Toyota 4Runner Buyers Guide for 2020 and 2021 Models (Trail Edition vs. TRD vs. SR5)
2020 – 2021 5th Gen 4Runner Buyers Guide: Trail Edition, Venture, TRD Pro, TRD Off-Road or SR5 Premium – What Should You Buy?
If you are looking at buying a 2020-2021 4Runner, start here.
We finally have awesome new tech in the 2020 4Runner, so I am excited to cover the new options we have as Toyota closes out their 5th Generation 4Runner. As of right now, it looks like Toyota will wrap up the 5th generation line in 2021 and hopefully debut the 6th Generation 4Runner in 2022.
This is going to be an overview covering new models to look at now and into 2021 (like the 2021 4Runner lunar rock) and features/options to consider when shopping for a new 4Runner.
We are going to focus our buying signals based on new tech, general features, and general outdoor exploration in mind. Whether you are looking to daily drive a 4Runner, overland the Sierra Nevada Mountains, or push the off-road prowess of the 4Runner, we hope to answer all of your questions here.
Quick 4Runner Background
If you don’t know by now, the 4Runner is one of the most rugged body on frame SUVs money can buy.
Off the lot, they boast a superior approach and departure angles with good ground clearance off-road. On the other hand, the 4Runner is equally prepared on city streets. Looking back, the 4Runner has always been praised as a comfortable, capacious, safe, and mildly tech-filled SUV that really is a do-anything, carry-everything, and go-anywhere SUV that can be quickly turned into an off-road animal.
They are bulletproof on and off-road companions that just won’t die. Breaking down? That should be your last concern as a Toyota owner. 4Runners are rarely at the service centers with problems and major recalls like the new Jeep Gladiator, for example.
Everything mechanically just works on a 4Runner, so expect nothing but the best in terms of reliability, dependability, versatile off-road capability, and extremely high resale value.
There are 3rd Gens (1995-2002) currently going for $5k-$10k+ all-day and 4th Gens (2003-2009) holding well at $15k-$20k+. You can expect your 5th Gen to hold its resale even more so, especially since it’s probably the best looking 4Runner Toyota has ever made (one could argue – I am a bit partial).
Where did the 5th Gen come From?
In 2010, the first 5th Gen was available for sale. It offered more space and a wider wheelbase than the 4th Gen. It also saw a new body design that looked much better. The 5th generation also dropped one of the best features from the 4th gen, the 4.7L V8 engine that was produced in 2003 and 2004.
In 2011, the 4Runner added brake override technology. The 2012 model year brought in a new audio system and lots of new tech features. For 2013, Toyota removed the transfer case on the SR5 and added a dial to control the drive-train.
In 2014, the 4Runner facia saw an aggressive body redesign and an updated interior. The Trail model and variants were offered from 2014-2016.
In 2015, the new line of TRD models was available for purchase and it wasn’t until 2017 that the TRD Off-Road (the new name for the Trail Edition) was introduced. The most important features here include an electronic-locking rear differential on the TRD Pro, TRD Off-Road, and TRD Off-Road Premium.
For 2018, Toyota offered a few new sales pitches like the Wilderness Package and TRD Enhancement Package. These packages offered things like upgraded crossbars, floor liners, and the sliding cargo tray.
For 2019, Toyota launched the Nightshade Special Edition (a fancy blacked out Limited). They also released a new roof rack (similar to an FJ Cruiser) on the TRD Pro along with new 2.5-inch Fox Internal Bypass Shocks.
Now for the current year, 2020, Toyota introduced the Venture Edition; the same thing as the Wilderness Package, but also includes blacked-out everything; badges, trim, door handles, front valance, rear spoiler, and also adds a Yakima roof rack. From first-hand experience, this package really shines up close!
Where is the 5th Gen Now?
The 2o2o 4Runner platform itself has not changed much. We still have a reinforced body-on-frame platform with the same 4.0-Liter V6 (270hp and 278lb. ft of torque) powertrain that dates back over a decade to the first model 4th Generation 4Runner.
The 5-speed automatic transmission is not going to shift its way into great numbers on the quarter-mile but it can climb hills and rocks completely stock like no other… even with its factory 3.73 gear ratio. No – we still don’t have a manual transmission. If you want a manual Toyota, look at the new Tacoma.
