Toyota Tacoma vs Toyota 4Runner: Which Mid-Sizer is Right for You?

In the world of four-wheel-drive vehicles, the Toyota Tacoma and 4Runner are two of the most sought after.

The Tacoma has been the bestselling mid-size pickup since the segment has existed while the 4Runner is the most popular 4×4 (off-road) SUV to come from any non-American automaker. 

While these two Toyota utility vehicles don’t compete with each other, they are both mid-sized vehicles that can haul, tow, and attack rough terrains. If you are shopping for a mid-sizer that will go anywhere in any weather condition and refuses to break down, there is a good chance that the Tacoma and 4Runner are on your shortlist. While their physical shape is the most obvious difference between the two, they each have some key advantages that might sway you to purchase one over the other.

Below, we look at the key attributes, features, and specifications of the Toyota Tacoma and the Toyota 4Runner, highlight which leads in the most important areas.

Cabin Space

Interior space is where the Toyota Tacoma and Toyota 4Runner really stand apart from each other, with one being a pickup truck and the other being an SUV. Also, since the 4Runner is only available as a four-door model, it is unlikely that consumers would be cross-shopping it against the two-door Tacoma. With that in mind, all of the interior specifications for the truck below pertain to the four-door Double Cab models. For the two-door Access Cab, the front measurements are similar, but the rear seating space is considerably smaller than the Double Cab.

Tacoma: The front of the cabin is more spacious in the Tacoma. It offers 39.7 inches (1,008 mm) of headroom compared to 39.3 inches (998 mm) in the 4Runner. It also offers more hip-and legroom, 57.2 inches (1,452 mm) against 56.6 inches (1,437 mm) and 42.9 (1,089 mm) against 41.7 inches (1,059 mm) respectively. It also outperforms the 4Runner in the front and rear shoulder room by nearly an inch at each end as well. 

4Runner: On the other hand, the 4Runner has a slight advantage in most second-row measurements. It offers 38.6 inches of rear headroom compared 38.3 inches (973 mm) in the Tacoma. It also offers almost an inch more hip room at 56.3 inches (1,430 mm) and 32.9 inches (836 mm) of legroom, 0.3 inches (8 mm) more than the mid-size truck. Also, while the third-row of seats in the 4Runner is pretty snug and since the Tacoma has no third row, the SUV gets the decisive advantage in terms of passenger capacity.

Bottom Line: If you need room for more than five passengers, the 4Runner is the obvious choice, but if you don’t regularly travel with more than three passengers, the Tacoma offers plenty of interior space for yourself and your friends.

Cargo and Towing

Tacoma: The Tacoma offers much greater hauling capacity since there is no roof to get in the way. If you are hauling a large television in the box, the odds are good that it will not fit in the rear cargo area of the 4Runner due to the roofline, but that same TV box will easily fit in the bed of the Tacoma, especially if you opt for the six-foot bed. You can also easily carry longer items, such as lumber, ladders or other things which won’t fit inside of an SUV.

The Tacoma with the V6 is capable of towing up to 6,800 lb (3,084 kg) while the 4-cylinder will pull up to 3,500 lb (1,587 kg).

4Runner: If you are hauling large cargo, the pickup is always the better choice, but if you are hauling smaller and more perishable items, the enclosed cabin of the 4Runner offers the advantage of security. Items in the rear-most area of the Toyota SUV are safe from both the elements and thieves, so the enclosed storage comes with some peace of mind. You get 9 cu-ft (254 liters) of luggage capacity behind the third row which expands to 46.3 cu-ft (1,311 liters) with the third row down. Also, if you have a bunch of smaller cargo, perhaps when you are helping a friend move their smaller belongings to a new home, the second-row seats of the 4Runner fold flat to offer 89.7 cu-ft (2,540 liters) of cargo capacity.

All 4Runners are rated to tow up to 5,000 lb (2,267 kg).

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Bottom Line: If you need the ability to haul large cargo, the Toyota Tacoma is the better of the two options, but if you want more secure cargo capacity and the ability to haul up to seven people, the 4Runner is the better choice. If interior space for the driver and front passenger is paramount, the Tacoma is the way to go while the 4Runner offers a bit more room than the pickup for rear passengers.

