Evaluating a proper off-roader like the TRD Pro on the mean streets of suburbia is one thing, but pavement cruising is to the Toyota’s mission as a fork is to eating yogurt. So we set a course for Michigan’s Silver Lake State Park and its playground of coastal sand dunes. With the tires’ inflation pressure significantly aired down to improve traction and a tall flag bolted to the front tow hook for more visibility, we put the transfer case in four-wheel drive high and fired the Tacoma over the open terrain it was designed to tackle.
The Toyota is by no means as intense or capable as Ford’s F-150 Raptor, a veritable stadium truck with airbags and heated seats. But the TRD Pro’s suspension is claimed to enhance rear-axle articulation and to better absorb large bumps both when crawling and at higher speeds. We found the Fox shocks could handle quick successions of washboard terrain—natural expanses of speed bumps known as whoops—up to nearly highway speeds before smacking their bump stops and causing the chassis to buck fore and aft. The shocks, which feature remote reservoirs at the rear axle for additional fluid capacity and cooling, also soak up landings from mild jumps with aplomb. And the Tacoma can indeed jump.
Climbing the tallest dunes posed no major traction-related hurdles, although we found the throttle must be pinned early in order to tap the V-6’s swell of high-rpm torque and build momentum before hitting really steep sections. The Tacoma’s five-mode Multi-Terrain Select traction-control settings, a range of electronic assists for everything from mud and sand to rock crawling, were unnecessary in the deep sand; instead we favored the freedom afforded by simply deactivating the electric watchdogs altogether. With 9.4 inches of ground clearance, it takes some commitment to scrape the Tacoma’s dirty bits, and we escaped having only once bumped the front skid plate on a particularly ambitious approach. This isn’t shocking given the Tacoma’s 35-degree approach angle, which trails the smaller Jeep Wrangler Unlimited’s absurd 42-degree measurement, although the Toyota sits just 0.6 inch lower and boasts a slightly better breakover angle. Perhaps the TRD Pro’s greatest demerits in the rough are its small, awkward tow hooks buried under the front bumper’s extreme overbite, which make attaching a flag mount or any type of tow strap frustratingly difficult. That’s a serious oversight for a vehicle designed to traverse challenging terrain.
Order tacos, and it’s inevitable that you’ll be asked whether you’d like a soft- or hard-shell tortilla. The same is true for tacos of the four-wheeled variety. Want a soft-shell Toyota Tacoma? Stick with the city-slickin’ Limited and TRD Sport models. But if you want a hard-shell truck formed with chunks of broken glass for added crunch? Look no further than the Tacoma’s burly TRD Pro, which returns to the lineup for 2017 after a one-year hiatus, ready to climb up, jump over, and slog through the worst that this world’s unpaved lands can throw its way.
The TRD Pro is an extension of the Tacoma TRD Off-Road model, a four-wheel-drive, stick-shift version of which we tested last year and deemed exceedingly manly. That assessment had less to do with the truck’s goodness when judged as an everyday vehicle and more irrationally to do with its general brawniness. The TRD Pro takes that four-wheeled, chest-thumping persona to the next level with a comprehensive basket of toughened components: New front springs lift the ride height by 1.0 inch and are abetted by Fox internal-bypass shocks at all four corners, a sport exhaust, TRD-branded wheels, and a front skid plate. Specific design touches, such as a black hood scoop and a chunky grille with bold TOYOTA lettering, make the TRD Pro hard to miss.
The result is one purposeful-looking truck, although the Kevlar-lined Goodyear Wrangler All-Terrain Adventure tires carried over from the lesser TRD Off-Road represent a missed opportunity for even more attitude. Leather upholstery, heated seats, automatic climate control, navigation, a Qi wireless charging pad, blind-spot monitoring, a backup camera, and a proximity key are standard; the TRD Pro comes only in crew-cab form with the shorter of the Tacoma’s two available bed lengths.