What we do have are two drivetrain options; 2wd and 4wd with a transfer case to lock into high and low-range.
Toyota still has dependable off-road features like an electronically controlled locking rear differential (E-Locker), Multi-Terrain Select, plus, Crawl Control (CRAWL). No gimmicks here because they’ll get your 4Runner out of many sketchy situations.
The 5th Generation 4Runner body is 75.8-inches wide and 191.3-inches long with a 109.8-inch wheelbase. It makes it perfectly compact for the trails, yet wide enough to store your 3 kids soccer gear and the extra friends in the back (given you have a third-row). The track width (distance between the center-line of each of the two wheels) is 63.2 inches.
What remains consistent in 2020 is that driving the 4Runner provides a great experience. A trip to the grocery store will have you dreaming of an off-road adventure. Not to sound Toyota commercial cheesy, but the 4Runner really provides that feeling… it just wants to take you places.
What is KDSS?
One of the things we love about the 5th Gen 4Runner is KDSS (available on TRD Off-Road).
KDSS (Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System) is an optional component that adjusts front and rear stabilizers based on a set of interconnected hydraulic cylinders that is intelligent enough to understand when you are on or off-road.
When it comes down to buying a 4Runner, this might be the single most important item to consider. Read our overview of the TRD Pro vs. the TRD Off-Road to find out more about why we love KDSS.
KDSS will give you great on-road performance (stability, control, minimal body roll, etc.) while at the same time loosening up the sway bar system off-road.
If you want to go full long-travel suspension though or want to maximize your flex off-road, consider a model without KDSS as the sway bars will limit your up and down travel. You can always remove KDSS but if you plan on that, just don’t buy it in the first place.
Top 5 4Runner Models:
- SR5 Premium
- Venture Special Edition
- TRD Off-Road
- TRD Pro
- Trail Edition (2021)
No, we are not covering the Limited. We’ll be covering that in another buyer’s guide that will compare the 2020 – 2021 Limited to the Nightshade Edition. We have also had plenty of questions roll in on the Limited as well so we are saving that for another deep dive.
Now, let’s jump into the specifics on each 2020 4Runner model to consider and then look at what’s in store for 2021.
Available in 2wd and 4wd drive-train options, the base is, well, pretty basic.
The drive-train is still capable for most off-road scenarios with 4wd and Active Traction Control (A-TRAC).
No leather (SofTex seats), moonroof, dual-zone climate, and no other exciting features but there are some items you can get excited about. You can get the sliding rear cargo deck with the under-floor storage department.
The base SR5 comes standard with “Audio”, although there are four different audio options including:
- Audio Plus
- Premium Audio with Dynamic Navigation
- Another Premium Audio option that adds JBL speakers
The simple “Audio” package does feature the new (and long-awaited) Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and Amazon Alexa.
The SR5 base model does allow an upgrade to the Premium Audio with Dynamic Navigation; this provides drivers with the most up-to-date map data, routes and points of interest (POI’s) through real-time cloud sync.
All models now come with Toyota Safety Sense P (TSS-P) Pre-Collision System forewarning you about pedestrians and nearby vehicles.
The E-locker is not available on the SR5 but it does come standard with Hill Start Assist Control (HAC) and Downhill Assist Control (DAC). KDSS is also not available on the SR5 Premium either.
Also available in 2wd and 4wd drive-train options, the SR5 Premium has some features that make it slightly different than the SR5 base model. You’ll still have the same drivetrain as the base SR5 with 4wd and A-TRAC, but with the “Premium” model, you’ll see more premium features.
Starting with more of the exterior luxury features, both driver and passenger side mirrors have the embedded turn signal indicators. Not standard, the SR5 Premium allows the consumer to upgrade by adding a moonroof; something not available with the SR5 base.
What is standard with the SR5 Premium is the swap out of the cloth seats to the SofTex (leather) interior package. Leather and cloth both share their pros and cons, but if you plan on using an SR5 Premium on the trails, have kiddos who love to snack in the car, or dogs for that matter, the leather seats go a long way. There are ways to upgrade your interior from cloth to leather, but the SofTex package off the lot is just a whole lot easier. In addition to having leather seats, they come heated, which is also a standard feature. On top of that, you can also upgrade by adding a third row of seats.
