4 Factors to Consider that affect Your MPG

Daily Driving 5th Gen 4Runner

Best Daily Driving Practices: Aiming for the Best Gas Mileage and a Comfortable Ride for the 5th Gen 4Runner

The Toyota 4Runner has never been the most fuel-efficient or luxurious vehicle. But can it be a good daily driver? Sure.

There are a few things to consider, though.

In today’s market of AWD crossovers that resemble cars more than actual SUVs, many consumers are looking for the best miles per gallon to keep gas costs down, and for a comfortable ride and driving experience.

The 4Runner isn’t the top choice for most in those categories – but its legacy of toughness, long-term reliability, cargo space and 4×4-worthiness makes it a great choice.

Whether your 4Runner is a highway commuter, or even strictly a trail rig – these items are worth taking a look at when it comes to saving money at the pump and maintaining the daily comfort.

Let’s talk about MPG (Miles Per Gallon)

Depending on the 4Runner trim and setup, Toyota rates this vehicle at 17-21 mpg on regular 87 octane gasoline. Prius owners may scoff at those numbers, but for a body-on-frame large SUV with a 4.0L V6 and a 5-speed transmission, those are decent numbers.

The 5th generation 4Runner is equipped with VVTi (variable valve timing with intelligence) which helps fuel mileage. So how does one get the best miles-per-gallon from this old school style SUV?

Logically, keeping your foot off the pedal is the easiest way to increase your MPG.

The 4Runner aids in this act, with its Eco mode, which is really just based on throttle position. I used this feature on my daily commute, and I was able to achieve an average mpg of 20.2 on my 80-mile round trip to work each day.

Of course, there are other factors that play into this such as drive mode, (I use “H2” which is the rear-wheel-drive mode), tires, air filter, and fuel quality, and so much more.

How to Improve Gas Mileage (MPG) on the 4Runner:

  1. Reduce excessive short trips
  2. Keep RPMs low
  3. Reduce the A/C use
  4. HCF (Hydrocarbon filter) delete: Check this out
  5. Reduce frequent cold-weather travel
  6. Manage throttle acceleration: Check Price
  7. Reduce vehicle weight or towing weight
  8. Reduce excessive speeds
  9. Check or replace spark plugs (misfires): Check Price
  10. Check tire or alignment problems
  11. Check fuel injector problems
  12. Change your oil to synthetic: Check Price
  13. Check or replace the air filter: Check Price
  14. Check tire PSI: Check Price
  15. Calibrate Tire Pressure:  Check Price

Although we are not covering all of these today, I wanted to suggest many areas to look at. Maybe in another post, we can cover all or some of the other topics.

For now, let’s look at a few of the main areas I focus on to improve MPG.

  1. Highway Tires Vs. All-Terrain Tires
  2. Air Filters and Cold Air Intakes
  3. Lift Kits and Suspension Upgrades
  4. Roof Rack Accessories and Roof Racks

If you guys have any questions, leave them in the comments below!

#1. Highway Tires Vs. All-Terrain Tires

Cooper Tires Review on 4Runner

Generally speaking, the more aggressive the tread, the worst mpg.

For daily driving, a street tire (Highway Terrain) will yield the best comfort and noise levels for driving on-road, especially the highway and long commutes.

The less aggressive tread provides a smoother, more fuel-efficient ride. Depending on the tread, the grip may or may not be sacrificed. I know personally that stepping on the gas in the rain on smooth pavement causes my 4Runner to fishtail, due to the not-so-grippy tires and rear-wheel-drive architecture.

All-Terrain Tires

On the other hand, nothing beats the grip in all weather conditions like a good All-Terrain tire, which is appropriately named. There is usually more road-noise, and less mpg but comfort isn’t always sacrificed.

Tire manufacturers such as General Tire have developed technologies to increase comfort and handling with their All-Terrain tires, such as the Grabber ATX (All-Terrain). In my experience, the increased grip from All Terrains is worth the difference in gas usage.

