2wd or 4wd 4Runner – What to buy??

Verdi Peak - 4 Wheel Drive Needed

2 wheel drive vs. 4 wheel drive on the 5th Gen 4Runner – Which is the 4Runner for your needs?

We had a question come in about 2 wheel drive vs. 4 wheel drive on the 5th Gen 4Runner. This prompted me to write a quick overview. This shouldn’t be too long and seriously take this one with a grain of salt. I know there are a bunch of guys out there with 2wd that can trek some trails. A good driver can make a world of difference when it comes to 2wd vs 4wd on a 4Runner or any truck/SUV for that matter.

The question (2 wheel drive vs. 4 wheel drive):

So my 4Runner SR5 is obviously 2wd unfortunately. Kinda disappointing. BUT my question is, with new off-roading tires and the lift, do you think it will perform better in terms of grip on snow, mud, loose rock, etc. ? I know it’ll never have the supreme traction of a 4×4 but with really solid driving I think it’ll do okay. Just wanted to see what you thought!

Quick Answer (Sell your 2wd and buy a 4wd):

They say “better to have it and not need it, then to need it and not have it”

There is no tire, lift or add-on that can make-up for 4wd. 4wd is the heart and soul of a 4Runner. Without it, means you will get stuck somewhere, somehow, someway… if you ever get aggressive. I hate to say this so blunt, but it couldn’t be truer. This weekend I was up in Truckee, CA and had the 4Runner in 4HI most of the time I was driving through snow-covered roads, thick patches of Ice and general fire roads. If you have ANY intention of taking your 4Runner off road, I would honestly sell the 2wd and buy a 4wd, you will be happy you did. Also, just read the overview on the 4Runner features. These are all things that make the 4Runner pretty bad ass. Without it, you have a 2Runner. Kinda weak.

The real question (How will you use your 4Runner?):

The first question you need to ask yourself is how you intend on using your 4Runner. If you live in a city like San Francisco or Los Angeles and have no intention of off-road at all, then 2wd might work for you. With a 2wd, you can get stuck in something as small as a parking lot or a snowy side street. Crazy but true. But, if you get a good set of all-terrain tires, you can get by in some situations with 2wd. I am sure there are hundreds of people out there with a 2wd that swear up and down about their 2wd kicking ass and “it works for them”. Sure, it might work for some people, but would never work for me. It really ALL DEPENDS on how you want to use your 4Runner.

If you live in an area where it snows heavily, you occasionally off-road, you ever want to drive through thick sand, rock, gravel, or general forest service roads, buy a 4wd. The pros highly outweigh the cons, in my opinion. In terms of a fully capable SUV, a 4wd 4Runner is the way to go.

A 2 wheel drive 4Runner is really for someone that has zero intention of traveling off the beaten path. A 4 wheel drive 4Runner is the best of both worlds. You can take a 4wd just about anywhere that permits along with having the ability to push through most on-road terrains like ice, sand, gravel, snow and heavy rain.

A short back-story

In high-school, I had a 1999 SR5 4Runner (4wd). My buddy had a 2wd Tacoma PreRunner. This kid was always on struggle street with his Tacoma and we had to pull him out of too many situations. On simple dirt roads up to a local camping spot (Ice House – Placerville, CA area), he had a hard time. My 4Runner in 4HI could push through just about anything and the PreRunner was seriously lagging, always. Needless to say, I would never buy a 2wd truck or SUV.

2 wheel drive 4Runner benefits

  • Better gas mileage
  • Less maintenance (long shot)
  • More Affordable

2 wheel drive 4Runner cons

  • Limited on-road/ off-road performance

4 wheel drive 4Runner benefits

  • Superior on-road/ off-road performance
  • Hold better resale value
  • Peace of mind

4 wheel drive 4Runner cons

  • More maintenance
  • More expensive

I personally do not see the point in owning a 2wd 4Runner or any truck for that matter but TO EACH THEIR OWN. There are plenty of situations out there where a 2wd 4Runner will be perfectly fine dependant on your expectations of the vehicle and end-goals. If you are expecting to drive in snow with a 2wd, just note that you will more than likely need chains. If you are expecting to drive your 2wd through snow, sand, or large rock you are more likely to get stuck over 4wd. Even 4wd vehicles get stuck in sand, snow and pretty much anywhere though.

At the end of the day, the question is pretty simple. Do you ever plan on being in a situation where you “might” need it? Then, buy a 4wd. If you “never” see yourself in a situation where you will need 4wd, then buy a 2wd.

If you have a 2wd and are considering checking out some trails, or want to be adventurous in anyway off-road, then sell your 2wd and buy a 4wd, you will be happy you did. Even adding a locker to your 2wd in the rear will help but never offer the true functionality of 4Runner.

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Amy H
Amy H
1 month ago

Totally agree…4WD all the way! Seems mind boggling to even make a 4Runner that is only 2WD. 🤦🏼‍♀️

1 year ago

I had a 2wd f150 for 16 years as a paint wagon. Its embarrassing to get stuck many times on your own street in snow. I said 4wd is only truck from now on. Although the new fwd maverick pickup or Bronco with winter tires would do fine in w. Michigan.