Technology and Features

Tacoma: The Tacoma SR comes with cloth seats with the front seats offering four-way manual adjustment while the SR5 models add 10-way power adjustment for the driver’s seat. The SR5 models also add a leather-trimmed steering wheel with Bluetooth hands-free access controls. The TRD Sport and TRD Off-Road models come with the same cloth seats with 10-way power driver’s side adjust, but you can also opt for leather seats in these two Toyota Racing Development models. Finally, the Tacoma Limited and TRD Pro come standard with leather-trimmed, heated seats with 10-way power adjustment for the driver’s perch and 4-way manual passenger’s front adjustment.

SEE ALSO: Mazda CX-9 vs Toyota Highlander Comparison

The Toyota Tacoma is offered with two different infotainment systems. The SR comes with a 7-inch touchscreen, but the SR5, TRD, and Limited models all come with an 8-inch touchscreen and all models come with Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and Amazon Alexa compatibility, Bluetooth connectivity, and SiriusXM. The Tacoma SR models come with a basic four-speaker system while the SR5, TRD Sport and TRD Off-Road come with a six-speaker system. Tacoma Limited and TRD Pro models come with the 8-inch touchscreen and a JBL 6-speaker system.

Every new Toyota Tacoma comes standard with an analog gauge cluster with a 4.2-inch LED information screen in the center, front dual-zone climate control, remote keyless entry, and a tilt/telescopic steering wheel with audio controls.

4Runner: In SR5, Trail Special Edition, and TRD Off-Road trims, the 4Runner features cloth seats with an 8-way power-adjustable driver’s seat and a 4-way manually-adjustable front passenger seat, a 40/20/40 split second-row bench, and a 50/50 split bench in the third row. The second-and third-row seats all fold flat to create more cargo space. The SR5 Premium, TRD Off-Road Premium, Venture Edition, and TRD Pro all come with the same style of seats but are wrapped in SofTex synthetic leather and the front seats of these premium models are also heated. In the 4Runner Limited and Nightshade models, the seats are wrapped in perforated leather and are both heated and cooled.

SEE ALSO: Toyota RAV4 vs Nissan Rogue Comparison

The Toyota 4Runner comes with the Entune infotainment system with an 8-inch touchscreen with Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, Amazon Alexa, SiriusXM radio, and Bluetooth connectivity. In the SR5 and Trail Edition models, the 8-inch screen is connected to eight speakers while the optional Premium Audio adds Dynamic Navigation and 11 speakers. The TRD Off-Road models come standard with the Audio Plus system, which is the same as the base audio system except with the addition of HD Radio, and Premium Audio with navigation is optional. In the TRD Off-Road Premium, SR5 Premium, and Venture Edition models, Premium Audio is standard while the Limited, Nightshade Edition, and TRD Pro come with the Premium Audio system paired with a 15-speaker JBL sound system.

Every new Toyota 4Runner comes with the Optitron instrumentation system, featuring an LED information screen that displays the odometer, trip meters, average fuel economy, ECO driving indicator, and warning messages. Other standard features of the 4Runner include a backup camera with a projected path, a leather-trimmed tilt/telescopic steering wheel with audio and Bluetooth controls, two 12-volt power outlets, four USB ports, and a 120-volt power outlet in the cargo area.

Bottom Line: In terms of infotainment, the 4Runner has a slight edge. Although most Tacoma trims come with a similar 8-inch touchscreen to that featured in the 4Runner, the 4Runner offers more speakers in most trims while also having a big advantage with the 15-speaker premium JBL system. If you are into premium sound when driving, the 4Runner has a clear advantage, but in terms of infotainment systems, the two Toyota vehicles are practically identical. The two models are similar in their upholstery offerings, so the only real deciding factor in terms of seating is whether you really need room for four, five or seven people. If the answer is seven, you have to go with the 4Runner.

Powertrain

Tacoma: The Toyota Tacoma is available with two different engines, two different transmissions, and either rear- or four-wheel-drive. In the SR and SR5 trims, the 2.7-liter 4-cylinder with 159 horsepower and 180 lb-ft of torque is standard, as is a 6-speed automatic transmission. You can order this engine with rear- or four-wheel-drive. The optional engine for the SR and SR5 is a 3.5-liter V6 with 278 horsepower and 265 lb-ft of torque, which is also mated to a standard 6-speed automatic transmission and either rear- or four-wheel-drive.

For the Tacoma TRD Sport and TRD Off-Road, the 3.5-liter V6 with the 6-speed automatic is standard, but you can still pick between rear-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive. If you get either of these models with four-wheel-drive, you can also opt for the 6-speed manual transmission. For the Tacoma TRD Pro, you can also choose between the automatic or manual transmission with the V6, but four-wheel-drive is standard with that model. Frankly, it seems odd that four-wheel-drive isn’t standard with the TRD Off-Road model, as who is really going to buy a rear-drive off-road model? In any case, the luxurious Tacoma Limited also comes with the 278-horsepower V6 and the 6-speed automatic transmission as standard equipment, with your choice of rear- or four-wheel-drive.

