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4Runner vs Land Cruiser sales
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Toyota selling the new 4Runner and Land Cruiser together might be shooting itself in the foot

History loves to repeat itself. Watching A New Hope and then seeing The Force Awakens decades later? Spanish Flu became H1N1 then COVID, and who knows what’s next? Fans of World War I? Wait ’til you learn about the sequel. In the late 2000s to early 2010s, there was the venerable Toyota 4Runner and a throwback-retro off-roader that shared DNA selling alongside one another. And today, it’s the same story on repeat. Toyota just launched the all-new 2025 Toyota 4Runner to accompany the downsized, downmarket Toyota Land Cruiser.

Fun! We get two off-roady family haulers that just so happen to be based on the same platform, share the same engines, occupy nearly the same niches, and will probably be priced within a stone’s throw of one another… Wait a minute.

Oh shit. That’s not good, is it?

Now there are two of them?

We live in an age where the crossoverfication of a brand’s model lineup is now common practice. Ford banks almost entirely on trucks and SUVs, while the Mustang stands as the last pony in its car lineup. BMW, Mercedes, and Audi are locked in a wee-wee measuring contest to see who can pump out the most turtle-shaped SUVs. And Toyota, while still leaning heavily into its car lineup, has been doubling down on filling every possible crossover and SUV niche with curiosities like the Venza, Corolla Cross, or Grand Highlander.

Toyota 4Runner
Image credit: Toyota

Now, it has two mid-size off-roadsters in its ranks, the recently launched 2024 Land Cruiser and the brand-new 2025 4Runner. Both run on the same Toyota New Global Architecture or TNGA platform (TNGA-F to be specific) that also underpins the mechanically similar Tacoma. Both feature four-wheel drive and run the Tacoma’s 2.4-liter i-Force MAX turbo-four hybrid powertrain. Both are being touted for their ruggedness, dependability, off-road prowess, and strong heritage. Sound familiar here? It sounds like the old 4Runner-FJ Cruiser story. And last I checked, only one of them is still standing.

Toyota Land Cruiser
Image credit: Toyota

How 4Runner sibling story last played out

The last-gen Toyota 4Runner launched in 2010, while the generation before that persisted from 2003 to 2009. Both generations rocked the mighty 4.0-liter “1GR” V6. The FJ stuck around from 2007 to 2014, although Toyota continued to manufacture and sell it in some Asian and South American markets until 2022. Like the outgoing 4Runner, the FJ is often criticized for archaic driving dynamics, which ironically also garnered praise from those who found it endearing and authentic to trucks of old. Paired with its hot retro styling, the FJ quickly became a modern classic, as used FJ prices have likely proven, even before the pandemic price booms. So why did it go away in the first place?

Well, in case we forgot, a certain economic crisis from around that time frame didn’t do so well for car buying. Gas guzzlers were out of style! How the hell were we supposed to drool over the latest and greatest Jeep fighter when some people couldn’t even guarantee they could keep their homes? It was rough on everyone, and its aftershock was felt for years to come.

As a result, new FJ sales never quite reached Toyota’s expectations, likely due to buyers swaying to the more practical 4Runner, which didn’t have its fun but silly suicide doors or atrocious blind spots. Not everyone could get on board with the dedicated off-roader, but they may just hop aboard its sibling with more space, conventional doors, better visibility, and more luxurious trim levels. They did what they had to after seven years of parading the FJ around and pulled it from the U.S. market.

What does the duo look like now?

They boast 6,000-pound towing ratings. Neat. They both feature the base i-Force MAX hybrid engines pumping out the same 326 horsepower and 465 pound-feet, although the 4Runner will get a base i-Force powertrain pushing 278 ponies and 317 pound-feet. Alrighty then. Both rock double wishbones in the front and a multilink setup in the rear with disconnecting sway bars. Badass! Except, well, if you make them this damn similar, they’re bound to cannibalize each other’s sales. Or are they?

In the words of a little birdie in the car industry who gave me his two cents, there are two key sentences he told me: “Pricing is critical,” and “This is why product planners can be fucking stupid sometimes.”

Most people will gun for the presumably more affordable 4Runner, which would logically start anywhere between $40,000 and $45,000 and likely ship with the base non-hybrid i-Force engine. In theory, it can do everything the Land Cruiser can do and then some, especially once you step up to the TRD Pro and Trailhunter, which will feature a hot widebody wrapping over 33-inch all-terrains not offered on the Land Cruiser. But where does that leave the Land Cruiser, which now occupies nearly the same niche at a higher price (starts at $55,950) and doesn’t currently offer any such trim level?

