I love you, Toyota. I really, really do. I love the Tacoma. I love the Supra, in all of its iterations. And I especially love the 4Runner. But I don’t love the new Trail Edition Package. It shouldn’t be called Trail, it should be called Campsite. I get why you did it, Toyota, I really do. Trail has so much more behind its name, though. It could— and should— be something entirely different, and I know how to outfit the 4Runner to do so. Why? How? Well, I’ll tell you.

First of all, what is the 2021 4Runner Trail Edition? In short, a style and convenience package. Nothing more. No, it’s not akin to the original 4Runner Trail. That trim was available on the 4th gen in 2009 and then on the 5th gen from 2010-2016 before it was renamed TRD Off-Road. Opting for a 2021 Trail Edition gets the buyer the following additions: black badging, black seats with tan stitching, all-weather floor mats, the TRD Off Road’s wheels painted dark gray, a Yakima roof basket, and a 40-quart Toyota-branded cooler. Toyota calls the 2021 4Runner Trail a Special Edition. But aside from the bespoke cooler and limited production run of 4000 units, there really isn’t much that’s special about it.

Why does the 4Runner Trail Edition exist? Put simply: minimal requirements to maximize sales. By appealing to the ever-expanding camping and overlanding crowds, Toyota is capitalizing on its potential buyers by offering a “hobby-ready” trim. It was likely very easy for Toyota to assemble its components into a package. Very little extra marketing will be required to sell it. And doing so expands on the already-large 4Runner lineup which is already selling well. I get it: it makes total business sense. But it just doesn’t do it for me.

Here’s my first problem with the 2021 Trail Edition: it will likely replace the 2020 Venture Edition which is more of the same and carries an MSRP of $44,385. The Trail Edition is expected to have a similar MSRP. At that number you’re paying even more than you would for a TRD Off-Road Premium but, given its cloth seats, you don’t get many of the niceties. That price is fairly high for what’s basically an accessory-laden TRD Off Road.

There’s also this line, straight from Toyota.com: “And down low, dark gray TRD Off-Road wheels give you the traction to trudge through tough terrain.” Since when do wheels provide traction? And since when does painting already-existing wheels a darker color constitute a functional improvement?

Worse, though, is that you don’t get any true hardware to justify the price jump.

In case it’s not clear, I’m still not sold on what Toyota is calling the Trail Edition. Or, rather, why Toyota is calling it the Trail Edition.

This leads to my second, and major, problem with the T-4R in question.

The problem isn’t so much with the vehicle itself as it is with the fact that nothing on the Trail Edition actually makes it a better trail vehicle over the vehicle on which it’s based. Sure, the cooler and roof rack might make it better at serving as home base on a camping or overlanding trip. But zero of the added features contribute to the truck’s functionality towards what true off-roaders think of when they imagine adding items that improve a vehicle’s off-road trail-worthiness.

In an ideal lineup, the Trail moniker should indicate a vehicle with added, well, trail merits. TRD Pro does and always should be the ultimate 4WD 4Runner in kit and price. It has off-road chops but luxury, too. This allows the Trail Edition to stand as a more hardcore and extreme niche vehicle. The Trail Edition should be the budget off-roader. It should put aside luxury for capability. Whether on the rocks, in the mud, at speed in the desert, and so on, it should be the maximization of the 4Runner’s off-road capabilities. Basically anywhere you travel off-pavement, the Trail Edition should boast improvements over the other 4Runners. Which, the 2021 Trail Edition doesn’t.

Here’s a quick (pipe-dream) formula for how the 4Runner Trail could really succeed:

  • Base it on the SR5 model. Utilize the most basic, lightest, least expensive platform possible. (And, of course, offer a Trail Premium with luxury items like leather, heated seats, adaptive cruise control, sunroof, etc.)
  • Add locking front and rear differentials as well as a true 50/50 front-rear split transfer case. Maximizing traction in 4WD Low is key for wheeling ability. Better yet, offer an ultra-low-range transfer case.
  • Standard rock sliders are a must. No need for extreme kick-out sliders, just something metal and strong to guard the rocker panels when traversing rocks.
  • Metal gas tank and transfer case skid plates to protect the 4R’s notorious lowest and most vulnerable points.
  • 1-2” lift by way of springs or just added suspension height
  • No roof rack standard so as to minimize weight up top and thus keep the COG low. Offer the TRD Off Road’s roof rails as an option so that buyers can add their own rack/basket.
  • 17” wheels with the simplest design possible, and/or a factory beadlock
  • Semi-aggressive tires in the vein of BFG’s KO2 or the Falken Wildpeak A/T3W. The 4Runner TRD Off Road’s weakest point off-road is its factory tires. While the Trail Edition wouldn’t need a full-on mud tire like the Wrangler Rubicon offers, it does need something that can clean out better (i.e., disperse mud and/or snow) and that would provide better traction on rocks.
  • Winch-ready front bumper with high fender cuts like those on the Colorado ZR2
  • Optional slide-out cargo tray w/tie down points for coolers, recovery gear, etc.
  • Pre-loaded trail maps in the navigation system with downloadable maps as needed
  • Optional recovery gear and first-aid kits

I realize that this is all much more extreme than the actual Trail Edition offers. It would require a massive amount of R&D to make happen. But with no real competitor in the serious off-road segment, Jeep is running away with the sales lead by way of its Wrangler Rubicon. And while there is the 4Runner TRD Pro, the problem is that it doesn’t really offer much more over a TRD Off Road other than suspension upgrades. And, for 2020, a nearly useless roof rack.

In its base form the Trail Edition should/would only have the off-road hardware needed to make it as trail-capable as possible. Think base level, option-less Rubicon. Cloth seats, standard safety features, not much more. As for the price? Slot it in right around the TRD Off Road Premium’s starting MSRP of ~$42,500 and keep it at $47,500 for one with every option. This still keeps the TRD Pro as the most expensive. But it offers a strong value proposition by providing real hardware instead of just accessories.

There’s still time for this to happen: the 5th generation 4Runner is selling strong and has at least one more model year before the 6th generation replaces it. But for now we have to deal with the 2021 Trail Edition. 2022 will likely bring another iteration of a similar package. Hopefully, Toyota will be honest with themselves and with consumers and will call it something different. At least, don’t call it Trail Edition. Call this the Camping Edition, or Overlanding Edition, or something like that. But not Trail. That’s just a stretch. Or an unintentional misnomer. Or, more realistically, just desperate marketing. Either way, Toyota can do better. And they have.

But this? Please, Toyota, try harder. Give us the Trail Edition we deserve, one that gives the Rubicon a run for its money. If we have to wait for it in the upcoming 6th generation 4Runner, that’s fine but please don’t try to convince us that a few accessories make a true trail package.

The off-road world knows better.