Peace of mind in snow, rain, mud, and so on. Finding the right tire for your needs can be tricky, so be sure to do the research before you plop down that hard-earned cash on the wrong tires. Sizing is important too, as bigger tires roll faster due to inertia, but are heavier and more load on the engine.

So decent mpg and comfort are attainable with the right tires – but what about handling?

It all comes down to the tire rating, load capacity, and sidewall stiffness. These factors can attribute to how well the 4Runner will feel from the driver’s perspective.

#2. Air Filters and Cold Air Intakes

Volant Intake Easy Install on 5th Gen 4Runner

Can the right air filter improve horsepower and miles-per-gallon? Well yes, and no. Most manufacturer claims are not always true.

By design, most Toyota vehicles have a cold-air style air intake system from the factory. This means that a quality drop-in air filter like K&N and AEM can improve airflow, resulting in a less restrictive system.

Most trail-oriented enthusiasts will opt for a Volant TRD Intake, TRD Intake, aFe Intake, even a snorkel or some other type of aftermarket system – but for daily driving, a drop-in filter is just fine.

Personally, I use an AEM Dry filter.

As mentioned earlier in this article, I get 19-20 mpg on my daily commute consistently. I didn’t have as good results with the restrictive FRAM paper-based air filter I had before.

#3. Lift Kits and Suspension Upgrades

Lifted 4Runner with KDSS

Lifted vehicles create more aerodynamic drag. This makes the engine work harder to move the vehicle through the air, which means increased fuel consumption.

Lifts are useful in many off-road situations – but not so much for highway driving. Depending on the quality of the suspension setup, handling could be improved with a proper suspension setup compared to the floaty factory setup that focuses on comfort.

In some cases, a lift can make the ride uncomfortable. Like many things in life, it’s all about finding the balance and researching products.

You can always set your aftermarket suspension to a low setting (to stay close to factory) but for the most part, larger lifts can affect your MPG.

If you want to keep your MPG close to the factory while still lifting your 4Runner, stick with a Bilstein lift kit, Falcon Suspension, or any suspension with a lower setting. This is all very relative though depending on your exact specs and build. It’s hard to gauge a dramatic increase or decrease in MPG based on a lift.

The point is, everything adds up and your lift and suspension is something to think about. The higher and wider you go, the less aerodynamic you become, which may result in a lower MPG.

#4. Roof Rack Accessories and Roof Racks

Sherpa Crestone Roof Rack Step-By-Step Install + Review For the 5th Gen 4Runner: Final Thoughts

Roof racks, roof boxes and cargo baskets look awesome, and they are pretty useful. But are they practical for daily driving? Most accessories will bring the miles-per-gallon down, but some roof boxes are designed aerodynamically.

Another thing to keep in mind is parking garages. A lifted 4Runner with anything on the roof may not fit into most parking garages. A rear-mounted cargo tray might make your 4Runner stick out of a normal parking spot and make parallel parking more interesting.

Aggressive side steps might get in the way in some situations.

Safety and Overall Practicality

We live in the age of some of the safest cars ever made being produced. The 4Runner is big, can fit 5 adults comfortably and has plenty of space.

Some models include parking sensors and turn signal mirrors, but Toyota did not include pre-collision avoidance systems, lane departure or blind-spot monitoring. Those might be a deal-breaker for some – but that speaks to the simplicity and old-school flare that the 4Runner brings to the table.

Conclusion + Final Thoughts

There are all factors to be considered when daily driving your 4Runner.

It all comes down to your needs, wants, and what you are looking for the most –whether it be cost savings, function or form.

So yes, a 4Runner can be a great daily driven vehicle – and one that you can be proud of driving.

What areas do you look at to improve your MPG?

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4 years ago

Simply put,keep your 4Runner stock as long as possible and keep the RPM below 2.5 all the time.

J Gibson
J Gibson
4 years ago

To have been looking at the possibility of owning A 4 runner for the last 6 years. This was a very helpful and informative write-up. It’s nice to have accredited information centralized with ease of access. Great read!

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