In any old pickup truck, racing on rock-strewn desert trails at high speed would have the rear end dancing around uncontrollably and the driver trying desperately to keep on track. To avoid this, you need modifications, and Toyota has been involved in making purpose-built off-road suspension systems for over two decades. Now, the company is using all that knowledge gleaned through years of desert racing and implementing it into the new 2015 TRD Pro Series.
TUNDRA FAST FACTS
|Engine: 5.7-liter V8 with 381 hp and 401 lb-ft of torque.
Transmission: Six-speed auto.
TRD Pro Upgrades: Bilstein Shocks, Eibach Springs, 1/4-inch aluminum skid plate,TRD Exhaust.
The package can be had on the Tundra half-ton, 4Runner SUV and the Tacoma mid-size pickup for the 2015 model year, taking these three vehicles from pavement pounders to rock runners.
TRD off-road packages with better suspension aren’t new. In the past, Toyota offered the Tacoma T|X Baja along with the TRD 4×4 Tundra, but none of those enhancements ever revamped these vehicles as completely as the TRD Pro package.
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TRD packages of the past wore little more than a sticker on the rear quarter panel to set them apart, but that isn’t the case here. All three vehicles receive a revised black grille with “TOYOTA” written straight across the center. Black badges and wheels are also included on all three vehicles, which can be ordered in black, white or a burnt orange Toyota calls “inferno.” They look especially aggressive in any shade and if you go with the Tundra, “TRD Pro” is stamped directly into the rear quarter panel sheet metal.
The interiors also get package-specific appointments that differ slightly model-per-model. The Tundra takes it the furthest, offering TRD Floor Mats, unique cloth seats with red stitching, a TRD Shift Knob and TRD Pro badges on the center console and on the instrument panel. It makes the truck feel like something special and the new seats take some of the punishment out of driving hard on rough trails.
The insides of the 4Runner also get the special seats, TRD floor mats and shift knobs, but miss out on the TRD quarter-panel stampings found on the Tundra.
The Tacoma is the least dressed up, offering only TRD floor mats and a shift knob. As it’s the oldest vehicle in the group, the Tacoma still has a plastic ridden cabin that is not pleasing to touch or see, and the small TRD Pro upgrades do little to make this small Toyota truck feel like anything beyond stock.
Same Engines, New Sound
On paper, the TRD Pro-equipped pickup trucks offer the same output, but they’re actually slightly more powerful because they get a cat-back exhaust. Toyota isn’t advertising the minor power bump because the trucks haven’t gone through separate SAE testing, but says the difference will be somewhere around eight horsepower.
As you may know, the Tundra has a 5.7-liter V8 that makes – wink, wink, nudge, nudge – 381 hp and 401 lb-ft of torque. Similarly, the 4Runner and Tacoma keep their 4.0-liter V6 powertrains. In the 4Runner, it makes 270 hp and 278 lb-ft of torque while the Tacoma offers 236 hp and 266 official lb-ft. The 4Runner is the only one of the three that doesn’t get the cat-back setup.
Aside from enhancing performance, the TRD-tuned exhaust also makes the Tundra’s V8 sound amazing. It emits a throaty growl that manages to avoid being annoyingly loud. In the Tacoma however, the modified exhaust gives way to an unpleasant note. The low-end isn’t emphasized quite as much as mid-range revs, which I found to be annoying rather than invigorating.
TACOMA FAST FACTS
|Engine: 4.0-liter V6 with 236 hp and 266 lb-ft of torque.
Transmission: Five-speed automatic or six-speed manual.
TRD Pro Enhancements: Bilstein Shocks, Eibach Springs, TRD Exhaust.
Tackle the Trails
What didn’t get annoying were the rocky, rutted trails we had to chance to run over. That’s because this is much more than a wheel-and-tire package. All iterations come with 2.5-inch Bilstien front shocks. The Tundra gets 2.5-inch shocks with remote reservoirs in the rear while the Tacoma gets two-inch versions, as does the 4Runner. The Tundra and 4Runner also get a front skid plate.
