2020 Toyota 4Runner Nightshade Special Edition: Review

We cover the Toyota 4Runner a lot here on Hooniverse. So it was with that in mind that I decided to pile on with my review of the 2020 Toyota 4Runner Nightshade Special Edition. Because, here’s the thing – I don’t really like the Toyota 4Runner. Never have. I’ve always found it overpriced with a poor interior, bad ride quality, and mediocre styling. Let’s see if this new “special edition” changes my mind.


In case you need it, here is the path that led us to the 2020 4Runner. The 4Runner dates back to the 1984 model year, but many view its predecessor as being the Toyota Trekker (1981–1983). It was a weird collaboration between Toyota and Winnebago that produced something that looked like what we now consider a 4Runner, at least in shape. The first generation N60 4Runner lasted from 1984–1989 and was mechanically identical to the Toyota Hilux. First-gen 4Runners even had two doors like a pickup truck.

The second-generation N120/N130 series was sold from 1989 through 1995 and became more similar to what we know now as the 4Runner. It looked much less like a Toyota truck with a cap on the back but it remained a compact SUV. The third generation N180 4Runner (1995–2002) saw Toyota make the move to a midsize platform and shared many of its mechanical bits with the newly minted first-gen Tacoma.

Toyota made some big moves for the fourth generation 4Runner, basing it the Land Cruiser Prado 120 series. It became bigger and a bit more rounded, with a mid-cycle refresh happening in 2005. That brings us to today. The fifth-generation, the N280, has been with us since the 2010 model year. It has shared platform bits with the FJ Cruiser, Land Cruiser Prado and Lexus GX. So it’s been around for some time, just like the Tundra and a bunch of other aging Toyota models.

These cost how much?

So the 4Runner has gotten bigger, and comparatively more expensive, than most of the original generations. Let’s take a quick look at the current 2020 4Runner lineup.

So, clearly they ain’t cheap. Of note, the base SR5 starts at a cool $4,325 more than the base JL Wrangler Unlimited Sport. Not that I compare all off-roaders to the Jeep Wrangler, but I imagine many do, it’s not a bad metric. The most expensive 4-door Jeep, the Rubicon Recon, starts at $46,880, well under the price of our Nightshade Special Edition test loaner. More on that in a bit.

So just how much was our loaner 4Runner? Well, it’s shown above at $46,725, but that is for a 2WD version. Add 4WD and you’re at $48,760. Plus, our loaner came with additional options, including:

  • Automatic Running Boards ($1,500)
  • Leather-trimmed 50/50 split fold-flat third-row seat and sliding second row with passenger-side one-touch access to third-row seat with options ($1,365)

Of note, the 4Runner Nightshade already has leather, so this is different leather. So we’re well over $50,000. Let’s see if it’s worth it.

Inside and Out

My biggest gripe about the 4Runner has always been on the inside, so I’ll start there. I always found the 4Runner to be too basic on the inside for the price. The seats weren’t comfortable, the materials felt cheap, there just wasn’t anything I liked about it. I can say that Toyota has done an admirable job of improving things on the interior.

I went back and re-read some of my grips about previous model year 4Runners, the Limited included. A lot of them were assuaged (fixed) in this iteration (version). The seats were quite comfortable on longer drives, with nice leather and good support throughout.

There are still some oddball aspects to the 4Runner’s interior, call them “character” I guess. For example, the air-conditioning system has a decimal place, but you can only adjust the temperature by whole degree.

Also, the clock at the top of the dash was occasionally set at a different time than the one on the screen.

Those little aspects weren’t a big deal but might annoy me if I spent $50K+ on an SUV.

None of those foibles (*flaws) are near as annoying as the fact that the turn signal does not flash multiple times when you just push it once. I tested the Lexus GX recently, and that was also the case there as well (naturally, since they share a lot) and it about drove me absolutely nuts. Enduring it for another week was rough, I spent quite some time in stop-and-go DC traffic. I imagine that I just stopped signaling at some point.

Also, it really needs a motorized tailgate as a $50,000 “Limited” model. Still, it’s a vast improvement over previous 4Runners.

On the outside, I can say that this is definitely one of my favorite 4Runners. I am a sucker for the blacked-out look, and aside from the TRD PRO, this is definitely the best looking 4Runner in the lineup.