4Runner: The Toyota 4Runner is only available with one engine, the 4.0-liter V6 with 270 horsepower and 278 lb-ft of torque. That engine comes mated solely to a 5-speed automatic transmission in all models, but there is one choice to be made in terms of the drivetrain configuration for select models. The SR5, Trail Special Edition, SR5 Premium, and Limited trim levels can be ordered in either rear-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive while the TRD Off-Road, TRD Off-Road Premium, Venture Special Edition, and TRD Pro come standard with four-wheel-drive.

Bottom Line: The Tacoma has a slight advantage in horsepower while the 4Runner has an even smaller advantage in torque when we compare the two V6 engines. When you take into account the fact that the Tacoma weighs a few hundred pounds less at the comparable trim levels and the fact that the pickup has a 6-speed automatic transmission, the Tacoma offers a clear advantage in overall performance. Throw in the fact that the pickup will tow considerably more and you have a stack of reasons why anyone who favors performance should go with the Tacoma.

Fuel Economy

Tacoma: The fuel economy ratings for the Toyota Tacoma vary based on engine, transmission, and drive configuration, but literally all of them are better than the 4Runner. The rear-drive Tacoma with the 4-cylinder offers 20 mpg around town and 23 mpg on the highway while the rear-drive V6 trucks are rated at 19 around town and 24 on the highway. Adding four-wheel-drive to the 4-cylinder trucks only drops the ratings to 19 city and 22 highway while the four-wheel-drive V6 models get 18 mpg(14.8 L/100 km) in the city and 22 mpg (12.5 L/100 km) highway. The rugged off-road models with the manual transmission offer 17 mpg (13.8 L/100 km) and 21 mpg (11.7 L/100 km); less than the comparable truck with an automatic but better than the 4Runner.

4Runner: The Toyota 4Runner is rated as offering 16 mpg (14.8 L/100 km) around town and 19 mpg (12.5 L/100 km) on the highway. Those numbers apply to all models, rear-drive and four-wheel-drive.

Bottom Line: If fuel economy is a key concern, the Tacoma is the easy choice between these two. Even the least efficient Tacoma is more fuel-friendly than the 4Runner while the more efficient pickups offer an advantage of nearly 25% over the SUV.

Safety

Tacoma: Standard features of the Tacoma begin with the Star Safety System, which includes Vehicle Stability Control, Traction Control, Anti-lock Brake System with Electronic Brake-force Distribution, Brake Assist, and Smart Stop Technology. Next, the Toyota Safety Sense system includes Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Alert, Automatic High Beams, and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control. The Tacoma also comes standard with the driver and front passenger Advanced Airbag System, driver and front passenger seat-mounted side airbags, driver and front passenger knee airbags and front and rear Roll-sensing Side Curtain Airbags, Driver and front passenger active headrests, child-protector rear door locks, the Tire Pressure Monitor System, an engine immobilizer and ToyotaCare with Roadside Assistance.

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Optional safety features in the Tacoma include the Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert system and sonar-based rear parking assist system.

4Runner: The 4Runner also comes standard with the Toyota Safety Sense and Star Safety System with all the features mentioned above for the Tacoma. Where the 4Runner stands apart from the Tacoma is in the number of airbags, due mostly to the larger cabin of the SUV. The 4Runner has a total of eight airbags, including the driver and front passenger TAP (Thorax, Abdomen, Pelvis) front seat-mounted side airbags, driver and front passenger knee airbags, and Roll-sensing Side Curtain units in all rows. The 4Runner also comes standard with driver and front passenger active headrests, driver and front passenger seatbelt pretensioners with force limiters, three-point seatbelts for all seating positions, child-protector rear door locks and power window lockout, side-impact door beams, a Tire Pressure Monitor System, Daytime Running Lights (DRL) with manual on/off feature and an anti-theft system with engine immobilizer.

The only optional safety feature for the 4Runner is the sonar-assisted front and rear parking system.

Bottom Line: While the Tacoma and 4Runner share much of the same safety technology, the 4Runner has the advantage with more airbags and more standard features.