“What they’re [Toyota] trying to do is cutting their cake into smaller slices,” says my anonymous industry insider. “The 4Runner buyer will be younger. Less affluent. More hardcore. The Land Cruiser buyer is someone who probably occasionally goes off-road but only to the campsite or the Grand Canyon, if that. Or they’re probably the buyer who likes the styling but doesn’t want to make that leap to the Lexus GX Overtrail.”

Of course, as he had mentioned, pricing is key to negate any overlap the two siblings will clearly have, as it will dictate who’s really buying them. “Realistically, we’re probably not going to see too many of the TRD Pros and Trailhunters for how much they’re going to cost. There is going to be some overlap, and I don’t know who a 4Runner Platinum is even for.”

In its own bid to stand apart, the Land Cruiser is seemingly leaving its old ultra-hardcore off-road image to the 4Runner. The rock crawlers, the mud boggers, and the Baja prerunners can have their fill, even without the fancy trims as it can be presumed they’ll be as easily modifiable as the last gen. The Land Cruiser appears to take a more relaxed approach in a similar vein to the far pricier Land Rover Defender, meaning it may ride plusher, be more friendly on the street with its more street-oriented tires, and be more refined with its more upscale interior. The Land Cruiser is also i-Force MAX only and features a full-time four-wheel-drive system not offered on the 4Runner, which uses a more traditional and rugged four-wheel drive with manual selection for rear-wheel, four-wheel, Hi, and Lo. The Land Cruiser has a more expansive greenhouse, whereas the 4Runner appears to be the same hunkered-down machine gun nest the old one was but now with the new Tacoma’s mug.

Interesting that they’re playing the practical card yet not offering the Land Cruiser with a third-row seat while the new 4Runner can be specced with one and the new Lexus GX has it standard. Weird.

Even so, you can still tell Toyota is trying for an SUV that may not cost much more than a mid-grade 4Runner. As my source says, it’ll be for the casual hikers, campers, or overlanders who don’t need something as riotous as a 4Runner Trailhunter and greatly appreciate the old-school boxy styling that old Land Cruisers were famous for and is making a comeback in modern SUVs. Also being a Land Cruiser, it’s not like its old-timey styling is a compromise on practicality. There are normal doors and big, expansive windows FJ owners could only dream of.

How the Land Cruiser and 4Runner will get along

Will the inevitable price and performance delta be enough to separate the two? I love both of them, and I wish for the success of both of them. There’s still plenty of overlap but also plenty of room for separation to let each truck shine on its own merits, and then the next question is, will buyers see that? Perhaps base model to base model, yes. But I’m skeptical as buyers start hiking up their respective trim levels. Those who don’t want a super hardcore 4Runner can just buy a lower trim level, sure. At the same time, the ambitious few who are especially into off-roading but may not need the likes of the TRD Pro or Trailhunter will buy one anyway because Americans love excess capability in case the universe catches us with our pants down on a leap year with all the stars aligned to create a situation where we might need it.

In the end, once the two meet on showroom floors, Land Cruiser will have its clear buyers. It will be remembered as a lovable, exemplary vehicle as the FJ once was, true to its heritage but with the added usability that not only makes it a great off-roader but a damn good car, as journos are just now finding out. But so will the 4Runner for similar, if not less, money thanks to its zealous, younger, and more adventurous fanbase. But what do I know? After all, the Land Cruiser banks on a far more prestigious heritage than a Venza and will be more refined and usable than any FJ before it. I could be proven totally wrong, and it and the Tacoma-with-a-bed-cap 4Runner will learn to live in harmony.

Anyway, I’ll take a base Land Cruiser with the round headlights, please. Thank you.

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King of the Hammers
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Finding glory in the chaos at King of the Hammers

Twice over the past 10 days, I ventured out into the desert north of Los Angeles to once again visit King of the Hammers, the off-road rage fest that descends on Johnson Valley OHV Area every February. Now in its 17th year, KoH leans more closely to Burning Man with a healthy dose of Mad Max fever dream thrown in, and growing attendance this year topped out at an estimated six-figure count.

I received invitations from Optima Batteries to check out the Optima Oasis, an unexpected installation of solar and hydrogen-powered electric vehicle chargers built out to encourage EV acceptance among the marauding four-wheeler crowd. And Ford promised a few experiences that I knew I simply couldn’t pass up.

