The makings of a good off-road variant need to start with a solid platform, and the Toyota Tacoma is an ideal place to begin.
Engine: 3.5L V6
Power: 278 HP, 265 lb-ft of torque
Transmission: Six-speed auto or manual
Fuel Economy (MPG): 18 city, 23 hwy (est.)
CAN Fuel Economy (L/100 km): 13.2 city, 10.7 hwy (est.)
US Price: Starts at $41,700
CAN Price: Starts at $50,000
By virtue of its tight dimensions, reputation for reliability and already tall ride height, the Tacoma has become known as one of, if not the best, off-road pickup truck on the market.
For 2017, Toyota is looking to cement that reputation with the TRD Pro package, bringing along a host of changes that prepare this small truck for one particular duty: high-speed off-roading. It was in the wilds of Hawaii that Toyota decided to show off the truck’s capability, an ideal setting for putting this little off-roader to work.
TRD Pro itself is not new, with the first trio of these high-speed desert runners, the Tundra, 4Runner and Tacoma TRD Pro, rolling out in 2015. Of the three, it was clear that the Tacoma was only half-baked, after all, Toyota already knew it had a fresh truck coming, so it didn’t make sense to invest into a product already heading out the door. That’s certainly not the case for the 2017 model, which has quickly leap frogged its brethren as this author’s favorite of the three TRD Pro models.
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The cosmetic changes are apparent right away, though not overly significant. There are the heritage-inspired grille and some new badges all around. New LED off-road lights from Rigid Industries have also been added up front and while in the daytime they aren’t very noticeable, the ability to light up the trails at night is a welcome benefit. A new hood scoop also adds to the truck’s badass looks, though it encroaches on visibility a little bit.
Inside, the changes stay minimal with the addition of TRD Pro-branded floor mats, shift knob and seats. New for the 2017 model are leather seats, a welcome change for those who actually get their trucks muddy, as leather is easier to wipe up than cloth.
The cosmetic changes signal that this truck is special, but it’s actually everything that’s going on under the truck that makes it worth noticing. An aluminum skid plate is added to protect the vehicle’s vitals (with a new trick trap door to make oil changes easier), a new set of TRD-tuned coilovers have been added to the front, while the rear still uses leaf springs combined with a new set of 2.5-inch, aluminum-bodied FOX shocks all around.
Thanks to the new front springs, the truck is lifted by one inch, while the approach angle increases to a pretty substantial 36-degrees. The breakover angle also improves to 26 degrees.
The powertrain remains the same, as it does for all TRD Pro models, save for a cat-back exhaust that allows the engine to breathe a littler easier and gives the 3.5-liter a louder bark. Power is rated at 278 horsepower and 265 pound-feet of torque, which can be sent through either a six-speed automatic or a six-speed manual.
Yes, you read that right, Toyota still allows you to row your own gears, and, in a truck that is this geared toward having fun, we’re grateful for it. Plus, it’s actually a great manual with short throws and nice notches, a far cry from the pickups of old with gear throws the length of yard sticks.
Along with the powertrain, the truck’s payload rating also remains the same, capable of transporting 1,420 pounds of payload. Tow capacity does suffer slightly, shrinking down to 6,400 pounds from 6,700 pounds.
On the Pavement
Before we talk about the Tacoma TRD Pro’s forte — hitting the mud — it’s important to discuss what it sacrifices in terms of on-road performance. And the answer is, uncharacteristically, not a lot.
Cushy off-road shocks generally lead to massive body roll, understeer and a general feeling of unease when pitching the vehicle through a tight corner with any sort of speed. Toyota has managed to achieve what every automaker is aiming for: good balance.
The TRD Pro certainly leans more than its standard counterparts through corners, but it is controlled so well that there are no uneasy feelings that come along with on-road driving. Front-to-back capitulation is also well controlled, a testament to the FOX shocks and their progressive nature.
Those shocks provide seven compression zones in the rear with each one progressively offering more damping, which is part of the TRD Pro’s bag of tricks to make it handle the way it does. There are also thicker stabilizer bars added to help control that body roll and to increase cornering confidence.
Off-Road Like a Pro
Leaving the road, the suspension becomes most apparent and the Tacoma TRD Pro truly comes to life. As we approached the first few obstacles, I winced in anticipation of a hard hit to the truck. But it never came. This happened again and again for first few minutes until it became absolutely comical. I would wince, the big hit would never come, and then the smile would spread across my face from ear to ear. The Tacoma TRD Pro just swallows bumps, rocks, dips, and dives, leaving the occupants feeling isolated from the rough terrain outside, exactly what a high-speed off-road truck should do.
On a short high-speed dirt track, the TRD Pro demonstrated just how much fun it can be once the traction control is switched off, as the Tacoma has a very intrusive system when left to its own devices. Sliding sideways around every corner, the TRD Pro felt compact and controllable, another virtue of its size. Sliding sideways into a large rut that began to form on the inside of one of the corners would have thrown any standard truck way of course, but the Pro was once again able to slip and side its way through the corner and stay on target.
While its high-speed performance is excellent, low-speed crawling is also in the TRD Pro’s wheelhouse, made easier by the added clearance and the truck’s internal systems, the most noteworthy of which is Crawl Control. It’s a “set it and forget it” system that allows the driver to set a defined slow speed and then forget about the throttle and brakes. The truck will take care of both those aspects, allowing the driver to focus on wheel placement.
And before you try to convince yourself that you’re a master off-roader who doesn’t need such help, keep in mind that Crawl Control can individually brake each wheel, which means that not only is it smarter than you, but the system can simply do things that the driver cannot.
Nothing has been done about the Tacoma’s awkward seating position with the TRD Pro, which is too low to the floor, but that is really where my complaints begin and end with this truck. And in the case of the Pro, it’s enough to be annoying, but it wouldn’t influence my decision to buy one, as the fun factor totally outweighs any small discomfort.
If you’re looking to get into a TRD Pro, the cost of entry in the U.S. is $41,700, which will get you a TRD Pro with a six-speed manual. Bumping up to the automatic transmission brings the price to $43,700. There are no options available on the TRD Pro.
North of the border in Canada, the Tacoma TRD Pro will sell for $50,000 with the manual and $53,295 with the auto, making it an expensive proposition, although it is safe to say that no other midsize truck on the market can match the Pro’s off-road chops.
The Verdict: 2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro Review
The most important part of this truck, despite what I’ve been saying, isn’t the suspension, or the powertrain, or even its rugged good looks. It’s the smile that I can’t strip from my face even thinking about running the TRD Pro over rough terrain. This little truck easily offers some of the most fun you can have with four wheels and a bed.
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