Ace of Base Retro: 1990 Toyota 4Runner

Matthew Guy
by Matthew Guy
ace of base retro 1990 toyota 4runner

We covered this one a couple of years ago but it’s being featured again today because *just look at it*!! Plus, your author happened upon a fantastic example in rural British Columbia just yesterday, causing him to dance excitedly in the snow like a hotwired puppy.

The 4Runner showed up in 1984, based off the Pickup/Hilux platform and providing the off-road chops to challenge the original Cherokee. For its ’90 redesign (available in calendar year ’89), Toyota saw fit to depart from the agricultural roots of the OG 4Runner, which was essentially a pickup truck with a fibreglass cap grafted onto the box.

Now sporting handsome and cleanly contoured sheetmetal, the gen-2 4Runner arrived at the perfect time to ride the wave of customers trading their cars for SUVs, a trend which, it must be said, has not abated in the least.

The new-for-’90 4Runner had a remarkably high floor, ensuring that folks who wanted an SUV simply for the image would take one look at the liftover height into the cargo area and make a beeline to the nearest Ford store to sign the note on one of those new Explorers.

If a poser managed to make it past the jump-up-into-the-driver’s-seat cost of entry, at least we knew they were working for their social status. Buyers of all trims were greeted by a full complement of easy-to-read gauges, reclining cloth buckets, and a full fabric headliner. Hey, this was heady stuff 30 years ago.

If it appeared drivers were especially sweaty, that probably meant they were wrangling a base model SR5, where power steering was not standard equipment. Yes, power steering was an option as late as 1990, but think of all the money drivers saved on a gym membership.

Base 4Runners of this vintage were equipped with a five-speed stick and Toyota’s legendary 22RE fuel injected SOHC four-cylinder. A 3.0-liter V6 was on offer, cranking out 150 horsepower, compared to the smaller mill’s 116 hp.

Not yet swayed by today’s trend of offering vehicles with all the visual color of a Charlie Chaplin movie, the ’90 4Runner was available in no less than 12 different shades of paint and four distinct interior colours. These things look best in Cardinal Red, always have. Feel free to disagree. Feel free to be wrong.

I maintain that early 90s Toyota was peak Toyota, cranking out good-looking, reliable machinery with well-screwed-together interiors. Asking price may have outstripped its competitors (witness a fully loaded ’90 4Runner for $25,779, or $43,943 in 2016 dollars) but, for once, buyers got what they paid for.

Bulletproof engine, baseball-bat manual shifter sticking out of the floor, rugged good looks, and some off-road chops. If that doesn’t check off the Ace of Base boxes, I don’t know what will.

[Images: Toyota]

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4 of 61 comments
  • Brandloyalty Brandloyalty on Feb 21, 2018

    The equivalent Pathfinder was a better vehicle, but Toyota fandom carried the day. The Pathfinder's front torsion bar suspension allowed providing drive to the front wheels while mounting the engine low. The 4Runner ended up sticking the front wheel drive stuff below the engine, resulting in the nose-high stance. The consequences of the basically flawed design included a very high centre of gravity and that strange high floor. The seating area was as small as the same era's Corolla. The cabin was so narrow that on bad roads occupants would hit their heads on the side windows. Been there done that. The narrow width, high COG and rounded styling resulted in rollovers. And they would just keep rolling. On the other hand the Pathfinder was far less prone to rolling and the square body resisted prolonged rolling. Both were prone to rusting, probably the 4Runner being worse. The 4Runner also had a power rear hatch window that always broke. Offroad they were equals. The only advantage of the 4Runner was its longer cargo area. As the less popular vehicle the Pathfinder was a far better buy.

    • Gtem Gtem on Feb 22, 2018

      I assume you're talking about the WD-21 BOF pathfinder here, not the R50 that followed. Nissans rotted worse than the 4Runners, especially in the sense that they had structural rust issues (frame) and not just on the sheetmetal like the gen 2 4Runners. I do like those old Pathfinders, they are incredibly robust vehicles. I'd be curious to learn more about the differences in IFS and front diff/driveshaft layout that you claim allowed Nissan to have a more compact layout with lower COG. I was always under the impression that the 4Runners just had higher clearance all around.

