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2018 Toyota 4Runner vs. 2018 Nissan Pathfinder: Which Is Better?

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author photo by Chris O'Neill October 2018
  • The Pathfinder and the 4Runner used to be competitors, but are not anymore.

  • The 4Runner is a body-on-frame, old-school, off-road-ready truck-based SUV.

  • The Pathfinder is a car-based family vehicle with limited off-road capability.

Two of the longest running nameplates in the SUV world are the Nissan Pathfinder and the Toyota 4Runner. The 2018 Toyota 4Runner is one of the most old-school vehicles on the market and offers old-school truck-like SUV charm. The Pathfinder used to offer similar ruggedness, but was turned into a family-hauling car-based crossover as part of a 2013 redesign. Still, buyers might be considering either of these SUVs in their search for a new vehicle, so below we'll compare the two to highlight the differences between a car-based and truck-based SUV.

Basic Specs

The Pathfinder and the 4Runner are both offered with one standard engine.

The Pathfinder comes fitted with a 3.5-liter V6, making 284 horsepower and 259 lb-ft of torque, paired with a continuously variable transmission. Given its car-based roots, the Pathfinder is based on a front-wheel drive architecture, but all trim levels are available with all-wheel drive. The Pathfinder earns 19 miles per gallon in city driving, 26 mpg on the highway and 22 mpg overall with AWD, while FWD models gain an extra mpg in each category.

The 4Runner is offered with a 4.0-liter V6, making 270 horsepower and 278 lb-ft of torque and paired with an old-school five-speed automatic transmission. Most 4Runners you'll see on dealer lots will be fitted with four-wheel drive, but it's worth noting that two-wheel drive models are available. As the 4Runner is based on a pickup truck platform, the rear wheels drive the vehicle any time four-wheel drive isn't engaged. With four-wheel drive, the 4Runner earns 17 mpg city/20 mpg hwy/18 mpg overall.

The car-like Pathfinder has a towing capacity of 6,000 pounds, meaning that it can actually tow more than the trucky 4Runner, which has a towing capacity of 5,000 pounds. All trim levels of the Pathfinder come with room for seven passengers, while 4Runner SR5 and Limited models can be fitted with an optional third row seat, allowing for seven passengers as well.

The Pathfinder is 198.5 inches long, 77.2 inches wide and 69.6 inches tall, and it has 7 inches of ground clearance. In the front passenger area, the Pathfinder offers 42.2 inches of headroom and 42.3 inches of legroom, while second row Pathfinder occupants get 39.4 inches of headroom and 41.7 inches of legroom. In the third row, the Pathfinder has 37.8 inches of headroom and 30.7 inches of legroom.

The 4Runner is a little smaller, at 191.3 inches long, 75.8 inches wide and 71.5 inches tall. It does offer 9 inches of ground clearance though -- two inches more than the Pathfinder. Front seat 4Runner passengers are offered 39.3 inches of headroom and 41.7 inches of legroom. In the second row, the 4Runner has 38.6 inches of headroom and a relatively cramped 32.9 inches of legroom. As in the Pathfinder, things are pretty tight in the back of any 4Runner fitted with a third row, with 34.3 inches of headroom and 29.3 inches of legroom.

In terms of cargo space, the Pathfinder offers 16 cu ft. behind the third row, 48 cu ft. with the second row folded and 80 cu ft. with both the second and third rows folded. A 4Runner with a third row in place offers only 9 cu ft. of cargo space. Without a third row, the 4Runner offers 47 cu ft. behind the second row and with the second row folded, the 4Runner offers a rather cavernous 90 cu ft.

Infotainment

Neither the 2018 Toyota 4Runner nor the Nissan Pathfinder offer great infotainment systems. The Pathfinder offers a standard 8-in touchscreen, while the 4Runner offers a standard 6.1-in screen. Both the Pathfinder and the 4Runner force the driver to rely on their manufacturer's lackluster home-grown infotainment systems, as neither offers Android Auto or Apple CarPlay.

The Pathfinder offers more ports and outlets than the 4Runner, with three 12-volt outlets and seven USB ports. The 4Runner offers five 12-volt outlets and only one USB port, but it also offers an available three-prong AC power inverter in the cargo area.

Features

The Pathfinder offers an available dual-panel sunroof, top-down view 360-degree camera, Bose-branded premium audio system, a power tailgate that can be opened by waving your foot under the vehicle's bumper, heated front and rear seats, ventilated front seats and a heated steering wheel.

The 4Runner offers basically none of this, save for heated front seats. It does offer a unique power retractable rear window, which makes up for its lack of a power rear lift gate.

While the 4Runner lacks creature comforts common in the crossover SUV segment, it offers tons in the way of off-road features, with certain trim levels offering a real manual level for shifting the transfer case into 4WD low range, an available locking rear differential, Toyota's unique crawl control and multi-terrain select modes, controlled via knobs on the overhead console, along with what's called Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System, a feature unique to Toyota products that can sense when the vehicle is traversing over uneven terrain and disconnect the front and rear sway bars to allow for greater wheel articulation.

When it comes down to it, the Pathfinder offers features on par with a minivan, while the 4Runner is more geared toward off-road adventure, and certain trim levels offer some of the best off-road technology in the industry.

Safety

While the Pathfinder performs very well in crash testing conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the 4Runner performs just ok, indicative of its aging design.

In terms of driver-assistance safety features, the Pathfinder offers standard forward-collision warning and front automated emergency braking, while adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and rear parking sensors are optional. The only major driver-assistance features that the Pathfinder doesn't offer are lane-departure warning and lane-keep assist.

Outside of optional front and rear parking sensors, the 4Runner offers zero active safety features, which is borderline unheard of in the safety-conscious automotive industry of today.

Reliability

Nissan and Toyota products are generally regarded as having above-average reliability. Both the 4Runner and Pathfinder offer 3-year/36,000-mile basic and 5-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranties, on par with the rest of the industry. That said, 4Runner buyers should see much slower depreciation than Pathfinder buyers, given the 4Runner's mechanical simplicity and unique appeal.

Autotrader's Advice

While they used to be direct competitors, the modern Pathfinder and the 4Runner are drastically different vehicles today, as the Pathfinder abandoned its truck-based roots with its 2013 redesign. Buyers interested in the Pathfinder but willing to consider a Toyota product should take a look at the Highlander, which is arguably a better vehicle than the Pathfinder, despite it too being due for a full redesign. Prospective Pathfinder buyers will also want to look at the Honda Pilot and Mazda CX-9. Still, the Pathfinder is known for being a good value and is a safe and sensible midsize crossover offering amenities, respectable fuel economy, and room for the whole family.

The 4Runner, on the other hand, has carved out a niche for itself as a fun, old-school off-roader, and offers available features that make it one of the best vehicles in the industry for playing in the dirt. Its truck-like roots make it appealing to anybody looking for a rough and tumble vehicle to support an active lifestyle, while its available third-row seating makes it acceptable for families as well -- although the Pathfinder is a far superior vehicle in that regard. For anyone aspiring to go off-road though, there are few vehicles out there like the 4Runner.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2018 Toyota 4Runner vs. 2018 Nissan Pathfinder: Which Is Better? - Autotrader