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A Turbocharged Tacoma & 4Runner? Could Toyota Throw it Back to the '80s with its Next Gen Trucks?

It’s funny how roles can be reversed when it comes to the auto industry. For example, these days Toyota is one of the few automakers that still primarily uses naturally aspirated engines across its American market lineup.

2021 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro Lunar Rock

This is notably true for two of the brand’s most popular vehicles—the Tacoma pickup and 4Runner SUV. While competitors like GM, Jeep and Ford all offer turbocharged gasoline for diesel engines in their off-road oriented vehicles, the Tacoma and 4Runner have held course, offered only with naturally aspirated engines, most commonly a V6.

2010 Toyota 4Runner V6 Engine

In fact, more than any other brand, modern Toyota is known for employing proven, but slightly outdated powertrains in its pickups and SUVs. But it wasn’t always like that.

Back in the mid 1980s, at a time when turbocharging was primarily reserved for sports cars and other speciality vehicles, Toyota offered a turbocharged engine option on both its pickup truck and on the first generation 4Runner.

Toyota 4Runner SR5 Turbo Red

Known as the 22R-TE, this turbocharged four-cylinder engine was based on the now legendary single overhead cam 2.4 liter 22R-E engine that has powered countless Toyota cars and trucks in the American market.

Toyota 22R-TE Engine

While the standard 22R in most Toyota trucks and first gen 4Runners made just under 100hp and 128 pound feet of torque, the turbocharged version upped this to 135 horsepower and stout (for the era) 173 pound feet of torque.

The turbo engine option was available for a very short time, appearing in late 1985 and lasting only until 1988 when it was replaced by a new 3.0 liter V6 as the upmarket engine choice in both vehicles.

Toyota Truck Turbo Red

Turbocharged Toyota trucks and 4Runners are hard to find in the US these days, and given the increasing popularity of all 1980s Toyota trucks and SUVs, it’s not hard to understand why the turbo models would be in extra high demand.

1980s Toyota Truck Silver

From 1988 onward the choices for Toyota trucks and SUVs in the US market were always naturally aspirated, right on through the evolution of Toyota’s small truck into the Tacoma and the birth of larger models like the Tundra.

It’s still that way today, with the 2021 Tacoma offering either a 2.7L naturally aspirated four cylinder or a 4.0L naturally aspirated V6. The 4Runner meanwhile has been powered by a 3.5L NA V6 for over a decade now.

Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro White

With both models getting long in tooth, one has to wonder if Toyota is going to change its strategy whenever the next gen Tacoma and 4Runner arrive. While the Toyota does make turbocharged four cylinder engines, including the 2.0L turbo unit found in many Lexus products at the moment they don’t really have a turbo engine that would be suitable in a truck.

Toyota Tacoma 4.0 V6 Engine

They do, however, have a number of Turbodiesel engines that are offered in other markets in vehicles like the Hilux. American competitors like the Jeep Wrangler and Chevy Colorado have optional diesel engines, but it’s hard to imagine conservative Toyota offering diesels in the US, especially given the high costs in getting emissions certification. 

Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro Nitto Terra Grappler Tire

What’s more likely for the US market would actually be hybrid power as a way to improve both capability and fuel economy, while also giving their next gen Toyota trucks a way to fight back against the turbo options the competition is offering.

Toyota 4Runner Turbo Red

While there’s absolutely some benefit to Toyota’s old school engine options, it’s getting harder and harder for them to stay competitive against Ford’s EcoBoost four cylinder and V6 engines in vehicles like the Ranger and Bronco or the long list of available high tech powertrains in the Jeep Wrangler.

Toyota 4x4 Truck Towing Boat

Despite the growth of turbocharging in recent years, it’s unlikely that we are going to see a re-invention of the turbo Toyota trucks of the 1980s. Hopefully Toyota has some other tricks up its sleeve to stay fresh in this growing and ultra competitive market.

  • Here's some more explanation for how Toyota's trucks have been so successful despite their aging technology. 
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