The Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro is the truck a boy buys to transition into a man. It’s a masculine, free-wheelin’ son of a gun with a prominent grille, beefy stance, and the ability to explore most of this Earth without breaking a sweat. Upgraded for 2016, the new Tacoma offers some serious off-road credibility for explorers of the world.
Compared to the outgoing model (which I thought looked pretty bold) the new Tacoma comes with a decidedly chiseled and macho exterior that yells “I’M KICKASS, MAN!” The Tacoma is a truck you respect for its authoritative stance. The kicked-out fenders feature a prominent bodyline running from front to rear, and even the embossed ‘Tundra’ logo on the back seems to emphasize the businesslike nature of this beast. Our TRD Off-Road Double Cab pushed the envelope even further, with model-separating black overfenders covering 16-inch wheels and off-road specific Goodyear Wrangler tires.
Finding a patch of seemingly-insurmountable rocks in our Northern New Jersey test ground, we had the opportunity to try out Toyota’s Crawl Control, which electronically modulates the throttle and brakes and allows you to concentrate on steering.
The five-crawl control speed settings made easy, effortless work of the rocks. However, doing it yourself is a bit more fun without the computer assistance. And the lack of a skid plate is a little hairy, considering the underbody met a few piercing boulders that could have potentially cut the day well short.
With the bonus of newly-formed, high-strength steel used in the construction of the Tacoma, the 3.5-liter V6 has a lighter load to move around. The 278-hp and 265 lb.-ft of torque motor seems to have plenty of passing power once you hit the upper rev range, but being a truck, we would have liked to see a bit more low-end torque.
With all of the available torque found at 4,600rpm, we found it to be somewhat high for a truck, especially when trying to quickly pass and crawling around the woods. The motor almost seems like it would be a better fit inside a Toyota sports car than a truck. Also, shorter gearing on the optional 6-speed automatic transmission could have helped the acceleration a bit.
The off-road specific Bilstein shocks worked their magic when continuously used on the trail, and often seemed to get into a rhythm when pushed hard. The dampening off-road is exceptional and never did we bottom out or feel we needed more suspension travel. Whoever tuned the suspension to match the Tacoma’s ability should be given a hearty pat on the back. We’ve tested “off-road” machines with an asking price three times as much yet they never felt as confident as the Tacoma in a variety of situations.
On the flip side, we found those Tacoma bucket seats terribly uncomfortable. Your chiropractor is going to absolutely love seeing you; you may even become best friends. Cushioning seems non-existent and getting the correct seating position was almost impossible. It’s going to vary person to person, but it’s one thing that could be improved.
Aside from the go-kart-like seat support, the interior is modern and refined for a sub-$40k pickup truck. The Tacoma comes standard with push button start, a slick GoPro mount for recording your adventures, and even wireless charging if your electronic equipment is compatible. An integrated backup camera as standard even helps to see while navigating trails. We would love it if optional cameras were affixed to the front of the truck, such as how Range Rover does it. Granted, that’s an $80k-plus truck.
Growing up isn’t the easiest thing to do, but the Toyota Tacoma has managed to mature as well as bulk up; progress without diluting the purity of the pickup. The beauty of a truck—especially one with off-road chops—has made us come to realize that there is so much more out there to explore. Having almost-unlimited access to nature and whatever’s in-between makes the experience of owning a truck more than just transportation. The Tacoma makes all of that possible, giving you a better-than-expected experience with the performance of decades of truck-testing.