Bronco Fighter? Wrangler Rival? Return of the FJ Cruiser? Could Toyota Take the 2025 4Runner Back to Its '80s Roots?
As expected, the recent debut of the 2024 Land Cruiser has created some serious buzz among general off-road enthusiasts and the Toyota faithful alike. With a slightly trimmed-down size, chunky retro styling and most importantly a much lower price, this new Land Cruiser has the potential to draw in a whole new segment of buyers once it begins hitting dealerships. But as we mentioned in our earlier story, the arrival of this re-positioned Land Cruiser also raises some questions about Toyota’s other SUVs, namely the 4Runner.
Don't Mess With Success?
As of now, the 4Runner is the only one of Toyota’s truck and truck-based SUVs that hasn't had a full redesign, and most insiders expect the new sixth-gen version to debut sometime in the next six to twelve months.
We don’t yet know exactly what form the next-generation 4Runner will take, other than that it will surely move to Toyota’s new TNGA truck platform and leave behind its ancient 4.0L V6 and five-speed automatic transmission for a modern turbocharged powertrain.
The bigger question though, is whether the arrival of the new Land Cruiser will shift the next-gen 4Runner’s mission at all.
As we mentioned in the previous story, there’s roughly a $15,000 spread between the entry price of the current 4Runner and the anticipated entry price of the 2024 Land Cruiser.
And even though most 4Runners actually have MSRPs closer to $45,000 and $50,000 there’s still lots of room price-wise between the two SUVs.
But more than price, we are interested to see how Toyota might try and differentiate the two models in terms of purpose.
With the 4Runner likely to get the same platform likely a similar 2.4L turbo powertrain to the Land Cruiser, there might not be a big “on-paper” difference between the two, especially if the new 4Runner keeps its boxy, four-door SUV shape.
So with that said, we see one of two different possible paths for the next gen 4Runner to maintain a unique identity and to set itself apart in terms of value.
Direction 1: A Straight, SUV Version of the Tacoma
This would be the most the conservative route, the most evolutionary update from the current model — and if we we're betting, the most likely scenario.
Though the differences between the two models apart from just body style, some people have always viewed the 4Runner simply as an SUV version of the Tacoma, and that might be exactly what Toyota is planning.
We’ve already seen the next-generation ’24 Tacoma with its long list of updates from the old truck, and the next-gen 4Runner could be nearly identical to the Tacoma — aside from swapping out the pickup bed for an enclosed cargo area and rear hatch.
For 2023 the 4Runner and Tacoma use different engines and transmissions from each other, and along with using the same powertrain on both, another potential change could be shifting 4Runner’s production from Japan to North America.
Though the current fifth-generation 4Runner isn’t actually sold in the Japanese market, all of them are built at the Tahara plant in Japan alongside the Land Cruiser, Lexus GX and others.
To simplify things and reduce costs, Toyota could shift sixth-generation 4Runner to production to Mexico, where it has built all Tacomas since 2021. Naturally, this would be even easier if both the Tacoma and 4Runner share the same platform and powertrains.
Equipment and factory-sharing is the best way to keep the 4Runner’s price down in the wake of the new Land Cruiser, and if Toyota does go this route we’d love to see them bring the ’24 Tacoma’s six-speed manual transmission to the 4Runner for extra enthusiast cred.
Direction 2: A “Funner” Rival to the Wrangler and Bronco
But speaking of enthusiast cred, there’s another possible direction Toyota could go with the 4Runner, taking it all the way back to its 1980s roots and reshaping it as direct rival to speciality SUVs like the Jeep Wrangler and Ford Bronco.
The reasoning would be that buyers seeking a larger, spacious yet still rugged 4x4 would move to the Land Cruiser while those looking for a bit more a “toy” would go for the 4Runner. Think Jeep Grand Cherokee vs Jeep Wrangler.
For ideas, one needs to look no further than the always-popular Wrangler and of course Ford’s massive success with the new Bronco.
This would actually represent a return to the 4Runner’s 1980s roots, where it had two doors and removable roof section just like the Bronco, Blazer and Wrangler.
Or if you want to look into Toyota’s more recent past, the FJ Cruiser comes to mind, being the most “Jeep-like” vehicle Toyota has built in the modern era with its smaller size and 2.5-door body style.
Like the Wrangler and Bronco, this hypothetical off-roader could be offered in both two and four-door body styles with two different wheelbases and either soft or hard top options.
Time Will Tell
The biggest issue with this second scenario is the fact the existing fifth-gen 4Runner has become extremely popular over its long production run — and for good reason.
A more adventurous 4Runner would be fun, but we can also see why Toyota wouldn’t want to diverge much from the current, profitable formula.
It’s also entirely possible and maybe more likely the company introduce a new model to fit this segment rather than repositioning existing 4Runner, but either way we think this sort of 4x4 would be a popular addition to the lineup.
For now we’ll welcome the Land Cruiser back and continue to watch for official word on the hugely anticipated sixth-ten 4Runner.
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