The SR5 Premium starts to enter more into the convenience realm with the Smart Key System and Push-Button Start. More and more automotive manufacturers are heading this way making push-button start a standard feature, so we may see some changes with the highly anticipated 6th gen.
If you’ve ever been blinded by the high-beam lights in your rear, this model comes standard with the auto-dimming rearview mirror and the HomeLink universal transceiver. It’s not gimmicky, the auto-dimming mirror actually works and if you have it, flip it on and off to see the difference. With the HomeLink universal transceiver, you can program up to three wireless devices (garage door openers, home lighting, and even your home security system).
4Runner Venture Special Edition
This is where the fun kicks in by having the optional KDSS upgrade. If you’re wanting KDSS, don’t want the price tag of the TRD Pro but are looking for something a bit more off-road capable, the Venture Special Edition might be the model for you.
What makes this model more off-road capable? As with the previous two models, you’ll still have A-TRAC standard. You will lose Downhill Assist Control (DAC), however, the overhead console has a few additional controls that will help you navigate a variety of terrain:
- Hill Start Assist Control (HAC)
- Multi-Terrain Select
- Crawl Control (CRAWL)
- Locking Rear Differential (E-Locker)
We’ll dive into two of those features, but Clint wrote a more detailed explanation of the 4Runner’s off-road features.
- Multi-Terrain Select is a system that allows you to match the drivability with the conditions of the road. This control allows you to navigate through Rock, Moguls, Loose Rock, and Mud & Sand. The big feature here is brake control; braking varies on different terrain and this control optimizes braking based on the selected terrain.
- Crawl Control (CRAWL) is exactly what it sounds like; a control that helps the 4Runner crawl. CRAWL allows the 4Runner to travel at five different speeds, which helps minimize slip and traction loss when ascending extreme terrain.
From a cosmetic perspective, the Venture comes with the Yakima Mega Warrior Cargo Basket and a few blacked-out accents, including the door handles, rear spoiler, roof rack, mirrors, and a matte black finish on all the badging. The Venture is where Toyota decided to add the (former) TRD rims, but rather than black, they’re finished in a dark-grey metallic alloy.
While there’s no third-row seating option with the Venture Special Edition, you do get TRD red lettering on the front seat headrests, SofTex heated seats, and all-weather floor liners.
As with the Venture, KDSS is an optional upgrade on the TRD Off-Road model (formerly known as the Trail Edition) from 204-2016 which Toyota is bringing back for 2021.
No push-button start comes in the TRD Off-Road package, but you still maintain the same off-road control features as with the Venture, making it stand behind it’s “off-road” name. And, it has the TRD Off-Road badges to prove it!
Besides that, the TRD Off-Road comes with Mud and Snow tires (just like the Venture) but with the official TRD Off-Road alloy and black accent wheel package.
No SofTex seats, or heated seats for that matter, but, you get the official TRD shift knob and TRD floor mats!
When it comes to audio options, fortunately, you won’t start out with the basic SR5 “Audio” option. Off the lot on the TRD Off-Road model comes with Audio Plus or the option of upgrading to Premium Audio with Dynamic Navigation… just no JBL speakers, subwoofer or amplifier on this model.
So, it comes with a little less than the Venture Special Edition, but at a lower price point, you’ll get a lot of the same off-roading features.
Finally, the crème de la crème of the 5th generation 4Runner lineup; the TRD Pro.
Like the Venture and TRD Off-Road, the TRD Pro comes with the overhead off-road controls like CRAWL and Multi-Terrain, but this model is packed with a way more aggressive suspension. Toyota integrated Fox high-performance shocks with rear remote reservoirs and tuned front springs, both stamped with the TRD logo.
With an upgraded suspension, you’re going to need the right tires for the job. The Pro comes with 265/70/17 all-terrain Nitto Terra Grapplers tires and sits on the iconic matte black 6-spoke alloy wheels.
