The Toyota 4Runner started its life as a compact SUV when it was introduced in 1984. In fact, back then, the 4Runner was essentially a Toyota Hilux with the pickup bed covered up with a shell. Over the following decades, Toyota tweaked the 4Runner to serve as a compact to midsize SUV.
The 4Runner has been lauded as an excellent choice for 4×4 and off-roading enthusiasts. It’s practical for daily driving but most of its trim levels and variants have 4WD capabilities for the budding off-roader. It features a solid body-on-frame construction, high ground clearance, and locking differential.
It even enjoys comprehensive support for aftermarket parts that allow the SUV to be converted into off-roading machines. You even have souped-up versions like the TRD Off Road Premium trim level that’s an absolute beast.
However, are all Toyota 4Runners 4WD? The short answer is: No. Most variants are four-wheel-drive capable, but there are 2WD-only models.
Are All 4Runners 4WD?
The Toyota 4Runner has gone through five generations already. Many variants and trim levels are equipped with a 4WD system, so the 4Runner is generally thought of as a 4WD vehicle. However, Toyota also introduced 2WD-only models starting with the 3rd generation and use a rear-wheel drive configuration. Today, most of the basic trim 4Runners are 2WD-only.
4WD Toyota 4Runner
With a four-wheel drive system, power from the engine can be sent to all four wheels. This gives the SUV the ability to navigate tricky surfaces and terrain. It’s not all for off-roading. As a daily driver, a 4WD Toyota 4Runner provides better performance on slippery surfaces like wet roads and snow.
Most Toyota 4Runner models are equipped with a part-time 4WD system. Using a selector, drivers can select if they want to engage 4WD low range or 4LO/L4 (for low-speed crawling), 4WD high range or H4 (four-wheel drive at higher speeds), and 2WD high range or H2 (for daily driving). You have to switch to a particular mode depending on what you’d like to do.
However, since the 4th generation, Toyota also introduced 4Runners equipped with a full-time 4WD system. With this all-wheel drive system, it means that power is always being sent to four wheels. By default, torque is split at a 40:60 ratio. An intelligent system senses the driving conditions and automatically adjusts the ratio depending on the situation.
- Best for off-roading
- Most can be switched to 2WD
- Better resale value
Disadvantages of 4WD 4Runner include:
- Weighs more
- More expensive
- Requires more maintenance
2WD Toyota 4Runners 2WD
In a two-wheel-drive only Toyota 4Runner, power is only sent to the two rear wheels typically at a rear-wheel drive configuration. This makes it less capable of going off-road. Modern 4Runners are equipped with crawl control and hill assist systems, like downhill assist control to help you negotiate steep declines and inclines.
However, without a 4WD system, 2WD 4Runners are generally lighter, cheaper, and easier to maintain. Modern
Advantages of 2WD 4Runner include:
- Better fuel economy
- More affordable
- Less maintenance
Disadvantages of 4WD 4Runner include:
- Limited off-road performance
Which 4Runner Models Are 4WD?
This table summarizes which generations are 4WD capable.
How to Use 4WD In a 4Runner
Here’s how to operate the 4WD system in a 4Runner.
Part-Time Four-Wheel Drive Models
If you drive a part-time 4WD 4Runner, you will either have a shift lever or a selector dial to switch 4WD modes.
- H2 – 2WD. With the lever, shift to H2. With the dial, you have to push the unlock button and turn to H2. This mode can be engaged at any speed.
- H4 – High-speed 4WD.
- Switch from H2 to H4: With the lever, you can shift to H4 when doing below 50 mph. With the selector, you have to push the unlock button and switch to H4 while going below,
- Switch from L4 to H4: You have to stop the vehicle, shift to neutral (N) and use the lever or dial to change modes.
- L4 – Low-speed 4WD. This engages the locking rear differential. You have to stop the vehicle, shift to neutral (N) and use the lever or dial to change modes.
An indicator light in the dashboard will change depending on the mode you select.
Full-Time Four-Wheel Drive Models
Full-time 4WD models still have a selector dial. However, it doesn’t have a 2WD-only mode. Instead, you have:
- H4F – High speed. Can be switched on at any speed.
- H4L – High speed with center differential locked. Can only be switched on while the vehicle is stopped and the shifter is at the neutral or “N” position. Engaging the central differential ensures all wheels spin at the same speed for better traction. It is useful in cases where one of the wheels leaves the ground.
- L4L – Low speed with center differential locked. Can only be switched on while the vehicle is stopped and the shifter is at the neutral or “N” position.
To switch modes, you have to press the unlock button on the dial and turn the dial to the desired mode.
Your Purpose, Your Choice
All things considered, the Toyota 4Runner is an excellent choice for an SUV. It is reliable, especially if you get a well-maintained one from its best 4Runner model years.
Whether it should have a 4WD system depends on your purpose and lifestyle. If you live in a place where you don’t experience deep snow or mud and you wouldn’t be using the vehicle off-road, getting a 2WD-only 4Runner is a logical choice.
If you want to experience off-roading or live a life where you may have to deal with challenging terrain or off-road challenges, then a 4WD-capable 4Runner will be better.