At first glance, the Jeep Wrangler and the Toyota 4Runner could not be more different. One is a boxy, utilitarian vehicle that is more often than not seen driving around sans roof and doors, while the other is relatively average looking SUV. But car enthusiasts and adventurers know that these are the two most proven off-road machines on the market. While Jeep and Toyota approached the problem from different directions and their vehicles have different capabilities, drivers seeking to transport people and gear over inhospitable terrain will generally gravitate to one of these two SUVs. But in the battle between the 2020 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited vs 2020 Toyota 4Runner, which of these two iconic vehicles comes out on top? Let’s find out.
When it comes to utility, the Toyota 4Runner takes the lead. Although it is only around 2 inches longer and 2 inches wider than the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, the 4Runner has a more conventional construction that offers significantly more usable interior space. While both vehicles normally seat five, the 4Runner has the option of squeezing in another pair of seats in the back for a total of seven. And while these optional seats are cramped by any standard and eat up almost all of the SUV’s cargo room, being able to fit a couple more people can be a useful option.
Without the extra seats, the 2020 4Runner has 46.3 cu.ft. for baggage, and that can be increased to just shy of 90 cu.ft. by folding the second-row seats. In contrast, the 2020 Wrangler Unlimited offers roughly 32 cu.ft. of baggage space and tops out at just over 72 cu.ft. And when transporting heavy items, the 4Runner can move around 1,600 pounds of payload while the Wrangler is limited to around 1,300 pounds. Finally, the Toyota has a 5,000-pound tow rating against the 3,000-pound rating of the Jeep. So while the four-door Wrangler is fully capable of moving plenty of people and cargo, if utility is the primary concern, then the 4Runner is noticeably superior. However, this utility is about all the 4Runner has going for it in this competition, as we are about to see.
The 2020 Toyota 4Runner has so much more interior volume because it uses conventional independent suspension instead of the solid axles found in the 2020 Jeep Wrangler. An independent suspension takes up far less interior space and provides a more comfortable ride and improved handling at higher speeds. Because of these reasons, almost every passenger vehicle sold today uses independent suspension. But when it comes to off-road driving, the solid axle is still king.
The improved ride and handling of independent suspension is far less valuable at the lower speeds encountered away from improved roads, while the inherent simplicity and ruggedness of solid axles become much more valuable. And for drivers who intend to modify their vehicles, something with solid axles is easier to lift. So while the 2020 Toyota 4Runner may be able to fit more stuff, it might not actually be able to take it everywhere that a 2020 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited can go.
But the Wrangler does not just offer a suspension design better suited to off-road use; it also has a superior drivetrain. While many drivers think that anything with a 4×4 badge will perform the same, this could not be further from the truth. The 4Runner does have a true part-time 4×4 system with a two-speed transfer case. However, this is still the most basic form of four-wheel drive, and in the most difficult situations, it relies on power-sapping traction control to keep all four wheels moving.
The base trims of the 2020 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited come with a similar system. However, Jeep offers an anti-spin rear differential that can keep both rear wheels turning without needing to resort to traction control. And the famed Wrangler Rubicon offers an even better 4×4 system that comes with locking front and rear differentials for the ultimate traction in any situation. When combined with its improved 4:1 low gear ratio, this system is what makes the Wrangler Rubicon the unbeatable off-road machine that it is.
Power and Range
Even more important, the 2020 Wrangler Unlimited has a superior selection of engines and transmissions than the 2020 4Runner. The only powertrain option on the Toyota SUV is an aging 4.0L V6 that produces 270 hp and 278 lb-ft of torque, paired with an equally obsolescent 5-speed automatic transmission. And while this setup is certainly proven, it is far less capable than even the base engine in Jeep’s four-door. This is a 3.6L V6 delivering 285 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. And while that peak torque number is a bit lower, the Jeep has more usable torque thanks to its eTorque system and superior transmission options.
The eTorque system is a mild hybrid technology that employs a small electric motor to boost low-end torque. But unlike a full hybrid, it is driven directly off the crankshaft and does not require lots of complicated batteries and wiring. It also only has a marginal effect on fuel economy. But not only does the Wrangler have more low-end torque, but it can also better stay in its torque band with the three additional gears of its modern eight-speed automatic transmission. And for drivers desiring absolute control over the vehicle’s powertrain, it also has a 6-speed manual option.
But unlike the 2020 Toyota 4Runner, the 2020 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited also has two additional engine options. A modern 2.0L turbo provides 270 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, with the added advantage of maintaining that power even at high altitudes where the thin air will sap power from non-turbocharged engines. And for maximum range and torque, the Wrangler also has a 3.0L diesel V6 that produces 260 hp and 442 lb-ft of torque.
With this diesel, the Jeep gets 25 MPG combined, allowing it to travel nearly 440 miles on a single 17.5-gallon tank. Meanwhile, the thirsty V6 in the 4Runner gets just 17 miles per gallon combined, limiting it to a roughly 390-mile range despite its much larger 23-gallon gas tank. And while the gasoline engines in the Jeep provide it with around the same range as the 4Runner, their much higher fuel economy means that any extra fuel carried goes much further, an important consideration when your adventures take you far from roadside gas stations.
The Champion Emerges
While the 2020 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited does have less space for passengers and cargo than the larger 2020 Toyota 4Runner, that is virtually the only point of comparison where it falls behind. When it comes to the basic principles of what makes a great utility vehicle, the Wrangler comes out far ahead. It comes with a more rugged suspension, more capable four-wheel drive setups, and engine options that are not only more powerful but more efficient to boot.
But while in some cases the Jeep might need to take two trips to carry what the 4Runner could handle in one, the Wrangler can go places and do things that are simply impossible for the Toyota. And this is even before comparing the smaller and more technical details of the two SUVs. By virtually every metric, the 2020 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited is the more capable choice for anyone looking to travel far civilization in search of real adventure.