Although the latest Toyota Tacoma is noticeably different than the first-gen truck, at its core, it’s still built with old-school utility in mind. The Tacoma TRD, in particular, is a popular off-roading choice. However, as we’ve seen, it’s not invincible. Team O’Neil tested the previous-gen Tacoma around its rally school course and found it a worthy base for a rally build. But, as Team O’Neil demonstrated with a Jeep Wrangler, not all off-roaders are made equal. So how would the 2020 Tacoma TRD Off-Road do in the New Hampshire forests?
The Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road’s qualifications
The truck Team O’Neil tested wasn’t the range-topping TRD Pro model. Instead, host Wyatt Knox was behind the wheel of the 2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road. Although the Off-Road doesn’t get all the Pro’s goodies, like the skid plate and Fox shocks, it’s also about $6500 cheaper.
That’s not to say the Tacoma TRD Off-Road is completely unprepared for venturing off-pavement. At least, that’s the case on paper. The Off-Road gets new Bilstein shocks, an electronically locking rear differential, and automatic-equipped models get hill-start assist. It also has 9.4” of ground clearance.
In addition, the Tacoma TRD Off-Road trim adds selectable terrain modes, which change the traction and stability control settings based on what kind of surface the truck’s on. Also, the Off-Road gets Crawl Control, which automatically works the throttle, brakes, and stability control to control the truck’s speed. All the driver has to do is steer and check for obstacles.
While lower-trim Tacomas have a 2.7-liter four-cylinder as standard, the TRD Off-Road’s engine is a 3.5-liter V6, which puts out 278 hp and 265 lb-ft. That’s linked to a 6-speed automatic transmission and four-wheel drive with transfer case.
Team O’Neil’s tests
Unlike with the 2nd-gen truck, Knox didn’t take the Tacoma TRD Off-Road on the rally course. Instead, the truck was driven through an off-road trail close to the rally area. The point here was to evaluate the Tacoma as an off-roader, before slinging it around corners.
The trail itself wasn’t exactly the Rubicon Trail. Although there were rocky sections, it was mostly mud, dirt, and leaves. However, it’s likely a good thing that Knox decided not to rally-test the Tacoma. That’s because the TRD Off-Road was rather disappointing.
Why the Tacoma TRD Off-Road isn’t actually that good
First, the truck got stuck within the first few feet of the trail, due to its street tires. Shifting to 4Lo, though, did get the Tacoma moving again. But once on the trail, Knox found the going more stressful than fun.
For one, the truck’s mud flaps hang down so low, they actually rob some of the Tacoma TRD’s ground clearance. While they are optional, if they get caught on a rock or other obstacle, they can get ripped off, risking further damage. And that’s not the only place where the truck felt limited.
Because of the Tacoma’s design, and how it’s grown over the years, the hood blocks a lot of the driver’s forward view. Knox measured that if he sat in the regular driving position, he had a 45′ blind spot in front. Spotting obstacles—which, given the mud flaps, was a necessity—required constantly standing up out of the seat. Also, because the Off-Road lacks the TRD Pro’s skid plate, the bottom of the truck is fairly unprotected, especially in front.
And speaking of the truck’s bottom, it’s worth noting that Knox was driving a brand-new 2020 Tacoma TRD Off-Road. Yet, the frame already had rust on it, and the lower paint seemed rather thin. These have been noted Tacoma issues in the past—and it seems Toyota’s still struggling with them. Furthermore, this is a 2020 model, and it has drum rear brakes. The Isuzu Vehicross had 4-wheel disc brakes 20 years ago, as did the Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution.
Finally, although the truck’s Crawl Control was effective, it was also rather annoying. There was a constant repetitive grinding when it was turned on. This is likely a combination of the braking and stability control intervention. Knox had it on only briefly.
What Knox recommends
Ultimately, Knox was rather let down by the Tacoma TRD Off-Road. Especially by the fact that the TRD trim’s ‘upgrades’ didn’t actually make the truck any better.
That’s not to stay he didn’t find the Tacoma a bad off-roader. Just that a base SR makes just as good a starting point as the TRD Off-Road. In fact, Knox estimates that you could outfit a Tacoma SR to better-than TRD Off-Road levels for the same price. A set of off-road tires, better suspension, locking differential, and winch could conceivably be installed on a $32,315 V6 4×4 SR.
But when it comes to rallying, the newest Tacoma isn’t any better than the old one.
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