A True Workhorse: 2020 Toyota 4Runner Venture

A True Workhorse: 2020 Toyota 4Runner Venture

Story and photos by Dan Heyman

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but that hasn’t stopped Toyota from trying with the 2020 4Runner.

While the 4Runner’s Tacoma sibling is well into the next generation of Toyota trucks – it gets a new Atkinson Cycle 3.5L V6, six-speed automatic and more lightweight materials used for the body and chassis — the 4Runner soldiers on with the same basic underpinnings it’s had since the current (fifth) generation debuted for the 2010 model year. That means a 4.0L V6 good for 270 hp and 278 lb-ft of torque fed to the wheels via a five-speed auto.

That’s the old stuff, and we’ll speak more to it in a minute. For now, we focus on what’s new for 2020 and that comes in the form of the Venture package you see here. It provides a Yakima roof rack, special 17-in. alloy wheels, black badging, mirrors, door handles and roof rails, side steps, hood scoop, crawl control and multi-terrain select with mechanical locking rear differential and a host of interior upgrades, too, including navi and traffic and weather updates.

If that sounds familiar, it is: the top-spec TRD Pro version gets all those features, and then some. That package, though, demands a $14,000 premium, and the Venture cuts that cost almost in half and all you’re really losing are some fog lights, Fox dampers and underbody skidplate. Not that those features aren’t important if you’re planning on doing some proper off-roading, but as I found out during the test, the 4Runner remains eminently capable even without all that extra stuff.

Plus, it looks the business, too; the wheels aren’t black but more of a gunmetal grey (“graphite”, according to Toyota) and they do well to, on the one hand, complement the matte black details we spoke of earlier, and provide a nice contrast to my tester’s Super White exterior paint job on the other. The big roof basket completes the look and it’s not hard to envision one of these trekking through maybe not the Sahara, but the Canadian Rockies for sure, with all manner of gear tucked neatly into that roof rack.

Inside, well, what can you say, really? It’s pretty spartan with big dash and door panels, big, chunky centre stack loaded with big, chunky dials for your climate control and infotainment system, big, chunky gear lever and big, chunky wheel – even the throw on the indicator stalk provides a nice, positive action; these chunky bits are a perfect fit for what is a very chunky truck.

It’s not that it’s bereft of tech, though; there’s no power tailgate option, but there is a power sliding rear window (awesome), adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist and an infotainment display with Apple CarPlay compatibility and – new for 2020 – Android Auto works, too.

While it may really be showing its age inside in the stylistic sense, I like all the broad panels and right angles because it means a reduced count of sharp edges and corners that will jab my knees or lower thighs during drives.

There’s a pile of space for front-seat occupants, which is complemented by a throne-like seating position no matter how low you set the seats, and a great view out through that upright windscreen and over that hood bulge. Even as a tall driver feeling like a gargoyle perched on a ledge, I had headroom to spare. That’s what ultra-square styling and a tall roof will do.

What it also does, though, is ask back seat passengers to, well, take a back seat when it comes to comfort. There’s a clear 200 mm less legroom back there than there is up front and while the spec sheet doesn’t say so, it sure feels like there’s quite a lot less headroom, too. What’s funny, is that it seems that a move done to make rear seat passengers more comfortable – mounting the seats higher, to better see forward – had the unfortunate effect of bringing my scalp perilously close to the headliner. At least the rear seat folds flat with a single tug of a shoulder-mounted lever. That’s good, as the rear cargo area is not all that long.

Cargo? Rear passenger space? What are you on about, man? This is a 4Runner, the latest in a long line of legendary Toyota off-roaders. Who says comfort is part of the equation? Well, the heated front seats, leather seating surfaces and dual-zone climate control may suggest otherwise, but yes: the 4Runner continues to display on-road manners that make it seem unstoppable, whether you’re going to the shops (“Hey! We’d be a lot quicker getting out of here if we just drove over the abutment and on to the street…”), on the highway or on a gravel road covered in loose shale and tire tracks left by off-road buggies that would high-centre lesser SUVs.

Aging powertrain be darned, the 4Runner’s engine is deep-chested and muscular – it’s not fast, but you just get the sense that the way power is being processed sits somewhere between how a rock crusher goes about its business, and how an icebreaker does. Just strong, confident push no matter the rev range and able to work just as well in the heat of the aforementioned Sahara as it would over a freezing trek through Antarctica. Seriously; you feel like you could drive into a hail of bullets and they’d all just bounce off you, like Superman. Luckily, while the off-road area I was headed for has had its fair share of hunting parties in the past, it’s no longer legal to hunt there so that’s a theory I wouldn’t have to test.

What I would be testing, though, is the 4Runner’s absolutely formidable 4×4 system and Bridgestone Dueller H/T 684 II rubber. Yes; these aren’t as hardcore as the Nitto Terra Grapplers found on the TRD Pro version, but you really wouldn’t know it from the way they performed, as I crunched and munched over loose rock and gravel through a network of forestry roads just outside of Vancouver.

With 4L selected and Loose Rock mode activated (there are five drive modes altogether: Mud and Sand, Loose Rock, Rock and Dirt, Mogul, Rock), the 4Runner Venture ploughed through anything I threw at it, positively munching the terrain like a moviegoer does buttered popcorn. There was no wheelspin, no complaints from the powertrain, just furious, undeniable and unstoppable – there’s that word again – force as I scrambled up grades, through elephant tracks and whatever else exists on roads like this that Toyota has studied to ensure that the 4Runner can trounce all of it.

In addition to the multi-terrain select controls, the Venture also gets crawl control, activated by operating a dial mounted beside the multi-terrain select controller just above the rear-view mirror. While crawl control does, technically, activate with a press of a button, you have to first select 4L in order for it to work. Once done, turn the dial to select which speed you want to either descend or ascend at (from about 2 to 8 km/h) and all that you as the driver have to do is steer. It really only needs to be used in the most extreme conditions, but I had fun giving it a whirl anyway.

For its part, crawl control suits the vibe of the 4Runner well; you can definitely hear it doing its thing as it applies the brakes and shuffles power through the differentials.

I remember that when I attended the launch of the Ford Ranger pickup, Ford brought along the 4Runner’s Tacoma sibling to let us compare how the two crawl systems work. The Ford was the quieter and more cultured affair, yes, but this is off-roading, for goodness sakes! Who needs quiet and cultured?

Which is why the 4Runner – all these years later – continues to work exactly as it’s meant to. It’s an honest truck, a workhorse and so achingly good at what it does that you almost find yourself thinking: “so THAT’S why they haven’t really changed this thing in a decade.”