Jim Bray's Car & Tech rants - publishing online exclusively since 1995
Toyota Tacoma (click the picture to open a slideshow)

Toyota's Tacoma TRD an exceptional off-roader

By Jim Bray
June 11, 2020

It may be a tad long in the tooth for this generation, but Toyota's Tacoma pickup truck is legendary for its durability on and off the road. And if you want to make it even nicer, one of the TRD packages may be right up your alley.

The Tacoma has a history that stretches back to the famous old Hilux (and maybe even farther!), a compact pickup truck that was so durable the folks at the BBC's Top Gear even had it ride down to earth on an imploding building's roof to try killing it, after having put it through numerous other torture tests that it survived. Indeed, while the truck was a wreck cosmetically, it still started and, were its body and frame not ready for receiving the last rites, it probably would have driven!

That doesn't mean you should deliberately try to off your Tacoma, but it should indicate that your hard-earned after-tax income would be spent well on such a beast, if such a beast is what you're looking for.

Click on the image to open a slideshow.

Toyota says the Tacoma has been the best-selling mid-size truck for the past 14 years and for 2020 features some freshened styling, more multimedia stuff, and more comfort and convenience features. The truck, besides in this this 4x4 Double Cab TRD configuration, is also available in some 30 other versions, so good luck figuring out all the differences!

There are off road versions, small cab versions, more luxurious versions, and you can even opt for a six-speed manual on one version.

Toyota Canada sent the 2020 Tacoma with the TRD Off Road Premium package, which adds three grand to the sticker price but which also gives you a whole bunch of goodies:

  • Dual Zone Automatic Climate Control,
  • Power Adjustable Heated Exterior Mirrors,
  • Smart Key w/Push Button Start,
  • a nice powered moonroof,
  • Engine Immobilizer,
  • eight-inch Touch Screen (and it looks fine with polarized sunglasses),
  • Wireless Charging,
  • Leather Wrapped Shift Knob,
  • Six speakers,
  • Safety Connect ‐ Automatic Collision Notification, Stolen Vehicle Locator, Emergency Assistance Button, Enhanced Roadside Assistance (1-year subscription), Anti‐Theft Alarm System,
  • Service Connect (10-year subscription),
  • Blind Spot Monitor System,
  • Remote Connect (1-year subscription),
  • Leather Seats,
  • Key Fob Remote Start,
  • Map Updates ‐ 3 Years (maximum of 3 updates),
  • Destination Assist Connect (1-year subscription),
  • Multi Terrain View Monitor,
  • Electrochromic Rear-View Mirror,
  • Fog Lamps,
  • Mesh Front Grille,
  • Black Fender Flares,
  • Power Sliding Rear Window

Sure, none of this stuff is going to make the Tacoma a more robust off roader – despite the Toyota Racing Design moniker of the trim package – but it does make it a nicer truck with which to live. And it isn't as if the "regular" Tacoma is a slouch. Far from it. Like its SUV brother the 4Runner, the Tacoma would undoubtedly drive you up the side of a mountain if such a feat were needed. Indeed, Toyota's sample Tacoma 4x4 Double Cab is such a great truck that were I a truck guy I just might sign on the dotted line.

Besides, there are other TRD packages for the Tacoma that do give you even more robust off-road performance. More about them later.

Tacomas compete with such other trucks as the Nissan Frontier, Ford Ranger and Honda Ridgeline, though the Honda is built on a car-like platform as opposed to the others' body on frame construction.

Some of the changes for 2020 include a new grille design and "new or updated" wheel, which depends on the version you choose. There's also a new, 10-way power adjustable driver's seat with power lumbar support (for SR5 versions and higher). The new multimedia system now brings you Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, which can be handy, there's also a new LED bed lamp available so you can find your stuff in the campground after the sun has set.

Tacoma TRD Sport models get 17-inch wheels, passenger smart key entry, chrome taillamp inserts and new LED fog lamps. It also features Toyota's new Panoramic View Monitor (PVM), which uses the central LCD screen to give you views around the truck.

The Tacoma TRD Off-Road package comes with TRD-tuned Bilstein shocks, locking rear differential, Hill Assist Control (HAC), Multi-Terrain Select and Crawl Control, which is handy stuff if you're serious about going where no man has gone before (other than Star Fleet!).

The four-wheel drive is of the on-demand, part-time persuasion, with an electronically controlled transfer case and locking rear differential. You also get Hill Start Assist Control (HAC), Multi-terrain Select, and Crawl Control.

Tacomas can be had with either four-or six-cylinder engines elsewhere, but Canadians only get the V6, which works for me. It's a lovely 3.5-litre unit that cranks out 278 horsepower and 265 lb.-ft. of torque. The automatic transmission, fortunately, is a good one and doesn't inflict extra gears onto you in the name of fuel economy. The six-speeds work well and there's little of the hunting and pecking you can get with some other, multiply-geared trannies. And thank goodness it's no CVT!

The interior is comfortable, modern and roomy, though even with its low stance inside I had trouble getting in and out because, well, my legs barely reach the ground when standing. Running boards would undoubtedly have helped, but I found it worked well to merely slide my right bum cheek onto the driver's seat and drag myself in that way. Not elegant (and I probably looked like one of those dancing hippos from Fantasia), but it worked. My wife wasn't as happy about entry and exit, however. But she did laugh watching me…

The rear seating compartment is pretty roomy for a small truck, though if it's plenty of elbow room you're seeking you might be served better with a Tundra.

Toyota's "Voodoo Blue" (think Mustang Boss blue) sample tipped the fiscal scale at $43,750 without the TRD option, so add three thousand to that figure – and add various other kilos of flesh – to get the final price of $48,720.

As a non-truck guy, I'd never buy something like a Tacoma, and for 48 grand I can sure rent a lot of them when/if I need one, but if I really were searching for a truck in this niche, I doubt I'd have to look any farther than the Tacoma. With its history, the legendary Toyota quality, and its current range of variations, it's a heckuva small truck.

Copyright 2020 Jim Bray

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