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  • Scott Murdock

Why the 2023 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro Worries Me

After performing the weekly driveway shuffle with my friendly local fleet driver, I sat behind the wheel of a 2023 Lexus NX 350h and pulled myself up to the steering wheel to get a better look down the street. I wasn’t thinking about the array of Lexus technology surrounding me, I was watching the outgoing vehicle, a 2023 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro, disappear over the hill with a pit in my stomach.

My time with the flagship 4Runner was short but impactful. I used the orange adventure mobile to drive my wife to work, run errands, explore off the beaten path, and maybe even slide around a bit in fresh snow. I blasted over speed bumps like they were shadows on the pavement and marveled as Toyota’s Crawl Control chugged along like off-road cruise control. And you’d better believe I looked back every time I parked the thing.

Everything Jason Bell wrote about his own 4Runner is true. The iconic 4x4 embodies simplicity from the analog gauges to a dedicated button for just about every feature. It’s boxy and honest, without a bunch of swoopy creases and over-stylized nonsense. The Fox shocks are worth every penny and then some. Even though the 4.0-liter V6 isn’t particularly powerful or sonorous, it’s adequate in the power department and will surely outlive most of its owners.

The top-spec TRD Pro is expensive at more than $55,000 but that price covers things you can actually use, like terrain modes, a locking rear differential, puffy all-terrain tires, and a functional roof basket. Your money doesn’t fund focus groups coming up with marketing lingo or some bizarre ad campaign; the 4Runner sells itself with — here’s a wild idea — real-world performance.

To me, the truck is almost perfect — and that’s the problem. I don’t mind that the rear-view camera is more pixelated than a 90s flip phone because I use mirrors to back up. The clunky buttons and aging interior styling are fine with me because those things are functional; being useful never gets old. But I’m an oddity in the car-buying public, as many of you are. What does the rest of the car-buying public think? What are Toyota’s executives reading in their crystal ball?

When I look at the sea of automated, egg-shaped commuters on the road, it makes me think that the 4Runner’s days are numbered. The model isn’t going anywhere; it rakes in way too much money for Toyota to discontinue it. But there is a new generation of 4Runner on the horizon, and it might not look very much like the current one.

The sixth-generation 4Runner keeps getting delayed, which leads me to believe that Toyota is feverishly trying to keep up with rapidly developing technological advancements and government regulations. There are rumors about a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, a hybrid, and even an EV. Those things are well and good, but they stand in direct opposition to what makes the 4Runner great: rugged simplicity.

Maybe this fretting is all for naught. We can hope that the 4Runner will join the Jeep Wrangler and Ford Bronco as a perennial off-road juggernaut with reasonable street manners. After all, if Toyota can keep raking in profits without reinventing the wheel, why would they mess with success?

If they do usher in a new vision for the 4Runner, I’m sure a lot of people will be thrilled with the next generation. It will undoubtedly be competent and plush and wonderful, but it will also further the divide between driver and driving. If that happens, old 4Runners from way back in 2023 might become a hot commodity.

Scott is a lover of motorized fun, whether on four wheels or two. A child of the ’90s, he has a particular soft spot for hatchbacks and believes all aging cars deserve a second chance at life. If he’s not behind a camera or a computer, he’s probably chasing down new coffee shops with his wife or throwing a frisbee for his dog.

The views and opinions expressed here are his own and may not align with the founders of Everyday Driver.

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