COLLINGWOOD, Ontario—If you hadn’t heard, the Toyota Tacoma was all-new last year. For this generational update, its sheet-metal was massaged; it incorporated a new version of its existing 3.5-litre V6 engine; and it upgraded a number of its electronic and convenience features.
But, in many respects, it didn’t change that much at all. In fact this small pickup, iconic among the off-roading crowd, would do irreparable damage to its reputation if it changed too much. Toyota had to add the new, and keep the old—that can be tough.
Looking at its sales since its debut last fall, though, shows the automaker struck the right balance between old-faithful and new-tech-needs. Now comes the TRD Pro version of the Tacoma. This package is perhaps even more revered than the truck itself, enough so that during this first drive, I’m treating it as if I’m driving an all-new truck.
Over the years I’ve found you’d have a hard time telling a regular Tacoma from one of these off-road bruisers, other than for their aggressive tires and TRD Pro badges. Most of the hardware that defines a Pro is under and inside the truck. In that sense, the current one is no different.
Built off the 2017 Tacoma 4WD setup, it features the five-person double cab and a five-foot cargo bed standard. But then regular chassis components are replaced with a TRD Remote Reservoir Suspension Kit; TRD-tuned front coil springs with Fox Racing Shocks, which add a one-inch lift and progressive-rate rear leaf springs; a TRD Pro quarter-inch thick aluminum skid plate; P265/70R16 Goodyear Wrangler All-Terrain Kevlar-reinforced tires; and TRD-tuned stainless steel exhaust.
But while that sleeper look has been a TRD Pro norm in the past, this year Toyota decided to offer it with a few new styling cues that pull from its past, as well as some all-new accents that will make this off-roader a little more recognizable, and just a little more brash.
For 2017 the Pro can be ordered in three striking colours: Super White, Barcelona Metallic Red, and Cement Grey. Exclusive wheels are 16-inch black alloys, while a hood scoop comes with a matte-black decal.
Up front a heritage-inspired “TOYOTA” logo is embossed in the grille. And Rigid Industries has added LED fog lights, colour-keyed mirrors, door handles, a rear bumper, and black-bezel headlamps and tail lamps.
The Tacoma TRD Pro’s style is reflected inside the Tacoma cab with black TRD Pro leather seats, a TRD shift knob, and TRD carpet floor mats. These cues are built into the standard Tacoma interiors.
The TRD Pro is powered the same engine as the regular Tacoma. It’s a fuel-efficient 3.5-litre V6 Atkinson cycle engine that makes up to 278 horsepower and up to 265 lb-ft of torque. Buyers have a choice between a six-speed automatic transmission and a six-speed manual gearbox.
The 4WD system features on-demand 4×4 with a two-speed transfer case and automatic limited-slip differential with Active Traction Control. This is the standard setup. Add the TRD Pro package and traction options increase with the addition of a locking rear differential, Hill Start Assist, Crawl Control, and Multi-Terrain Select.
A feature Toyota added last year is also found in all TRD Pro models: a windshield mount for a GoPro camera. While I can see the point of wanting to record some adventures, may I suggest you don’t post anything to YouTube the authorities might find troubling?
Also, the Tacoma has added an enhanced 4.2-inch colour multi-information display with an inclinometer, tilt gauge, and steering wheel-mounted audio and Bluetooth controls. Another safety feature is a Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert system.
The somewhat softer suspension of the Pro makes for a good ride on pavement, though the expected body lean really doesn’t materialize. So while I wouldn’t race autocross with it, my point is that as a daily driver it won’t beat you up just because its suspension is geared for off-road.
This brings us to the dirt of the matter: boy, is this truck fun once you get it off the asphalt. Handling and response is light and quick, while the frame is planted and solid. It takes the rough terrain hits well and climbs like a billy goat.
The short front and rear overhangs certainly help with the clearance over obstacles, and what it doesn’t clear slides off the skid plate. Power is more than adequate, and using the low-range transfer case multiplies the available torque, letting the truck climb ridiculous grades at even crawl speeds.
The all-terrain Wranglers are well-suited for off-road grip yet are actually quiet on-road—a nice balance. I was driving the automatic-transmission-equipped Tacoma and found the gearing and shifts worked well even with the drivetrain under heavy load. Mind you, for the purists it’s nice that Toyota still offers a six-speed manual—almost no one does anymore.
The 2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro pickup is now on sale across Canada. MSRP starts at $50,000 for the manual transmission; and $53,295 for the automatic-transmission-equipped truck.
The TRD Pro was first conceived of and tested in the California desert—specifically, it was designed to compete in the Baja 1000. To this day, it is still identified as a desert racer. And while I certainly appreciate this history, I’d like to add that it works in Ontario mud just as well.
So, even if you’ve never seen a cactus, rest assured that a good off-road truck design born in the desert is still good wherever your patch of rugged terrain happens to be. Kudos to Toyota Racing Development.
Disclosure—This writer’s travel and accommodations were provided by the automaker for the purposes of this first-drive review.