TOP GUN TACO
TESTED TO ITS LIMITS
We are living in good times off-road brethren. It used to be we would have to buy a run-of-themill 4WD and spend many hours and dollars replacing most of the hardware with more offroad focused metal. However, as the off-roading lifestyle continues to grow, manufacturers are standing up and taking notice, giving us some pretty impressive off-road focused special editions of their trucks and SUVs, despite having to adhere to fuel efficiency and crash regulations. The latest and greatest of these off-road super heroes is the 2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro.
Until the 4Runner TRD Pro comes online, the Taco TRD Pro is Toyota’s off-road halo vehicle. It offers some truly awe-inspiring tech and mechanical features to aid its ability to traverse terrain. As such, the TRD Pro comes equipped with a TRD exhaust, Fox 2.5 internal bypass shocks with TRD tuned springs, front skid plate, 16" black wheels, Rigid Industries fog lamps, black bezel head and tail lights, Hood scoop with matte black decal, heritage “Toyota” front grille, TRD shift knob, and “TRD Pro” badged floor mats, front doors, tail gate and seats. The 278 hp 3.5L V-6 is left untouched, although the TRD exhaust does give it a pleasant deep rumble.
That’s a good mixture of real world mechanical performance upgrades and eye-pleasing cosmetic enhancements, although it comes at a price. There is no easy way to put this, but to add the TRD Pro package onto a Tacoma; it is going to cost a whopping $12,850. When it’s all said and done, you’re looking at
$55,183.47 before you pay the taxman.
The question is, do you get what you pay for, and is this a worthy off-roader the wheeling extremist will want to consider?
Full disclosure, I have been a lifelong fan of not just the Toyota Tacoma, but TRD as well. I’ve owned Toyota trucks in the past and several of my racecars have had “TRD” written on the majority of the parts that made them go much faster. So when the perfect storm of Tacoma and TRD Pro finally came along, I’m not going to lie, I had very high expectations.
In my personal opinion, I think the TRD Pro looks the business. Other than a hood line that is way too high, this is a mean looking truck that at least talks the talk. Sitting behind the wheel, I’m quite confident in saying it has the most attractive interior design, even if the HVAC readouts hide under the centre screen. As with most Toyotas, the comfort level of the seats is high, both front and somewhat in the rear. However, some will not enjoy the seating position of the Tacoma. Tacomas have very low bodies, and therefore you sit low to the floor with your feet stretched out horizontal rather than at a downward angle. Some don’t like this and it does make getting in a bit of a knee-knocking affair. Personally, I do enjoy the sportscar-like seating position that helps communicate with the driver.
When I got the Taco on the road, the first thing I noticed was how well the FOX internal bypass shocks soak up all the road imperfections. I was literally putting wheels into potholes
just to see how well the suspension performed with high-speed impacts, and it was sublime. That being said, you really notice that the TRD Pro has taller tires and softer suspension when accelerating and braking. Toyota has a reputation for having very sensitive throttle and brake controls, and these have not been adapted to the softer suspension, making for a little more movement in the cab. However, I was surprised just how neutrally balanced the truck was to drive, both on tarmac and on snow, with only hints of understeer should traction limits be reached, and nice slow linear transfers into oversteer should a skilled wheelman wish to take control of a given situation. The TRD Pro was quickly finding a warm spot in my heart, at least as a daily driver.
But we are an off-road magazine, and this is an off-road focused 4WD, so let’s get to what you really want to know about the TRD Pro, does it perform in the wilderness? With the aid of taller tires and the fancy FOX shocks, ground clearance is increased to 239 mm (9.4") with angles increased to 35° approach angle, 24° departure angle and a 26° breakover, which is about the best clearance angles you’re going to find on any modern pickup. So it looks good on paper, but does that equate to the trail?
Well, not all was perfect with the TRD Pro. On top of the sticker price shock, my time in the TRD Pro off-road was not quite the rekindling relationship experience with an off-road focused Toyota as I hoped it would be. Toyota has quite clearly failed to include a couple of off-road essentials on a modern 4WD targeted for the trail less travelled. The most obvious is the lack of rocker panel rock sliders, manual transfer case shifter and a forward facing camera to aid vision when rock crawling over challenging terrain. With Ford, Nissan and Land Rover providing at least a forward facing camera (if not 360-degree viewing), there really is no excuse why Toyota failed to provide such a useful tool.