King of the Hammers
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

But the racing also caught my eye more than ever this year, after I spent the first weeks of last year in Saudi Arabia covering the Dakar Rally and then this past November pre-running much of the Baja 1000 racecourse. King of the Hammers presents a different challenge in every class, from the high-speed trophy trucks to race-prepped side-by-sides, King of the Motos, homebuilt “Every Man Challenge” entrants, and of course, the million-dollar-plus specialty builds known as Ultra4 cars.

But I should be right at home, right? After all, I did drive the course with Ford’s arch nemesis

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Day 1 at KoH

This year, newsworthy Southern California weather forecasts predicted heavy rain, and even some snow, for Johnson Valley over the KoH dates. So, for my first day in the desert, I packed accordingly, cramming all my recovery gear into an Audi Q8 e-Tron that I planned to drive out and charge up at the Optima Oasis. In went the Yankum rope, a pair of soft shackles, six different Maxtrax recover boards that I figured I might be able to test on heavy, mid-size, and lightweight off-road vehicles alike, and, of course, my automatic tire deflators and compressor bag for airing down and back up.

King of the Hammers
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

I’ll have a more detailed story about Audi’s performance driving 135 miles out to Johnson Valley coming soon here on Acceleramota, but to cut out a bit of nail-biting drama, high winds and thousands of vertical feet of elevation climb left me hypermiling behind semi trucks to save range for much of the drive. So when I pulled into the dirt, I made a bee-line straight to a Level 2 charger and plugged the Audi in for the rest of the day.

The Audi wouldn’t have fit in particularly well among the group of Ford Raptor enthusiasts that I then joined for a quick trail run to catch some more remote viewing spots of the trophy trucks racing. I climbed into a friend’s suspension-swapped Ford F-150, with the Coyote V8 instead of the factory Raptor’s twin-turbo V6. Surrounded by Broncos from the 1970s to the modern era, more brand-spanking-new Raptors and Raptor Rs, plus even an early production Ranger Raptor that Ford reps brought along for some fun, we jetted out into the vast expanse of Johnson Valley.

The modded F-150 ran well, keeping up pace even though the leaders never pushed particularly hard. But the Bronco Raptors and F-150 Raptor Rs on their 37-inch tires clearly rode more smoothly over some of the rougher portions. Catching sight of the classics barrelling through sagebrush and mud pits put a smile on everyone’s faces. After a couple of stops to watch young racer and social media personality, Christopher Polvoorde, blast by in a Mason Motorsports-built “Raptor” trophy truck at an entirely different level of speed, leading twice but in second place occasionally, too, we turned back to Hammertown to catch the finish line.

King of the Hammers
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle
King of the Hammers
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

On the way, the F-150 caught sections of whoops a bit too aggressively, and soon enough, warning lights blared and steam started blistering out of the hood. Turns out the coolant line to the heater core had sheared right off, I figure because the Raptor might get different engine mounts that can handle a more hardcore beating. We fiddled for a bit but decided to get back to home base to scrounge up parts and more antifreeze rather than risk overheating again while crawling back.

And that’s how I ended up catching a ride with Tanner Foust on the way back to watch Polvoorde take first place in his first year driving his own Mason trophy truck. At the finish line, I chatted up the 23-year-old, who I met last year at the Pikes Peak International Hillclimb (and who I beat in a karting race while there, for those keeping score—whenever you beat a pro at anything, it’s always best practice to bring it up at every single opportunity). To my surprise, Polvoorde looked fresh after a hard few hours of racing. Had recent rainstorms smoothed out the course, as I’d experienced in Baja a few months ago? Not so much, apparently.

King of the Hammers
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

“King of the Hammers definitely threw a challenge at us this year, I mean, way different than Baja,” Polvoorde said. “The course was chewed up, I can tell you it was blowing my mind how rough it got. Even the first lap when we went out, I was like, ‘Holy cow, there’s some big holes.’ And then by the second time we came through, I was like, ‘Okay, let’s calm her down, slow her down.’”

“At Baja, we get a lot more variety,” he remembered. “Here just kind of beats you up for two, three hours and then spits you out… I used that to my advantage, I knew we weren’t getting the best time splits, and then I knew right here at the end it was pretty sandy. So with the four-wheel-drive, I was like, ‘Yeah, we’re just gonna pull up and put enough time on ‘em.’”

