Here’s What Makes The 3rd-Gen Toyota 4Runner An Excellent Off-Roader

Toyota marks the 40th anniversary of the famous 4Runner nameplate with the 2023 production year. The new SUV will bring improved power and efficiency to the automotive scene, taking its off-road capability to a new level with advanced tech and refined styling.

However, many adventurers will still choose some old Toyota 4Runner generations over the newest iterations, and for good reasons. First and foremost, the 2023 SUV will start at $38,805, compared to most of its predecessors, which now cost up to $20,000. Secondly, the Toyota 4Runner boasts impressive durability, and even the oldest models are still highly functional and capable today.

Take the 3rd-gen Toyota 4Runner as an example. Among the five generations of the lineup, this variant, produced between 1996 and 2002, is probably the most frequently seen on the road today. It’s also one of the longest-lasting midsize SUVs that mark top sales at dealerships, despite being more than 20 years old.

The primary reason for the high popularity of the 3rd-gen Toyota 4Runner is the value the vehicle provides. Adventure seekers can take advantage of the 3rd-gen Toyota 4Runner’s exceptional off-road capability and enjoy swift rides at a fraction of the 2023 model’s price.

Let’s briefly explore the features of the 3rd-gen Toyota 4Runner to give you a better insight into that off-road capability we praise.

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Notable Updates That Made The 3rd-Gen Toyota 4Runner A Better Off-Roader Than Its Predecessor

The rear end of the 1997 Toyota 4Runner.
Via: Toyota

The 3rd-gen Toyota 4Runner arrived in 1996 with a significant update compared to the 2nd-generation. The all-new bodyshell on an all-new chassis extended in size, providing more interior and cargo space alongside a longer wheelbase.

With dual airbags, improved ABS brakes, a lift-up tailgate, a coil-spring suspension, and other similar advancements, the 3rd-gen Toyota 4Runner proved not only more capable, but more comfortable for off-road driving than ever before. Still, the vehicle has not traded its rugged off-road character for highway comfort, which is probably why so many people loved it from the start.

Back in the day, customers could choose their 3rd-gen Toyota 4Runner with a standard 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine producing 150 horsepower or an optional 3.4-liter V6 putting out 183 horsepower. Rear- or four-wheel drive was also available. The mentioned new suspension was a big upgrade to the model, as it made it more refined on the road without sacrificing off-road ability.

When it comes to the interior, the 3rd-gen Toyota 4Runner had different features depending on the trim. Customers could get chrome bumpers, power windows and doors, intermitted wipers, leather seats, a wood trim, a moon roof, and others, depending on whether they went for the base, SR5, or the Limited trim.

All in all, the 3rd-gen Toyota 4Runner established itself early on as a perfect option for many drivers in need of occasional and moderate off-road adventures because of its solid dimensions, stable power output (especially from a V6), muscular looks, and cozy interior. But, Toyota didn’t stop developing the 1996 production year, and the 3rd-gen Toyota 4Runner only got better until 2002.

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Styling Refinements That Make The 3rd-Gen Toyota 4Runner Attractive Even Today

The interior of the 1996 Toyota 4Runner.
Via: Toyota

Throughout 1996 and 1997, the 3rd-gen Toyota 4Runner received only minor changes. A cargo cover in the back and a new steering wheel were pretty much the only novelties.

The more significant facelift arrived in 1999 when Toyota equipped its 4Runner with a new extended front bumper and fresh interior touchups. But the more notable modification was an optional four-wheel system on the Limited trim, which allowed the 4Runner to power all wheels on- and off-road (compared to a 4WD that engaged only off-road), ensuring more capability in most demanding outdoor conditions. With this feature, the 3rd-gen Toyota 4Runner became even better equipped to go through sun, rain, and snow.

In 2001, Toyota performed another update to the 3rd-gen Toyota 4Runner before replacing it with a 4th generation. The last model actually dropped some features compared to the previous version, such as the four-cylinder engine and a manual gearbox. The 2001 Toyota 4Runner only had the V6 (which was quite enough, to be honest) and the 4-speed automatic transmission. Fortunately, the previously new four-wheel drive remained, and that as a standard option on all trims.

Now, although the 3rd-gen Toyota 4Runner continued to grow until 2002, the versions before 2001 proved to be more capable for highly demanding off-road conditions. Therefore, if you’re considering this iconic ride for yourself, we recommend pre-2001 production years (or the 1999 or 2000 ones, more specifically) — and, of course, the V6 and the four-wheel drive.

Considering the 3rd-gen Toyota 4Runner is widely available for sale these days, you shouldn’t have issues finding one for yourself anywhere between $8,000 and $15,000. However, it’s good to note that this ride retains good value because of its impressive off-road manners. We recommend cashing out a few more bucks for a 3rd-gen Toyota 4Runner that’s in good condition and has all proper documentation rather than going for the cheapest option.