Now we come to a rather important issue. When we had the TRD Pro, it had
been snowing for upwards of a month here in British Columbia; there was no dirt or rock to be found anywhere. So our off-road testing would be relegated to local mountain trails that had a couple feet of fresh powder sitting on top of another couple feet of nastiness. While we were never going to be able to test the TRD Pros articulation and rock crawling capabilities, its drivetrain, traction and off-road systems were going to be put through the ringer.
With ice tires fitted and pressures dropped only slightly to the high 20’s, the snow was the Taco’s friend for the majority of the trail, even when we hit some challenging obstacles that twisted up the articulation. That was until we came up on a deep snowdrift on a particularly challenging uphill run with a very uneven surface underneath. With Toyota’s Crawl Control on, the Taco sank into the snow up to its axles in only a metre of forward travel. Turn the traction control off and leave it in 4High, and I made it a little further, until I was pushing snow with the front bumper.
However, this is where the electronics failed me. I could not lock the rear locker in 4High and had to be in 4Low to use it. So then I was either going too slow, or the automatic transmission would shift just when things were getting tough, bogging down momentum. Sometimes you just need to use all the speed and revs you can get, so I shifted the Taco manually into second and took several runs at the deep snow. The combination of tire spin, speed and a locker were slowly getting me further and further to the top of the hill with every run. Finally, I powered through the deep stuff and up onto the plateau where traction was easy once again. However, the challenging combination of a steep hill and deep snow had taken its toll.
The dash lit up with several warning lights as the transfer case, brakes and ABS system were all overheating and needed a long break to cool down and reset. Just as I made it to the top, the whole truck just shut itself off. Despite turning off the electronics, they were still working away in the background, grabbing brakes and
putting strain on the transfer case to do all it could to get me forward up the trail. While annoying for a seasoned wheeler, the silver lining of these systems is that they will stop the vehicle before you do any real mechanical damage, which would really leave you in a tough spot.
So, who is going to want this vehicle? While I found the Tacoma TRD Pro’s Achilles Heel going uphill in deep snow, this is still a truck for all but 20% of the hardest-core off-road enthusiasts out there. I still need to get this truck in the dirt and mud to confirm it, but I can tell it will dominate in conditions other than winter environments. However, if you are someone that thinks 35" tires are small, and that four-wheeling means that coming home with new wrinkles in the bodywork is a sign of a successful outing, save the $12,000 on the TRD Pro and put that into more aggressive aftermarket hardware for a regular Taco.
However, for the other 80% it will do just fine. The Tacoma TRD Pro is an Overlander's dream, just toss an expedition rack and roof top tent on the back and you’re ready to do a cross continent adventure right off the lot. Weekend warriors, I would suggest upgrading the tires to more aggressive All-Terrains or even good Mud Terrains to better complement the off-road electronic systems and maybe help save the rockers with some armour. For the amateur newbie, you’re set. Just toss a daypack, tent and sleeping bag in the back and go find your own little piece of wilderness, and you don’t have to void the warranty to do it.
For myself, although I loved the Tacoma TRD Pro, it has too many gimmicks, too many little finicky operations that take the control and skill of off-roading a pickup out of the drivers hands. I don’t want to have a conversation with the computer when we have different opinions on how to tackle a certain type of obstacle. In the end, the Tacoma TRD Pro pretty much blows every other mid-size pickup out of the water, especially when it comes to off-road performance. That is until we see just how good GM’s new Colorado ZR2 will be in the very near future.
Might make a good comparison… don’t you think?
Front approach and breakover angles are greatly increased with the TRD Pro.
As we were in the middle of winter, our tester was running on Bridgestone Blizzaks rather than the standard Goodyear Wrangler AT’s.
The TRD Pro comes with one of the nicest looking skid plates available, and it gets the job done as well.
The TRD-tuned FOX 2.5 internal bypass shocks proved sublime both on- and off-road.
The electronic aids are vast and even complicated on the TRD Pro, almost overkill.
We found the Tacoma TRD Pro’s Achilles Heel, deep snow on an uphill slope.