The real standout here is the Tundra. It’s known to be a stiff-riding truck in stock form, which can make driving on rough trails anything from unpleasant to unnerving. That’s what makes this transformation all the more impressive. Like the other two, the half-ton receives Bilstein shocks with remote reservoirs and TRD-tuned springs, but there is an additional two inches of wheel travel in the front rather than one inch found on the Tacoma and 4Runner.
It takes to punishing trails with pleasure, eating up rocks and asking for more uneven ground to tackle with enthusiasm. Of course, the power from the 5.7-liter is helpful and the 4.30:1 rear end offers fantastic torque. The two-inch lift really seemed to make a difference because I never managed to test the skid plate by bottoming the truck out. Not only was it smoother than the other two TRD Pro vehicles, the Tundra provides the most comfort, the best sight lines and the best seat position.
Unfortunately, the TRD Pro Tacoma doesn’t feel nearly as enhanced. Although it is fitted with a Bilstein shock setup, it feels rougher off road than you would hope for such a purpose-built package.
Some of that can be attributed to the fact that this is the lightest vehicle of the three to get the treatment, which will inherently make it feel stiffer. Still, the suspension setup doesn’t eat up bumps like the Tundra or even the 4Runner.
Awkward gas pedal positioning carries over from the stock Tacoma and sort of sours the experience. The pedal feels flat and makes you come at it with an awkward bend of your ankle, which is something the relatively low seating position aggravates. But it isn’t all bad.
The two extra inches of ground clearance certainly don’t hurt and there are two features unique to the Tacoma in the TRD Pro family: bead-lock style wheels (though not actually bead-lock capable) and an optional manual transmission option. But all-in-all, the Tacoma is the weakest package of the three, from a style and substance stand point.
4RUNNER FAST FACTS
|Engine: 4.0-liter V6 with 270 hp and 278 lb-ft of torque.
Transmission: Five-speed automatic.
TRD Pro Enhancements: Bilstein Shocks, Eibach Springs, 1/4-inch aluminum skid plate.
Moving on, the 4Runner takes things further than the Tacoma, and has the best steering of the three, although it isn’t actually any different than the stock version. In this application, the Bilsteins along with the TRD-tuned springs really do absorb bumps, though the extra inch of ground clearance seems sort of blasé. But the steering calibration is what stood out most to me, as the 4Runner has the most direct feel.
Fuel economy during an off-road excursion is obviously a write-off, but on average, the Tundra is supposed to return 15 MPG in stock form with the 5.7 and four-wheel drive. The 4Runner with permanent four-wheel drive is rated to get the 18 and the Tacoma with a 4.0-liter V6 and 4×4 comes with the same rating. Expect the average fuel economy to be worse with any TRD Pro package.
Is The Tundra a Raptor Slayer?
When it comes to competition, a comparison must be drawn between the new TRD Pro Tundra and the Ford F-150 Raptor, which is currently regarded as the definitive off-road truck to buy. When it comes to running the desert, the Raptor definitely still defends its crown.
With 11.2 inches of suspension travel in the front and 12.1 in the rear, it allows you to run at even higher speeds while absorbing the rough ground. Then again, such pliant parts come with compromise. The Raptor can be a real handful on pavement, and the TRD Pro Tundra comes off feeling a little bit more civilized for everyday driving as a result.
Pricing has not been announced by Toyota yet for any TRD Pro vehicles. If the Japanese brand does want to take the fight to the Raptor with the TRD Pro Tundra, it should land around the $45,000 mark. Toyota will sell the trucks decked out from the factory, but you can also buy all of the TRD specialty parts a-la-carte to retrofit your rig.
Finally, Toyota is offering an off-road package that enthusiasts and customers can be proud of. With tough looks and a redone interior, all three of these TRD Pro vehicles set themselves apart from standard Toyota products.
And the bottom line is, they are all a ton of fun out there in the sand, dirt, rocks and sunshine.