On top of that, the front end is complemented (and protected) with an aluminum TRD-stamped front skid plate, which will help protect your undercarriage.
Again, the cosmetics and creature comforts are on full display here. The TRD Pro has integrated LED fog lights and auto on-off headlights. It comes with the push-button start, SofTex heated seats, moonroof, TRD red lettering on the front seat headrests and TRD Pro all-weather floor liners (not floor mats… think WeatherTech floor liners). For the second year in a row, Toyota included the roof basket (similar to the FJ Cruiser) on the TRD Pro models and in true form, owners will get the TRD Pro badges and the “TOYOTA” “Pro” front grille.
While it seems like the Pro comes with the best of all the features described with the other models, Premium Audio comes standard on the Pro models. So, get those JBL’s pumping!
Lest we forget… Toyota’s been offering limited edition colors on the TRD Pro models for the past few years. We’ve seen Voodoo Blue, Calvary Blue, Inferno, Quicksand and Cement Gray (my personal favorite). For the 2020 TRD Pro, Toyota re-introduced Army Green. If you follow AJ van de Water (@fotornr), he may have had a little influence on that color choice but in all reality, Toyota seems to have repurposed this from the more recent FJ Cruiser colors.
Which Will You Choose?
Based on the description and breakdown of off-road and less off-road-centric features, it really depends on what purpose you have for your 4Runner. If you want to go super aggressive and mod it from top to bottom, it might not make sense to go with the TRD Pro since a lot of the standard features will likely be removed. However, if you want a very off-road capable vehicle and don’t want to tamper with the setup, the Pro, Venture Edition and TRD Off-Road are very viable options.
So it really comes down to purpose, budget and which creature comforts you just can’t live without. Obviously we’re a bit biased in saying this, but you really can’t go wrong with anyone of Toyota’s 4Runner options.
What’s in Store for 2021?
As we’ve said before, we’re lead to believe that 2021 will be the last and final year for the 5th Gen 4Runner. Secret meeting images surfaced earlier this year showing a Toyota slide titled “Next Gen Launch Timeline” with both the Sequoia and 4Runner sitting in the 2022 bucket. So if 2021 truly is the last year for the 5th Gen, Toyota seemed to want to sunset the platform with a bang.
What Toyota didn’t repurpose on the 2021 model is a brand new TRD Pro color called Lunar Rock. Almost like a light crystal blue-green, this color really popped in the promotional shots along with the rest of the TRD Pro lineup.
However, Toyota did decide to bring back one of the favorite colors from the past; Cement Gray. Buyers will also have Midnight Black, Army Green and Super White as Trail Special Edition color options. We’ll get into that in a bit…
Toyota redesigned the TRD Pro wheels, but they kept the look similar to a more 3D design in comparison to the previous wheels. Don’t worry though, they’re still wrapped in Nitto Terra Grapplers!
The 2021 TRD Pro also saw some changes with the suspension. Still utilizing Fox, the fronts include re-tuned 2.5-inch Fox Internal Bypass Shocks giving it roughly a 1-inch lift, where the rears feature the 2.5-inch Fox shocks and remote reservoirs. If the TRD Pro was plenty off-road capable prior to 2021, it’s certainly outdone itself this year.
And finally, LED’s, LED’s, LED’s!
Now all 4Runner trims will sport LED headlights and fogs, where the Pro, Nightshade and Limited models have the added bonus of LED high-beams. Note: TRD Pro will continue to have Rigid LED fog lamps.
Trail Special Edition? Yep!
Based on just a limited production (4,000 units), the Trail Edition will actually be a fairly rare sighting starting in 2021. Continuing with the Yakima partnership, the Trail Special Edition will come standard with a LoadWarrior rooftop cargo basket.
While they didn’t redesign the TRD Off-Road wheels, they did change the color to a darker gloss gray that has a very stealth look. On top of that, buyers will get a 40-qt “YETI-style” cooler with the pressed “TOYOTA” letters and the choice of Cement Gray or Army Green. Nice touch!
So, where will the road take you? What model will you go with?
Will you wait it out for the 6th Gen or are you too stoked for Lunar Rock?
Let us know in the comments!
Questions or Comments? Leave them below!