An old college-dorm neighbor after a raucous night of over-imbibing, posted a sign on his door the following day: “Life Begins at 40 (beers).” (Note to students: Do not try this at home or anywhere).
The phrase “Life Begins at 40” was popularized by a 1930s self-help book to encourage folks to stay active as American life expectancy was on the rise. Many still struggle with the big 4-0, of course, but the legendary Toyota 4Runner is handling it just fine: It eagerly tackles rocky trails, muddy trenches and just about everything this earth can throw at it.
The original formula has worked since its inception in 1984, so it remains a boxy nuts-and-bolts off-roader with a truck-based chassis and 9.6 inches of ground clearance. There should be little surprise the 2023 4Runner has no game-changing features, and 4Runner fanatics are good with that.
Toyota is celebrating the milestone, however, with a distinctive 4WD-only 40th Anniversary Special Edition. It’s based on the well-equipped SR5 in Premium trim, and only 4,040 (get it?) are being built for the U.S. market, so you may have to comb through the internet for stragglers.
The special edition stands out from the lineup with a heritage grille and tri-colored (yellow, orange and red) striping that pays tribute to Toyota’s early racing days. It also gets bronze-tinted 17-inch 6-spoke alloy wheels and anniversary badging on the dash, headrests, floor mats and tail gate. Toyota also threw in a standard power moon roof.
The special edition comes in three colors: Midnight Black Metallic, Barcelona Red and White-White, complemented by matching accent stitching inside.
Other than that, the aging fifth-generation 4Runner trucks along with its 4.0-liter V-6 engine that rounds up 270 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque. Power is distributed by an automatic transmission with only five gears, half as many as Ford’s Bronco, but does include manual-shift mode.
On the road, 4Runner keeps up (barely) with most in the midsize-SUV class, getting to 60 mph in around 8 seconds and the quarter-mile in 16 ticks. It’s adequate for on-ramps and passing lanes. It’s also comfortable on the road, handling bumps and dips with its four-link rear axle and coil spring suspension. Road grip is secure, but handling is heavy and truck-like.
Fuel economy is nothing short of dismal with a 17 mpg average, 16 city and 19 highway. On the plus side, a large 23-gallon fuel tank will help lessen trips to the gas pump.
Little of this matters to 4Runner fans, of course, who love the go-anywhere character and off-road assistance. On more hardcore versions, Crawl Control modulates throttle and brakes on five-low-speed settings so the driver can focus on the terrain. A multi-terrain select system optimizes traction: Four modes, chosen with an overhead dial, modify wheel spin by adjusting speed and traction control.
Hill Start Assist holds the vehicle stationary while switching from brake to accelerator, while Downhill Assist Control maintains a constant slow speed while preventing wheel lock-up during your descent. Meanwhile, two cameras in 4Runner’s multi-terrain monitor system expand the driver’s visibility of trails, rocks or other obstacles.
For those planning to pull a small boat or trailer, the 4Runner can tow up to 5,000 pounds and carry a payload of 1,625 pounds.
The five-seat cabin remains old-school with a broad black dashboard and three big plastic knobs for climate (only single zone) and another for the 4WD system.
Seats are heated and made of synthetic leather, overly soft, and have 8-way power for the driver, 4-way for the front passenger. They are separated by a deep center-console bin. Rear seats easily accommodate three adults with ease.
Tech screens are comically small by today’s SUV standards: An 8-inch touchscreen and an even smaller driver-data screen behind the chunky four-spoke steering wheel. But the infotainment system is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The cargo area is cavernous, best in the segment even, with 47.2 cubic feet behind the rear seat and nearly 90 cubes with the rear seat folded down. A 120V power outlet can power up gear when you get to campsites and trails. And, like all generations of the 4Runner, it has the signature power rear window.
All 4Runners come with driver-assist features including a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane-departure alert and high-speed radar cruise control. Blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert were added this year.
For a no-frills truck that began as a pickup with a fiberglass roof, the 4Runner has come a long way in four decades and has four million sales to show for it. It’s not for everyone and doesn’t pretend to be.
But rough-roaders know it is still one of the best off-road SUVs on the market, and it’s among the best in resale value to boot.
Barry Spyker was the automotive editor and columnist for the Miami Herald
As tested: $47,085 (40th Anniversary trim with multiple badges, heritage grille, tri-colored striping, bronze-tinted 6-spoke alloy wheels,
power moon roof)
What’s all the excitement about? Go-anywhere 4Runner celebrates 40 years and 4 million sales
with anniversary edition
Powertrain: 4.0-liter V-6 engine produces 270 hp and 278 pound-feet of torque; mated to 5-speed automatic with manual shift mode
How’s the performance? Coarse engine but competent ride with good road grip; 0-60 mph in
8 seconds; Same capable, sure-footed off-roader
Fuel economy: EPA-estimated 17 mpg, combined: 16 mpg city, 19 highway