These days, fuel efficiency is in style. Recent weeks have been dominated by news of Nissan's electric Leaf, Chevrolet's hybrid Volt, and the growing popularity of four-cylinder engines. But smaller engines aren't always better – just ask Toyota – its four-cylinder 4Runner will be discontinued after only one model year.
Despite the recent fuel economy craze, the four-cylinder 4Runner's cancellation isn't as surprising as it first appears. One reason is that the four-cylinder 4Runner wasn't really that efficient. Regardless of engine choice, the 4Runner tips the scales at well over 4,400 pounds – meaning it takes a lot of energy to get going. So even though the four-cylinder lost 113 horsepower compared to the 4Runner's V6, its fuel economy improved by just one mile per gallon.
To make matters worse, the not-so-efficient engine was barely up to the task of pulling the SUV, which gained more than 400 pounds in its 2010 redesign. Already pushing two tons, a well-optioned 4Runner now runs only a few hundred pounds lighter than Chevrolet's full-size Tahoe – which comes standard with a V8. Yet the 4Runner's 2.7-liter four-cylinder produces just 157 horsepower – less than the engine in Honda's tiny CR-V, one of the smallest SUVs on the market. Even the 4Runner's larger engine, a muscular 270-horsepower V6, can sometimes hesitate on steep grades and away from lights.
So the not-so-efficient four-cylinder was also not very spry, which is what likely contributed to its lack of popularity – it counted for less than ten percent of all 2010 4Runner orders. That shouldn't come as a surprise to Toyota, who offered a four-cylinder 4Runner from its 1984 debut until 2001, when the automaker dropped the engine due to poor sales.
Despite so many factors against it, Toyota still tried to resurrect the four-cylinder 4Runner. Many cars formerly using six-cylinder engines, such as the Hyundai Sonata and Buick Regal, have bucked their larger powerplants for smaller, more efficient four-cylinders. Ford has recently announced a four-cylinder on its new Explorer, one of the 4Runner's most direct competitors. But try as they might, Toyota couldn't make up for the four-cylinder's faults – and now buyers have one less choice to make when buying a new 4Runner.