Comparing two affordable, off-road-capable SUVs
Not many affordable, off-road-ready, body-on-frame SUVs remain, but the Jeep Wrangler and Toyota 4Runner are staples that hold their value well and offer excellent off-road performance. Not many vehicles can match the Wrangler Unlimited and 4Runner when the pavement ends, so despite the price difference of about $6,000 USD, let’s take a look at how these two off-road dynamos compare.
This car comparison is based on our extensive knowledge and understanding of the automotive market but not necessarily on recent driving experience.
Safety Advantage: Toyota 4Runner
The 2017 Jeep Wrangler hasn’t been put through the full battery of safety tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). On the other hand, the 2017 Toyota 4Runner received a four-star overall rating from NHTSA, and in the IIHS’ testing it got a Good score on all but the small-overlap front impact test, where it was given a Marginal rating.
As for the Wrangler Unlimited (the Unlimited model is the four-door variant), it performed well on the IIHS’ small- and moderate-overlap front crash tests with a Good rating; however, it only received a Marginal score in the side impact test, and in NHTSA evaluations, the Wrangler Unlimited only got a three-star rating on the rollover and front crash tests. Neither the Wrangler Unlimited nor the 4Runner are available with a full suite of active safety features.
Efficiency Advantage: Tie
The 2017 Wrangler Unlimited and 2017 4Runner are more focused on off-road performance than fuel economy. Both rigs have similar fuel economy estimates, with the 4Runner rated at 17/21 mpg (13.8/11.2 L/100km) city/highway in rear-drive guise and 17/20 mpg (13.8/11.8 L/100km) with four-wheel drive. As for the Wrangler Unlimited, opting for the standard six-speed manual nets you 16/21 mpg (14.7/11.2 L/100km), and the automatic drops those numbers to 16/20 mpg (14.7/11.8 L/100km).
As for fuel capacity, both the Wrangler Unlimited and 4Runner have large gas tanks at 22.5 gallons and 23.0 gallons, respectively. This means you’ll have somewhere around 400 miles (644 km) of range, giving you plenty of wiggle room for adventures or for crawling your way deep into the wilderness to get to where you’re going.
Acceleration Advantage: Toyota 4Runner
Both the 4Runner and Wrangler Unlimited use V-6 engines and older transmissions, but the Toyota is quicker despite having less power and weighing more than the Jeep. In Motor Trend testing, a 2014 4Runner hit 60 mph in 7.5 seconds and the quarter mile in 15.7 seconds at 87.5 mph (141 km/h). A 2016 Wrangler Unlimited, on the other hand, did the sprint to 60 mph in 8.2 seconds and the quarter mile in 16.3 seconds at 82.5 mph (133 km/h).
Off-Road Capability Advantage: Jeep Wrangler Unlimited
Sure, the Toyota 4Runner is highly capable when the pavement ends—especially in TRD Pro trim—but the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited takes things up a notch. From disconnecting axles and off-road-specific tires to reinforced axles and a 4:1 low gear ratio in some models, the Wrangler was built to tackle nearly every terrain.
Fun Factor Advantage: Jeep Wrangler Unlimited
In addition to its off-road capability, the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited offers a removable roof and doors. Whereas the 4Runner only has a sunroof in some trim levels (and a rear window that folds down), the Wrangler can be had with a removable cloth or hard top roof, putting you even closer to nature when you’re out in the wilderness tackling trails or crawling rocks in the desert.
Heritage Advantage: Jeep Wrangler Unlimited
Although Toyota has a rich heritage of off-road-capable SUVs that includes the 4Runner and multiple generations of the Land Cruiser, the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited is part of an even longer bloodline. With its heritage dating back to World War II, the Wrangler is a descendant of the old Willys MB utility vehicles used by the U.S. military during World War II. After the war, civilian versions dubbed the CJ went into production with multiple configurations, including a small truck.
Tech Features Advantage: Tie
Neither the 4Runner nor the Wrangler Unlimited come equipped with the most modern multimedia systems. The Wrangler Unlimited features an infotainment system that predates FCA’s current easy-to-use Uconnect system. The interface found in the Wrangler is an old Garmin-based unit that has a 6.5-inch touchscreen and a 40-GB hard drive with 28 GB set aside for media.
As for the 4Runner, it does have Toyota’s Entune system, but it’s the oldest version that’s also shared with other aging models in the Japanese automaker’s lineup. You get a 6.1-inch touchscreen, some apps, and an optional navigation system with grainy graphics. Additionally, this unit pales in comparison to the newer iteration of Entune found in the likes of the Corolla, Tacoma, and the 2018 Camry.
Touch of Luxury Advantage: Toyota 4Runner
Don’t expect to get coddled in comfort driving in either SUV, but the 4Runner offers a more premium-oriented Limited variant with perforated leather upholstery, a JBL premium audio system, and heated and ventilated front seats.
Cargo Space Advantage: Toyota 4Runner
Although the Toyota 4Runner’s third row is cramped, the SUV’s size can come in handy when those seats are folded down. With the second row of both SUVs folded, the Toyota offers 88.8 to 89.7 cubic feet of cargo space compared to the two-row Jeep’s 70.6 cubic feet.
Styling Options Advantage: Jeep Wrangler Unlimited
Jeep offers new special edition models to the Wrangler lineup every year. This means you can get a Wrangler with cool exterior colors that pop. The current-generation Wrangler is nearing the end of its production run, and a new generation will arrive in the next year or two.
Which One Would You Use?
Even though the 4Runner and the Wrangler Unlimited are dated in some ways and inefficient compared to less capable crossovers, their popularity is based on their capability and the rugged image that consumers associate with SUVs. The 4Runner is the better all-around SUV, and the Wrangler Unlimited is for those who prioritize capability and character over everything else. The Wrangler’s special edition models have more personality than most SUVs, but keep in mind a more modern version is on the way.