Off-road focused (themed?) SUVs are typically not amazing to drive on the road. That dichotomy (*difference) between what they are built to do vs. what they normally do has always been interesting to experience. Regardless of off-road ability, some buyers just won’t accept a rough ride. Which was my observation of previous 4Runners, they rode very rough. This one though, I was actually pretty impressed! It absorbed a lot of what DC threw at it without complaint.

Where it did complain was at the pump. Somehow it only manages 17 City/20 Highway EPA estimated MPG. I understand why a Wrangler gets poor MPG, it’s shaped like a brick (although the JL’s 3.6L gets 17/23 and the new mild-hybrid setup gets 21/23) but the 4Runner is shaped like your average crossover. I know, it’s old and heavy, I’m sure the newer generation will do a bit better. Still, it drove well and the 4.0L V6 was solid and provided adequate power in most driving situations.

The automatic headlights were neat, but mainly in back road driving. The system got surprised by errant lights and interference from buildings, houses, etc. and kept turning on and off. That’s pretty common on most systems that I’ve tested recently.

Subtitle: Kamil Was Right, Mostly

The only remaining issue is that I can still get the range-topping Wrangler Rubicon Recon, similarly equipped, for less money. The era of the Jeep having a piss-poor interior is over, or at least have risen to be on par with the 4Runner Limited. Heck, a base Rubicon is $42K and with tons of options doesn’t crest $50K (and I can get it with a manual). Even the 4Runner TRD Pro is tempting at the $50K mark.

So, it is pretty nice inside, the outside is really cool, it’s pretty good to drive, but it’s got some stiff competition.  I know, there were parts of this review where it sounds like I don’t like it. But that’s actually not true. So Kamil was right when he yammers on about how good the 4Runner is. It is truly somehow more than a sum of its parts. That cliche is 100% applicable here, and I stand by it. In a sea of wimpy crossovers, the 4Runner is still pretty special. I’m just excited to see the upcoming sixth-generation 4Runner coming somewhere around 2022. By that time the new Bronco will be out and the competition will likely be even stronger!

(*these are for my editor Kamil <3)

Bonus Pics

[Disclaimer: Toyota provided this 4Runner for the purpose of this review. All images copyright William Byrd/Hooniverse 2020]

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22 responses to “2020 Toyota 4Runner Nightshade Special Edition: Review”

  1. Maymar Avatar

    Totally speculative, but with the temperature displaying a decimal place, if you switch to Celsius will it let you pick half degrees? That might be the reason for the decimal if you can only adjust Fahrenheit by full degrees.

    I sort of appreciate that the 4Runner exists as an anachronism, but I also couldn’t justify buying one unless I spent a lot of time in rural areas and intended to own a vehicle for 20+ years (which, no on both counts).

    1. 0A5599 Avatar

      Seems pointless to have to adjust the temperature in Celsius in order to make full use of the display.

      Suppose you are able to set the a/c to 70 degrees, but you really prefer 69.5. So you enter the temp as Celsius. THAT’S 157 DEGREES!!! Who would want to drive around in an oven?

    2. outback_ute Avatar

      Will definitely be to allow half Celsius degrees, which is almost the same increment as Farenheit degrees.

      It’s amazing how many people go for the full-rugged-SUV despite having absolutely no requirement for it. Was told recently about a guy who had a Land Cruiser with the full setup of bullbar, roof rack, rear bar, bigger tyres, snorkel, winch etc so maybe $20k in accessories and never went off bitumen. He won’t be Robinson Crusoe either, but the sort of vehicle that is very sought after on the used market.

      1. Zentropy Avatar

        The “stock Jeep Wrangler” is fairly uncommon in central Ohio. Ironically, so are drivers who actually off-road. I suppose it’s no different than people accessorizing their daily drivers to look like track cars but never actually hitting the track.

        1. outback_ute Avatar

          True, but at least the latter case doesn’t have massively compromised dynamic compared to a ‘normal’ car. I drove a pickup on off road oriented A/T tyres (small tread blocks) the other week and it was giving “I don’t like it” feels really early because of the height, suspension geometry & tyre tread squirm. Would not want that all the time.

          1. William Byrd Avatar

            Having daily driven a weekend track car, it’s a massive compromise to your backside. haha

          2. Zentropy Avatar

            I agree. My brother-in-law drives a lifted Wrangler Unlimited wearing 33″ ATs. It wasn’t as bad to drive as I expected, but the steering and ride still weren’t tolerable for daily driving, in my opinion. The vagueness in direction had me constantly correcting the wheel, and the heavy unsprung weight made it slow to respond. I’d return it to stock if it were mine, even though it admittedly looks cool with the mods. I think a base Wrangler Sport has as much as I would ever need for off-roading.

