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Toyota 4Runner vs. Nissan XTerra: Which Is Better?

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Chris O'Neill September 2018
  • The Toyota 4Runner was introduced in 1984 and is now in its fifth generation.

  • The Nissan XTerra was sold over two generations from 1999 to 2015.

  • Used 4Runners command a premium, while a used Nissan XTerra is a bargain.

For the past few years, the Toyota 4Runner has been the lone off-road-oriented midsize sport utility vehicle on the market. The 4Runner's only main competitor, the Nissan XTerra, was discontinued in 2015 due to Nissan's desire to focus its resources on other vehicle segments. Since then, the 4Runner has gone on to sell more units than it ever has throughout its three decades of sales, and the off-road segment has seen a revival in recent years thanks to its retro appeal and sustained low fuel prices. Now in 2018, not only is there a high demand for brand new 4Runners, but the used 4x4 market is booming as well. Due to this, and due to the similarities between the Toyota 4Runner and comparable Nissan XTerra, we thought a comparison between a used 4Runner and a used XTerra was in order. Below, we've looked at the two vehicles in a number of relevant categories to help prospective buyers decide between the two.

Background

The Nissan XTerra was first introduced for the 1999 model year. The second-generation XTerra was introduced for 2005, updated for 2009 and discontinued after 2015. Throughout its lifespan, the XTerra shared its platform with that of the Nissan Frontier. The XTerra has a few distinct design features, namely a factory roof rack with a built-in air deflector, storage compartment and, on some models, cool off-road lights, rear door handles located on the C-pillar and a protrusion on the rear tailgate that houses a first-aid kit.

The 4Runner first went on sale for the 1984 model year and was an instant hit. Now in its fifth generation, which first went on sale for the 2010 model year, the 4Runner was last updated for 2014. It has remained largely the same in model years since, eschewing modern technology like driver-assistance features in favor of simplicity and reliability.

Both the 4Runner and XTerra are sporty, off-road-oriented SUVs derived from pickup trucks, and they offer tons of utility. Due to the similarities of the model years, we'll focus our comparison primarily on the 2009-2015 XTerra and the 2010-2014 4Runner.

Powertrains

Suffice to say, neither of these vehicles is designed for on-road performance, and this is evident in their powertrains. Both the XTerra and the 4Runner feature a 4.0-liter V6 engine. The XTerra's engine makes 261 horsepower and 281 lb-ft of torque, while the 4Runner's V6 makes 270 hp and 278 lb-ft of torque. Both vehicles were offered with a 5-speed automatic, although only the XTerra was available with a 6-speed manual. Worth noting is that rear-wheel-drive versions of both vehicles were offered, although they are less common than their 4-wheel-drive counterparts. Needless to say, we recommend the 4x4.

Like the differences in power between these two engines, fuel economy differences are nominal. Equipped with 4WD, the 4Runner earns 17 miles per gallon in the city, 21 mpg on the highway and 18 mpg in combined driving. Configured the same way, the XTerra gets 15 mpg city/20 mpg hwy/17 mpg combined. 2-wheel-drive models of both earn back one additional mile per gallon.

The 2009-2015 XTerra is rated to tow more, with a 5,000-lb towing capacity, 300 pounds more than the 2010-2014 4Runner's 4,700-lb rating.

Trim Levels

From 2010 to 2014, the 4Runner was offered in three trim levels: the entry-level SR5, the capable, off-road-oriented Trail Edition and the luxury-oriented Limited. While the Limited model introduces features like leather seats and full-time 4WD, the Trail Edition represents the 4Runner at its best, as it includes features like a locking rear differential, Crawl Control and Terrain Select modes and Toyota's clever Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System, which senses uneven terrain and disconnects the 4Runner's sway bars to allow for added suspension travel, helping to keep the vehicle stable when things get rough. The 4Runner Trail also features a manual transfer case level for shifting the vehicle into 4WD, which many off-roaders prefer over the more mundane button-operated method of the XTerra.

The XTerra offered base and off-road models, but stopped short of offering a luxury trim level. The XTerra did offer a luxury package on the top-of-the-line PRO-4X model, which introduces leather seats and a premium audio system. As a whole though, the PRO-4X model was all about off-road ability, and offered a Bilstein suspension, locking rear differential, underbody skid plates and uber-cool overhead lights integrated into the roof rack. No XTerra offered a sunroof, while the 4Runner came with both a sunroof and a standard roll-down rear window, one of few vehicles offered with this unique and functional feature.

Both the Trail Edition and PRO-4X models allow buyers to get the most out of their 4Runner or XTerra, and therefore command a premium on the used market.

Reliability

Given the reputations of their respective automakers, utility-oriented designs and relative mechanical simplicity, both the XTerra and 4Runner should have above-average reliability. While we're comparing used models here, worth noting is that buyers interested in a 4Runner have the option of buying a brand-new example, which comes with the full balance of a 3-year/36,000-mile basic and 5-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty. As the XTerra is no longer sold brand new, it isn't possible to find one with a warranty.

Aftermarket

As the 4Runner has developed a cult following over the years and outsold the XTerra about 2 to 1 during the XTerra's final years on the market, not as much aftermarket support exists for the XTerra as it does for the 4Runner. This means that buyers looking to modify their vehicle with heavier duty suspension, additional body armor, roof racks, bumpers and the like will likely have more fun doing so with a 4Runner, as there are countless options and third-party suppliers out there that build accessories for Toyota 4x4s. As the market is smaller for the XTerra, there just aren't as many options in the way of customizability.

Value

This is where things get interesting. As Toyota trucks come with this nostalgia-steeped pedigree for being tough and unbreakable, there exists what this author likes to call a "Toyota tax" on the company's 4x4s such as the 4Runner and Tacoma pickup. In a way, these inflated resale values account for the intangibles already mentioned throughout this comparison -- reliability, sustained resale value and aftermarket support, and that very well may and should be worth the extra coin. On the other hand, since it's been discontinued, XTerra values have dropped sharply, giving prospective buyers the opportunity to claim some excellent value. A quick search of Autotrader returns listings for 2009-2015 Xterras selling for as little as $7,000, while a search for comparable 2010-2014 4Runners returns listings that barely dip below $15,000. The same goes for desirable PRO-4X and Trail models. Autotrader listings for 2010-2014 4Runner Trail models, for which there are very few, all hover between the $20,000 to $35,000 mark, for vehicles with between 30,000 and 200,000 miles on the odometer. There are almost eight times as many XTerra PRO-4X models listed, most of which fall between the $10,000 and $30,000 mark with comparable mileage to the 4Runner Trail Editions selling for $5,000 to $10,000 more.

Conclusions

In conclusion, buyers with $20,000 to $35,000 to spend will want to look for a 4Runner, as it offers greater overall refinement, more amenities like an available sunroof, better driving dynamics and more aftermarket support, if modifications are in the buyer's plans. On the other hand, buyers with smaller budgets of say, $10,000 to $20,000, will likely find a lot of value in a used XTerra, as the XTerra has depreciated significantly faster than the 4Runner since XTerra production ended in 2015, making high-mileage used models feel like a relative bargain.

To summarize -- if you can afford a 4Runner, buy a 4Runner, but if you can't afford a 4Runner, be glad that the XTerra exists as a viable alternative, as it presents an excellent off-road value.

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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.
Toyota 4Runner vs. Nissan XTerra: Which Is Better? - Autotrader