Quick Drive: 2021 Toyota 4Runner Venture

2021 Toyota 4Runner Venture

by  Anthony Fongaro

Why do most SUVs look the same? Most are based on sedans or hatchbacks, they keep those looks and proportions but can look bloated. A few examples are the Ford Escape, based on the Focus, and the Corolla-based RAV-4. By all means, these are not bad vehicles but you can tell that they’re not made from the ground-up to go off-roading in the desert. If you want one of those, you have to go a bit old-school. There are some off-roaders that have decent road manners and modern technology. I can easily say that the Toyota 4Runner is not one of these.

The Toyota 4Runner definitely has a cult following. I remember having friends off-roading and playing around with modified 4Runners. There are good reasons why that I’ll briefly go over before I get into more detail. First, the 4Runner has always looked rugged. No matter which trim level or year you get, the 4Runner is extremely distinctive. Its silhouette is only confused for Jeep Wranglers. When you see pics of a 4Runner, they’re usually in the desert or on top of a large off-road trail.

2021 Toyota 4Runner Venture

This may surprise many readers, but I don’t live anywhere near an off-roading course. In fact, the only time I had to use the 4Runner’s four-wheel-drive system was in the snow and I was quite glad I was able to drive it. Looking at the 4Runner as a “regular consumer” showcases some interesting little tidbits. Like I was saying before, the looks of the 4Runner are quite unique since more SUVs have transformed to regular grocery getters. The taillights and headlights are also distinctive for the 4Runner. My Venture Special Edition had Army Green paint also a Yakima MegaWarrior cargo basket on its roof. I have no idea what you would put there but it does accumulate a lot of snow.

The Venture Special Edition is more of an appearance trim level that’s based on the TRD Off-Road Premium model. It looks good with 17” wheels contrasting the paint. There’s a bunch of black badges, mirror caps, door handles, and rear spoiler. It may be more about looking tough, but it does stand out. Unfortunately, if you go to the rear, you get a manual tailgate. I’ll say that this wasn’t really a negative for me, but it’s part of how old the 4Runner is. For $45,000, you would think you can at least get an optional power tailgate.

2021 Toyota 4Runner Venture

Now for the interior. Oh boy. Where do I start? Probably back to 2010. I do like how high the window controls are along with the ease of the climate control. How you can mess up using the climate control is baffling to me because it’s extremely antiquated. The dials are so large you can see the knobs from the back of the tailgate. The steering wheel feels quite cheap and the analog dials don’t exactly help with the feel inside. You can use the gauge cluster to show various functions such as speed but it’s quite small. Thankfully, Toyota decided to use an 8” infotainment with Apple CarPlay. You’ll want to use this because the main screens on the infotainment system look old. Speaking of old, the clock looks straight out of the 1990s!

In terms of creature comforts, you do get heated seats, a plethora of safety technology, and a few USB ports throughout the car. Honestly, the interior feels comical. You won’t see a cabin quite like this, for better and worse. If you want more physical buttons and controls, this interior is great. The climate control is a little infuriating because it’s regular climate control so you don’t know what temperature you set and some of the symbols can be small. Looking at the roof, there is an optional sunroof along with some off-road buttons that once again, I didn’t use. You’ll also find an old-style gated shifter for the automatic transmission and a manual transfer case for the four-wheel-drive system.

Now for the biggest Achilles heel of the 4Runner: driving. We have to go straight into the engine and transmission. The 4Runner uses a naturally aspirated 4.0-liter V6 that creates 270-horsepower and 278 lb-ft. If this was a turbocharged inline-four, these figures wouldn’t be bad. If this was the early 2000s, a five-speed automatic would also be passable. I hate to tell you, but it isn’t the early 2000s, so the drivetrain is just odd. Why Toyota decided to stick with this setup baffles me. Maybe it’s for nostalgia or “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” When you combine the engine and transmission, 0-60 MPH comes in under 8 seconds, but it feels much slower. There’s also not a lot of puff under 4,000 RPMs and the old-school transmission can’t do too much other than guess which gear it should be in.

2021 Toyota 4Runner Venture

On the move, you remember this is a truck with an SUV body. Handling is not the 4Runner’s strong suit. I was making constant corrections when driving and you feel every single pothole. On drive surfaces, this is quite infuriating. Pop the transfer-case to four-wheel-drive, and things get better. On snow. The 4Runner is made to go off-roading, so it doesn’t care that it’s driving during a typical -10-degree Chicagoland February. Some of my passengers complained of some backache due to how harsh the 4Runner felt. Typical of Toyota, you get a good amount of safety tech as standard, but I still don’t get why the adaptive-cruise control gives up under 32 MPH. If you want to know the fuel-economy, it was 13 MPG. Funny how hybrid-friendly Toyota can achieve such dismal fuel-economy.

Pricing for the Venture model can fluctuate between $45,000 to almost $49,000. That’s a lot of money for an SUV that is getting a re-design for 2022. I know I’ve said many times that the 4Runner is an old-man, and it is. There’s no way to get around that. As an everyday vehicle, literally, everything beats it. As a toy, it makes sense to a degree. If it were my money, I’d get a five- to ten-year-old 4Runner SR5 for $20,000 less. The Toyota 4Runner is what it is and isn’t ashamed of it. A dinosaur surrounded by more advanced vehicles in its class means it needs to be quite special. Maybe after the redesign, it’ll be desirable like it was a decade ago.