After a bit more celebrations that certainly involved zero beverages, we borrowed a hose clamp from Polvoorde’s team truck and headed back out to try and fix the F-150 before the sun went down. Playing mechanic’s helper, I struggled to pull off a stubborn clip—which, of course, popped right off easily in someone else’s hands—then we topped up the coolant, tightened down the borrowed hose clamp, and fired up that Coyote. Just a few drops of pink poured out of the jury-rigged connection at idle, so we slow-cruised back to the Optima Oasis, thinking that was a better bet than leaving a truck unattended all night in the desert. Next, I checked on the Audi, and after averaging 12 miles of range added per hour of charging, felt confident enough to blast home in the dark.

Returning to the desert

Four days later, and this time piloting a 2023 Ford Bronco Raptor, I blasted back out to Johnson Valley and arrived well after 11 PM. The next morning, feeling refreshed as a newborn baby (read: screaming, angry, and starving), I got to experience something much closer to Polvoorde’s job in the trophy truck. That Bronco Raptor simply rips, the perfect vehicle for exploring KoH, able to keep up with side-by-sides thanks to long-travel Fox dampers and all those 418 horsepowers—only with air conditioning, heated seats, and Apple CarPlay for keeping the OnX Offroad app pulled up on the big screen.

King of the Hammers
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

Once again, I brought my Maxtrax and recovery gear, just in case the weather prophets actually turned out correct for once. Guess again, since a bright blue sky and dry breeze graced the entirety of Johnson Valley, as usual. I spent some more time playing around with a Rivian and checking out the Optima Oasis charging setup, then went out to enjoy the Braptor at top speed. Jumping, roaring, sliding sideways, and repeatedly redlining up a sandy hillclimb, I may have pushed a little too hard—not that the Braptor minded, only because the Maxtrax mount popped off at some point.

Pulling a 180, I retraced my steps using OnX and—miracle of miracles—actually found one of the boards sitting at the center of a little brush clearing surrounded by 96,000 acres of godforsaken dirt. The other, it would seem, is lost to the elements (or, more likely, somebody spotted it and took home a souvenir). 

With dry sand and no precipitation looking likely, I never needed to test a recovery board in a truly dire situation, but a helpful Toyota Corolla Cross owner offered to let me try out the new Maxtrax Lite by using the board to dig a little hole, then dipping a tire in until it spun. Sure enough, the lighter plastic held up just fine, and the little hybrid just walked right up and out of the makeshift hole.

A ride in the real deal

On the very opposite end of the spectrum from a Toyota commuter car stuck in some sand. I next ventured out with Ford to catch a ride in a full-blown factory Bronco DR racecar. Baja legend Curt Leduc played wheelman for about 20 minutes of all gas and almost no brakes other than to avoid a few dirt bikers and those damned wayward side-by-sides. 

King of the Hammers
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

Once warmed up, the DR’s Multimatic suspension gobbles up terrain without disrupting chassis balance almost at all. I always find race suspension a little firm, and in this case, that impression arose again at first, but eventually, we settled into a rhythm, and with the unrestricted Coyote V8 absolutely barking, massive tires freewheeling in the air aplenty, Leduc showed me just how different a real racer is compared to a stock Bronco Raptor or suspension-swapped F-150. 

I even got an early ride in that Ranger Raptor on the way out and back to meet Leduc. Lighter, with a longer wheelbase supporting a less radical suspension and tire combo than the Bronco Raptor, the Ranger served perfectly as my glorified desert chauffeur. And Ford’s rep told me the truck actually rolled off the production line, so we can expect real media reviews sometime in the next couple of months… For now, this top-spec Ranger finally arriving in the US later this year might just take over my top slot of potential new trucks to actually buy.

Just kidding, I’ll never own a new car, but if I ever do, this might be the one.

Absolute chaos at Chocolate Thunder

Now’s as good a time as any to reveal that no matter how much everyone shit-talks side-by-sides, including me, there’s no doubt that nothing on the market can match these purpose-built carts in terms of sheer off-road pace for the money. I wanted to catch another chance to borrow a Can-Am Maverick R or a Polaris Rzr Pro R to test a bit out at KoH, too. But communication once again proved impossible, as seemingly everyone at Johnson Valley arrived with Starlink this year and completely overwhelmed any hope of wi-fi reception through satellites.