1 year ago

We drive prius and a tesla which serves us well for our eco friendly commutes. I hate and respect 4x4s for what they are, emissions and capabilities, that said, I was remotely considering a 4Runner for being our 3rd car so we are not stuck at home for snow to be cleared, when a massive snow storm hits us. All said – I didnt know there were 2WD 4Runners that even existed. Its an abomination to name it 4Runner and sell a 2WD version of it.

Last edited 1 year ago by Kevin
1 year ago

The problem with the 2WD is it’s rear wheel drive and not front wheel drive. With FWD, the weight of the engine is on top of the wheels providing plenty of traction. If they made 4runners with front wheel drive I would buy that over the 4WD to save money on purchase and maintenance. I go off roading and drive in snow and ice with my FWD minivan and do better then my buddies rear wheel drive Tacoma.

2 years ago

I was told in a dealership today 2 things. That a 2WD 4runner has a switch/option to run in 4WD? Is this true? I was also told that all of their v6 forerunners come with towing package power? Are both statements true? Thanks.

10 months ago
Reply to  erik

Nope, the 4WD 4runners have a switch……

Jim Klatt
Jim Klatt
3 years ago

A 2 wd with tire chains will go almost anyplace but the resale value of a 2wd is just pathetic.

Mike at Dirt 'N Smores

Great article. Going into it, I should have bought a 4wd truck. but I didn’t and all is not lost. For some selling the 2wd drive is not an option so you need to take more precautions and be prepared for the stuck scenario. A lot of it depends on where you live. In southern California you have to be actually looking for trouble if you get stuck. 2wd 4runners can handle most terrain no problem. If you visit the snow twice a year just have some chains with you. Of course if you live in snowy areas, then get the 4wd. But for the occasional offroad trip just BE PREPARED for the worst and have an adventure. No need to turn down a trip with friends on a fire road or off-road park. Get out there and explore.

David Hazlett @dhazlett
David Hazlett @dhazlett
5 years ago

Hi, I think I can contribute some thoughts on this subject. I was in the same dilemma before purchasing my 5th gen SR5 4runner Premium. I had never owned a 4WD vehicle before and I was never into the off road scene, maybe because I never had a vehicle capable enough to off road, and I never really gave it much thought until I was about to buy a 4runner. First of all I would like to mention that I did purchase a 4WD 4runner and I couldn’t be happier with my decision. I want to highlight a couple reasons why I think the 4WD version is a must:
1. Like mentioned in the above article, it’s better to have it and not need it then need it and not have it. A couple years ago I was in Missouri for military training. I was wrapping up training around winter time and we got heavy snow and ice almost all winter. My 2WD Ford Ranger was struggling that entire winter. I had no acceleration power, no stopping power, and would slide all day. I had no stopping power so I would have to anticipate my stop at least 100 ft in advance all the time, a couple times I just glided through a red light (very, very unsafe) I had no acceleration power and actually got stuck on my last day in Missouri. I had to make a four hour trip to catch a flight out of St. louis but almost missed it due to the fact that my vehicle couldn’t cut it in the snow and ice. Got snow? Get the 4WD
2. Resale value. This helps a ton!
3. Respect, yeah I know how it sounds but hear me out. When you lurk the forums and boards and even mingle with 4runner enthusiasts/owners, all the talk is assuming the vehicles are 4WD. All the mods they do, all the places they go, and all the things they do are for a 4WD 4runner. If they know you have a 2WD, they might not say it to your face, but you just lost some respect points. As a lot of people have said, “Why get even get a 4runner if its not 4WD, what’s the point?”
4. Capability. There are countless times when having a 4WD would’ve proved beneficial for me and probably will for you. If you like camping, hiking or hunting a 4WD is a must. Anywhere with snow, you need a 4WD. It even helps in very heavy rain. Helping a friend out of a sticky situation, like tearing something down or a stuck car, 4WD is preferable. If you like to do anything outdoors and like to have a lot of utility get the 4WD. The list goes on
5.The 4WD system you get with the 4runner is a superior 4WD system. It outclasses most, if not all others in a similar category. Not only that but it’s a tradition, and a long legacy that you will be a part of. A heritage of an off roading vehicle that has stood the test of time, one that is 4WD. This is the reasoning for the 4runner being mostly unchanged for 5 generations, its not broken so no need to fix it.
6. This was the one that did it for me; I didn’t want anything to stop me. You know what would stop me? A 2WD 4runner. There are so many limitations with the 2WD and it was hard to justify getting it. I’m not a huge off roader, I’m not an overlander, and I do mostly paved road driving; like most of us, these are things I want to do in the future though, things I plan on doing. Even if I change my mind tomorrow, I still don’t want anything to stop me from doing those things. Get that 4WD, join the family. We don’t know what tomorrow holds, so let’s be proud, let nothing stop us, be prepared and above all have fun.

5 years ago

2 wheel with a locker? Yeah , my buddy went that direction instead of selling his 2wd

5 years ago

I was and still am surprised they even make a 2WD 4Runner. Just doesn’t seem right? I was shooting the shit with a neighbor the other day that has a lifted 4Runner that looks all bad ass and I was telling him we should go check out this awesome trail near town and that it would give us a chance to use 4L and crawl control and he was just giving me this blank stare. The conversation ended quickly when he said his runner was only 2WD(crickets chirping). I wanted to say “are you F**king kidding me, that sucks!” lol!

2 years ago
Reply to  jay

so is 2w or 4w

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