  • Scout_Number_4 Scout_Number_4 on Feb 21, 2018

    I bought a '92 SR5, 4-door, 5-sp, V6, leather new--$23,008. Mine was cardinal red, had those classic Toyota alloys of that era plus factory running boards. I drove it 175,000 miles all over Western North America, mostly in Oregon, Washington, BC and Alberta. It was fantastic in the mud and snow. The only problem I had was THE BIG ONE--head gasket failure at 99,900 miles which destroyed the motor. Luckily for me, Toyota declared the head gasket a factory defect and paid for a new engine and gave me a late model Camry to drive during the 8 weeks it took to make the repairs. When I arrived in the tow truck at the dealers, the shop was littered with trucks and 4Runners with the motors out--getting parts was apparently an issue. I loved that rig, but once married with children it became small. I sold it in 2001 for $7800. Not a bad run. Now that the nest is empty, I may get another one.

    • Gtem Gtem on Feb 22, 2018

      Go for it! A clean low mile 2nd gen is getting harder to find, but it is easier to find with a 5spd than a 3rd gen 5spd (which carry a massive premium). A decent higher mile 2nd gen can be found for $2500-3000, a really nice one might top out near $5-6k. 3rd gens run the gamut from $3k for a mechanically sound higher mile (200k+) early-year 4wd/auto/V6 (no locker) up to $11-12k for a really clean late-year 5spd V6/4wd/locked truck (the true unicorns). Various modifications such as the TRD supercharger, lifts, degree of rust on the underside drive prices a lot as well. For reference I paid $6300 for a mint one owner '96 Limited with rear locker, 99k miles and no winter driving for over a decade (excellent frame and underbody) back in 2013. At present with 146k it'd sell for about $7k here in the Midwest on an enthusiast forum owing to the clean condition, particularly the lack of rust on the frame.

  • Art Vandelay Dodge should bring this back. They could sell it as the classic classic classic model
  • Surferjoe Still have a 2013 RDX, naturally aspirated V6, just can't get behind a 4 banger turbo.Also gloriously absent, ESS, lane departure warnings, etc.
  • ToolGuy Is it a genuine Top Hand? Oh, I forgot, I don't care. 🙂
  • ToolGuy I did truck things with my truck this past week, twenty-odd miles from home (farther than usual). Recall that the interior bed space of my (modified) truck is 98" x 74". On the ride home yesterday the bed carried a 20 foot extension ladder (10 feet long, flagged 14 inches past the rear bumper), two other ladders, a smallish air compressor, a largish shop vac, three large bins, some materials, some scrap, and a slew of tool cases/bags. It was pretty full, is what I'm saying.The range of the Cybertruck would have been just fine. Nothing I carried had any substantial weight to it, in truck terms. The frunk would have been extremely useful (lock the tool cases there, out of the way of the Bed Stuff, away from prying eyes and grasping fingers -- you say I can charge my cordless tools there? bonus). Stainless steel plus no paint is a plus.Apparently the Cybertruck bed will be 78" long (but over 96" with the tailgate folded down) and 60-65" wide. And then Tesla promises "100 cubic feet of exterior, lockable storage — including the under-bed, frunk and sail pillars." Underbed storage requires the bed to be clear of other stuff, but bottom line everything would have fit, especially when we consider the second row of seats (tools and some materials out of the weather).Some days I was hauling mostly air on one leg of the trip. There were several store runs involved, some for 8-foot stock. One day I bummed a ride in a Roush Mustang. Three separate times other drivers tried to run into my truck (stainless steel panels, yes please). The fuel savings would be large enough for me to notice and to care.TL;DR: This truck would work for me, as a truck. Sample size = 1.
  • Ed That has to be a joke.