4WD+Off-Road Runner=4Runner
by Alex Steele

That was Toyota's equation for the 1985 model year. Its new SUV was the result of attaching a fiberglass top to the bed of a Toyota 4x4 pickup. The five-passenger SR5 package added a folding rear seat, spruced-up interior, and a larger fuel tank. The hard parts behind it all were solid axles and leaf springs front and rear, the durable 22R 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, and a five-speed manual transmission bolted to a two-speed transfer case. It wasn't exactly a luxury ride, but a great idea in keeping up with the emerging midsize-SUV market.

The first generation grew in upgrades, beginning in 1986 with Toyota's Hi-Trac independent front suspension and an optional turbocharger. The 1988 4Runner brought the big news of a 150-horsepower 3.0-liter V-6 engine. In 1990, Toyota completely redesigned the 4Runner, giving it a fixed roof, a forceful demeanor, and choices between two or four doors, as well as rear- or four-wheel drive. Safety was the focus in 1994 with the additions of side-impact protection and optional four-wheel ABS. Luxury options, such as leather, a variety of sound systems, and power accessories, added up as time went on. The 1996 model marked the birth of the longest-running platform and the first 4Runner chassis unrelated to the Toyota compact pickup.

The front suspension went to a coil-spring double-wishbone design. The twin-cam multivalve 2.7-liter four-cylinder and 3.4-liter V-6 engines were also new to the assembly line. This third-generation 4Runner went on to expand elements of safety and creature comforts up until its 2003 replacement. Now the fourth generation has hit the streets (and the mountains), with amenities ranging from the first available V-8, pushing 235 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque, right down to a high-tech Vehicle Skid Control system. Today's 4Runner has come a long way.