            However, I similarly dislike the harsh ride of lowered street cars with excessively negative wheel camber and splitters that scrape the the slightest inclines. I can understand DD-ing your weekend racer or off-road toy if that’s what the budget allows, but most people are just posing.

          3. William Byrd Avatar

            I drive a Wrangler “Big Bear Edition” which isn’t much more than a fancy Sport with bigger tires and rock rails. It’s magnificently capable in 99% of driving scenarios. Plus it’s not awful at 80 mph on the highway, doesn’t have that annoying whirrrrr of the big Jeep tires.

            The older I get the more I can’t take stiff suspensions for more than a short drive.

  2. Sjalabais Avatar

    For starters, I am neither a new car customer nor interested in a vehicle with offroad pedigree as a daily driver, period. But if I was, I’d choose a 4Runner over a Jeep nonetheless. Your price comparison makes some sense, but if I was to buy a competing FCA product, I could accept their expected shortcomings if they were 25% or more cheaper…and I don’t think they are. Correct me if I’m wrong, but buying a crap can new is still buying a crap can, despite these particular crap cans holding their value well. But so does the 4Runner.

    As to the odd menue and blinker effect etc., I would scour the forums for “hidden menues” and such. A few Japanese cars have them, and sometimes you can adjust stuff like that here. Personally, I really like that the blinker does not do the modern “3 blinks a pop”-theorem, and I also very much appreciate the lack of unnecessary electric motors, like with the hatch. I’d even say that automatic running boards are some fancy stuff built to be broken and generating cost for no particular reason at all. But that’s just a different approach to car ownership, I guess?

    1. William Byrd Avatar

      Oh shoot, I forgot that it had electric running boards. They were pretty useless.

    2. Zentropy Avatar

      I tend to buy the best base car for my budget, rather than higher trim levels for the sake of luxury add-ons. Typically, most of the inherent goodness of a model is represented in its base trim. Everything else feels like wasteful indulgence that lines someone else’s pockets.

      As for the Wrangler/4Runner choice, I’d have to go with the Jeep just for aesthetics. I think the CJ/Wrangler has generally only gotten better over the years, while the 4Runner has (IMO) been on a downhill slide since the turn of the century. I completely lost interest when they dropped the manual transmission option, but I couldn’t appreciate its current ugly mug even if I could row my own gears.

  3. Professor LavaHot Avatar
    Professor LavaHot

    maybe i’m just too tired, but…H4F, H4L, L4L? how does that equate to 2H, 4H, 4L? What, is that patented or something?

    i’m always curious about how many people buy these and drive around in 4LO, then get mad and return the car. it’s got to be like 5%.

    1. outback_ute Avatar

      Presumably H4F is ‘auto’ and H4L locks the centre diff. Apparently the current 150 series is constant 4wd, and I saw a reference on a 2017 Prado road test that you can have 4LO with the diff unlocked which probably has specific uses.

      1. Vairship Avatar

        Setting it to H4L causes it to respond: “I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

        1. outback_ute Avatar

          Can only give 1 upvote…

  4. neight428 Avatar

    Spending a lot of time on the cost of 4Runners is fair given the lack of features/refinement, but what you get out the curve, either via resale or great long term reliability is a big plus. The fact that they keep selling more despite few substantive (*major) changes means they have hit a market need.

    1. William Byrd Avatar

      And I imagine they have made a ton of money off of that platform.They sold 131,864 last year, which is the 2nd highest total since 2005!

      1. Zentropy Avatar

        That’s amazing.

      2. Sjalabais Avatar

        Now that is interesting. Is Toyota pushing them with advertising? Or is this a valuable word-of-mouth-sales-push from owners to future owners?

      3. Sjalabais Avatar

        Now that is interesting. Is Toyota pushing them with advertising? Or is this a valuable word-of-mouth-sales-push from owners to future owners?

        1. William Byrd Avatar

          Hell. If. I. Know! It’s amazing, I was curious if that was a typo (via Goodcarbadcar.com) but it’s consistent with 2018 sales figures.

  5. CP Avatar

    The reason it gets poorer fuel economy than the wrangler is because it has full time 4wheel drive and a bigger motor and weighs more. You can lock the center diff to have a 1to1 high and low 4×4 for offroading. It doesnt have a front locking diff like the trd pro though. But then again the trd pro doesnt have full time 4WD.