Styling

The Toyota Tacoma and Toyota 4Runner share similar styling cues, but these are two distinct vehicles. Some people might mistakenly think that the Tacoma is the pickup version of the 4Runner SUV, but the two differ in far more ways than just the shape of the cargo area. The Tacoma and 4Runner both have a wide range in exterior designs that change with the trim level. The TRD models from both lineups are sportier and more aggressive, often with contrasting trim and unique badging, while the Limited trim levels take a more luxurious approach.

SEE ALSO: Toyota Highlander vs 4Runner: Which SUV is Right for You?

Tacoma: The 4Runner is taller and wider, but the four-door Tacoma is longer overall with a longer wheelbase. It has similar but larger LED-trimmed headlights that angle towards the grille, but the grille on the Tacoma is much larger than that of the 4Runner, taking up most of the front end. There is a slim lower grille open which extends out to the corners of the vehicle, holding the fog lights as well. Along the sides, the Tacoma has flared wheel openings that angle upwards at the rear, with that upward angle being reflected through the side windows. The Tacoma has smaller windows than the 4Runner, but this mid-size pickup still offers excellent visibility. At the rear, the Tacoma has clear-lens LED taillights as well.

4Runner: When comparing similar trims, the 4Runner is taller and wider, with angular, LED-trimmed headlights angling in towards a slim upper grille. A much larger lower grille opening is flanked by a pair of C-shaped vents that contain the fog lights. Along the sides, the flared wheel openings have a squared appearance, bolstering the rugged look of the 4Runner, with black pillars, black trim, and the tinted rear windows adding a sporty feel. Out back, that sportiness is continued with a low-sitting spoiler that extends out from the roofline and a pair of clear-style taillights with LED inserts.

Bottom Line: The exterior design of these two Toyota models is similar enough that if you like one, you probably like the other one as well. Across the entire lineup, the Tacoma has a slightly sportier design that is likely to appeal to pickup buyers while the 4Runner styling has milder styling for the SUV buyer who doesn’t want to stand out as much.

Pricing

2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro Review

The Toyota Tacoma has a much lower starting price of $27,345 compared to $36,360 for the 4Runner, but that isn’t really a fair comparison. That starting price for the Tacoma applies to the two-door Access Cab and there is no such option for the 4Runner. That being said, if you want the lowest possible price and you don’t need the extra set of doors, the Tacoma is the easy choice. You can get most trim levels and drivetrain options with the Access Cab, with the most heavily appointed two-door pickup being the TRD Off-Road with the V6 engine, automatic transmission and four-wheel-drive for $37,540.

If you want the extra set of doors, the pricing comparison becomes a lot tighter.

Tacoma: The Tacoma still has an advantage in the form of the SR trim level, starting at $28,175 for the 4-cylinder models and $33,610 for V6 power. The Tacoma SR5 Double Cab starts at $30,025 with the 4-cylinder and rear-drive, $33,425 for the V6 and rear-drive, and $36,500 for the V6 and four-wheel-drive. The Tacoma TRD Off-Road V6 and four-wheel-drive starts at $38,475, Tacoma Limited with the V6, auto and four-wheel-drive starts at $43,175, making the picture a few thousand dollars cheaper than the SUV when comparing similarly-configured vehicles.

4Runner: The “base” trim level for the 4Runner is the SR5, which starts at $36,440 for rear-wheel-drive and $39,815 for four-wheel-drive. The 4Runner TRD Off-Road with standard four-wheel-drive starts at $41,905 and the 4Runner Limited with four-wheel-drive starts at $48,880.

Bottom Line: If you are looking to save money at the point of purchase, you will want to pick the Tacoma from your local Toyota dealership over the 4Runner. There are some advantages worth paying for with the 4Runner, but if you don’t see the third row of seats and enclosed cargo capacity as being worth a few thousand dollars, the Tacoma is your better buy. Also, if you want to get into a four-wheel-drive vehicle for the lowest possible print point, the Tacoma is far less expensive than the 4Runner.

Verdict: Toyota Tacoma vs Toyota 4Runner

2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro Army Green front quarter at speed

If you are cross-shopping the Toyota Tacoma and the Toyota 4Runner and your key concerns are the ability to seat more than five people or the capability to haul cargo in an enclosed space, the 4Runner is the better option for you. If you don’t care so much about the ability to haul more than five people and you don’t care about interior cargo space, you should buy the Tacoma.

The Tacoma offers more power, more capabilities, better fuel economy, and better interior technology with a dramatically lower starting price. While there are differences in exact features, the Tacoma costs less in a comparison of related trims, so with the 4Runner, you are really just paying for extra interior space. If you don’t want to pay for extra interior space, the Tacoma is the better choice for you.

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