special Edition, several TRD Pro enhancements, and new LED headlights across the lineup.

Toyota 4Runner buyers are among the most “outdoorsy” people in the segment, enjoying activities including camping, fishing, and hiking. Recognizing and rewarding that trend, Toyota placed an emphasis on extra storage (including insulated), convenience, and special styling touches. The 4Runner Trail is based on the SR5 grade and is offered in either 2WD or 4WD, in both cases featuring dark gray TRD Off-Road wheels.

My tester came with a “love it or hate it” coat of “Cement” gray enamel with a matte finish. I was questioned by a driver at a traffic light that loved it. My mother-in-law, on the other hand, told me three times she hated it.

A sliding rear cargo tray makes it easier to load and unload gear, while a Yakima LoadWarrior rooftop cargo basket carries more of it. Black front and rear Toyota bug and front “4Runner” overlays add additional style and flair, and all-weather floor liners help catch the outdoor elements that come in on occupants’ feet.

4Runner Trail Edition is the only way to get a very cool 40-quart cooler, custom-made for Toyota in the U.S. Features include lockable lid, freezer-grade gasket to provide an air-tight seal and keep ice frozen for up to seven days, tie-down straps and special brackets on the sliding rear cargo tray to safely secure the cooler while driving, two heavy-duty latches with integrated bottle openers two durable, ergonomic carry handles, large built-in drain plug with lanyard, and flat top to allow the cooler to act as a table surface or an outdoor seat.

Powered by a 4.0-liter, V6, 24-valve engine mated to a five-speed automatic transmission, 4Runner delivers 270 horsepower, and 276 lb-ft of torque. Part-time 4WD with a two-speed transfer case adds to the vehicle’s versatility. A third-row is available, increasing passenger capacity to seven. Fuel economy is rated at 17 miles per gallon in combined city/highway driving.

As trail conditions change, the driver of any TRD model can adapt the vehicle using the standard Multi-Terrain Select system using a dial to choose a mode that matches prevailing surface conditions. The system will then adjust wheel slip control accordingly.

For example, on loose terrain such as mud and sand, above-normal wheel slip is permitted, allowing wheel-spin to work in the vehicle’s favor. The Mogul setting is suitable for any extremely uneven terrain, such as V-ditches, slopes, and ridges – uphill or down. In this mode, wheel slip is minimized and the system acts more like a limited slip differential. An overhead console groups the off-road control switches in one location.

All 4Runner models can tow a maximum of 5,000 pounds, with a maximum 500-pound tongue weight.

The Toyota 4Runner is a Sherpa among rugged SUVs. With the second-row seats in use, the cargo area offers up to 47.2 cu. ft. of carrying space. If it’s just two people and their gear hitting the road or trail, folding the second row opens a cavernous 89.7 cu.-ft. cargo area.

My tester included a $1,585 optional package that added dynamic navigation, premium audio with eight JBL speakers, and an eight-inch touchscreen. Hands free Bluetooth, USB media port, three USB charge ports, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard.

All 2021 4Runner models come standard with Toyota Safety Sense P (TSS-P), an advanced suite of driver-assist technologies that includes Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Alert with Sway Warning System, Automatic High Beams, and High-Speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control.

Base Price: $41,365

Price As Driven: $43,971

Destination charge is included in base price. Vehicles are provided by the manufacturer. List price may vary at local dealerships.