Dan Wiese is a freelance automotive writer. He is a regular contributor for Brand Ave. Studios and to AAA Midwest Traveler magazine's online Web Bonus.

2020 Toyota 4Runner

The 4Runner TRD Pro wears boxy truckish styling because it’s a truck -- a genuine body-on-frame SUV like they used to make them. Photo provided by Toyota

Bucking the 21-century trend of warm-and-fuzzy, car-based crossovers is the 2020 Toyota 4Runner. This bad boy remains a real-deal, truck-based, body-on-frame SUV, and it makes no apologies. Heck, in the bushwhacking TRD Pro 4x4 off-road edition we drove, you can almost hear it grunt, “You got a problem wid dat?”

Just as it did when it debuted way back in 1984, 4Runner, now in its fifth generation, happily soldiers on as a rugged, knuckle-dragging Neanderthal – it’s got a solid axle in back, fer cryin’ out loud – and, in the process, gives contemporary fans of trail-tough SUVs a reason to smile.

Available with rear- or 4WD and in five- or, with the optional third row, seven-passenger versions, 4Runner can be had in a whopping eight trims: SR5, SR5 Premium, Venture Edition, TRD Off-Road, TRD Off-Road Premium, Limited, Nightshade and TRD Pro. All are powered by 4Runner’s long-serving 4.0-liter, 270 hp V-6, which is managed by a five-speed automatic.

2020 Toyota 4Runner 4

Standard issue on the 4Runner TRD Pro is significant under-body skid-plate protection. Photo provided by Toyota

The baddest of this bad-boy lot is the TRD Pro we drove. Among its tough-guy charms are trail-rugged Fox Internal Bypass off-road shocks, a coil-spring suspension tuned for off-pavement duty, an inch of additional ground clearance up front for an enhanced approach angle, a “TRD”-stamped front skid-plate that is both functional and fashionable, 17-inch black TRD alloy wheels hugged by knobby all-terrain rubber, a part-time 4WD system with low range controlled by a rugged mechanical shifter (not electronic), and -- just to make sure the neighbors know you’ve got a happy reprobate -- such hey-look-at-me eye candy as a unique grille, black bumper accents, a TRD Shift Knob and special badging.

If your idea of fun is traversing off-the-grid moonscapes, or your destination is that hidden-away fishing spot or out-in-the-hinterlands campsite, this boulder crawler will get you there with confidence. During our Nov. 11 snow event in St. Louis, I engaged the 4hi setting on the part-time 4WD transfer case and motivated in the slick stuff with ease.

If, on the other hand, you’re simply routinely commuting to work, you’ll deal with some compromises that must be made for all that off-pavement and tractive talent.

2020 Toyota 4Runner 3

Photo provided by Toyota

To wit: the tailgate is heavy and non-power, the step-in height is lofty (the optional running boards help), the ride is truck-firm, the handling truck-rugged, interior noise levels truck-commensurate and acceleration truck-adequate. It took us nearly 8 seconds to reach 60 mph while the six-pack under the hood delivered to us 16 mpg in mostly in-town driving, including the aforementioned 4hi use in snow.

Inside, room in both the front and rear seats is good. (There’s an optional third row, but our TRD Pro didn’t have it.)

New for 2020 is the standard application in all 4Runners of Toyota’s Safety Sense P (TSS P), a bundle of hand-wringing nannies that includes a pre-collision system with autonomous braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, and auto high-beams. Also new is the infotainment system, whose screen size grows from 6.1 to 8.0 inches and which features Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility.

2020 Toyota 4Runner 2

Photo provided by Toyota

All the infotainment stuff is easy to use, along with big, truck-appropriate knobs for climate control.

Among the few options on our TRD Pro -- base price: $50,885; our bottom line: $51,968 -- was the very cool Sliding Rear Cargo Deck, which allows the cargo-bay “floor” to slide out like a drawer for easy loading and unloading. The useful and tough-looking tubular rooftop luggage rack is standard issue on TRD Pro.

Buyers seeking a nice, quiet crossover for daily commuting and weekend family duties will want to look elsewhere. But those who long for a real-deal, truck-based SUV that can tow 5,000 pounds and tame a gnarly outback trail will find in the 2020 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro a kindred spirit.


This content was produced by Brand Ave. Studios. The news and editorial departments of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch had no role in its creation or display. For more information about Brand Ave. Studios, contact tgriffin@stltoday.com.