As night fell at KoH, I certainly appreciated my Braptor’s enclosed cabin and climate control system. Temps started to drop quickly and the party began to crank up. From Hammertown, everybody kept turning to check out the bright lights and bumping music emanating from the epic obstacle known as Chocolate Thunder. I fueled up on tacos and White Claws, changed into full cold-weather gear, including a face mask, and grimly faced the prospect of my first overnight at King of the Hammers. Time to get the full alt-right Coachella experience.

Drunk teenagers probably named the Hammers back in the day—there’s an easily distinguished theme to Backdoor, Chocolate Thunder, and Her Problem—but now the crowd at KoH varies from teens to full-grown adults addled by days of chugging beers (not Bud Light, I assure you) and the dehydration of spending all day watching desert racing.

But I quickly discovered that nothing compares to the nightlife.

King of the Hammers
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

At Chocolate Thunder for about four hours, as amateurs drove their insane rock-crawling rigs through a screaming mass of people, I witnessed one fistfight, two cars roll over, and one car driving fully over another. Beverages flowed, the occasional smell of skunk overwhelming the gasoline-powered campfires dotting the hill, and music echoing from various speaker setups varied from early-2000s hip hop to modern pop-country. Handheld fireworks launching amid the scrum lit up the entire valley, when the light pods and bars on every truck didn’t quite reveal every last nook and cranny. Flat tires, dirt bikers being pushed up the hill, and stuck trucks danced on by groups of 10 and 20 revelers—somehow, I saw nobody get flattened. 

The gnarliest moment came when an entire box of fireworks exploded on the ground, spectators diving to the sides to avoid any carnage. Meanwhile, the amateurs showed their amateur status, struggling to climb up Chocolate Thunder as the engine screamed and tires squealed, scrabbling on the rocks, spraying up sand and gravel. No wonder racers at King of the Hammers talk about pre-running being little more than shakedowns for the vehicles rather than sighting lines. The whole desert changes every night in the chaos!

I mentioned to Polvoorde how rowdy KoH gets at night and how many more people stayed out at Hammertown than I remembered from years past. 

“It’s pretty crazy,” he agreed. “Every year, it’s like how much bigger can it get? The lakebed is just filling up more and more, and then you see things like what Optima’s doing, building the Oasis where we have just this massive camp outside of Hammertown. It always blows my mind. But once you come here and experience it, it’s one of those things where you’re like I have to keep coming back ‘cus there’s something different every single day, and it kind of never disappoints.”

A rubberband cart takes on the Ultra4 racers

As if to unwittingly prove my point about side-by-sides, this year, I purposefully decided to make my schedule line up so that I could catch the Ultra4 cars running the rock race in the 4400 class. I caught the start line, then jetted up toward Backdoor in the Braptor just in time to watch the frontrunners pull through, jumping off six-foot shelves easier than I step off the stoop of my apartment. But right up there with the likes of Casey Currie, Loren Healey, and the Gomez Brothers sat Kyle Chaney, a Can-Am driver in a Maverick X3 riding on 37-inch tires.

Apparently, the 4400 class rules changed this year to make 37s the absolute minimum tire size, mostly to prevent budget side-by-sides from running against the world’s most extreme seven-figure off-roading vehicles. Because how embarrassing would it be if some guy in a Can-Am won the top race at King of the Hammers while dealing with both top-speed desert trails and obstacles like torn-up Chocolate Thunder alike?

Yep, you guessed it. Kyle Chaney did just that—or at least, we thought he did since he crossed the finish line first after starting well off the front. But then, on adjusted time, Raul Gomez actually took home the top spot and nudged Chaney down to second. Not bad for a side-by-side, though, and not even one of Can-Am’s top-of-the-line Maverick Rs since that innovative finger-knuckle design limits max tire sizing.

I actually watched Chaney go up Chocolate Thunder, a wild choice of lines always standing out compared to his competition. The morning after, some spectators clearly in recovery, the cheers for every truck ripping through sounded just as strong—to my ringing ears and searing eyeballs anyway. Three full days at King of the Hammers will do that, turns out, and some people stick around for 10 days or more!

King of the Hammers
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

The insane night culture that I caught for the first time this year will never fade from memory, even if I caught very little on camera. Maybe that’s for the best, though, in the vein of plausible deniability. Every year, I wonder whether I’ll take the time to do King of the Hammers again next year. This time around, the answer looks more solidly in the yes column than ever before.

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