2wd or 4wd 4Runner – What to buy??

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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.

THOUGHTS? Leave a comment below and let us know what you would buy. If someone is looking at 2wd vs 4wd 4Runner, what would you tell them?

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Jim KlattMike at Dirt 'N SmoresDavid Hazlett @dhazlettBrianBrenan - Trail4R Recent comment authors
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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 wheel with a locker? Yeah , my buddy went that direction instead of selling his 2wd

David Hazlett @dhazlett
David Hazlett @dhazlett

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… Read more »

Mike at Dirt 'N Smores
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… Read more »

Jim Klatt
Jim Klatt

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

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