When the ninth-generation Toyota Tacoma launched last fall, we were impressed by its off-road dexterity and improved interior accommodations. Then, at the 2016 Chicago Auto Show, we witnessed firsthand the unveiling of a TRD Pro model, landing the modified pickup a place on our list of most badass trucks at the show this year.
Designed to appease hardcore pickup enthusiasts who don’t need all of the V8 towing capacity and curb weight of the Tundra TRD Pro, the latest entry in Toyota’s expanding lineup of off-road vehicles is a body-on-frame beast built for fun. Offering an array of fresh performance features, and a fair share of rugged styling prompts, the most hardcore Tacoma in history was made available to us recently for a one hour romp on a closed high-speed trail, where it passed the 4×4 aptitude test with flying colors.
But before we get stuck on sport mode, let’s talk a little bit about styling and interior updates, because the Tacoma TRD Pro features some sharp and sophisticated upgrades. The model we drove struck quite the imposing presence, with its black 16-inch TRD alloy wheels, meaty Goodyear All-Terrain Kevlar tires, and TRD Pro front skid plate being the most noticeable augmentations.
But look closer and you will notice things like Rigid Industries’ LED fog lamps, black overfenders, a murdered-out hood scoop, new taillights with black bezels, and a heritage-inspired TOYOTA front grille. It also comes with things like redesigned black bezel projector headlights, LED daytime running lights, TRD Pro badging, and color-keyed mirrors, door handles, and rear bumper to match.
Inside, the cabin comes loaded with a lot of Toyota’s latest safety and infotainment technologies, with a large amount of comfort and convenience thrown in for good measure. From the TRD Pro stitched leather-trimmed heated front seats and matching sport steering wheel, to the power sliding rear window, performance shift knob, and custom floor mats, the material upgrades are all reserved yet tasteful.
The Tacoma TRD Pro also comes standard with some cool tech, like the latest Entune Premium Audio components, a revised App Suite, navigation, rear parking sonar assistance, blind spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alerts. All of this was nice to find, but it was the features found within the 4.2-inch digital driver display that really stood out, with things like an integrated inclinometer and tilt gauge adding to the already considerable array of information being displayed.
Performance wise, the Tacoma TRD Pro did not disappoint; the 3.5-liter Atkinson-cycle V6 provided praiseworthy amounts of grunt under throttle, with the six speed automatic churning up dust from all four wheels. Toyota’s electronically-controlled “4WDemand” transfer case and automatic limited-slip differential also did a great job of ensuring that traction never was an issue on the dusty trails and inclines we were instructed to tackle. In order to test out what this pickup was truly capable of, we put the truck in rear-wheel drive mode and went back out on course, where the Tacoma confidently conquered every incline and angle with minuscule amounts of wheel spin.
While the exhaust note from the TRD cat-back stainless steel exhaust system was audibly underwhelming, the Tacoma more than made up for it in both suspension and ride quality categories. The custom TRD tuned FOX 2.5-inch internal bypass shocks, re-calibrated front coilover springs and rear leaves, 1-inch lift, and additional inch of wheel track width made for a very capable, and surprisingly comfortable ride.
FOX has done a splendid job of working with Toyota’s TRD department in order to offer buyers something that’s highway compatible and off-road-ready at the same time. By utilizing its patented Internal Bypass technology, position-sensitive damping, and Internal Floating Pistons (IFP), Toyota has been able to turn the Tacoma into an even more capable and comfortable truck.
Another notable selling point is that all TRD Pro models come equipped with a V6 Tow Package, which includes a Class-IV towing receiver hitch, engine oil and power steering coolers, a 130-amp alternator, 4- and 7-pin connectors and converter, as well as Trailer-Sway Control. Automatic models also get an ATF cooler and Toyota’s Multi-terrain Select system, which features five traction modes in order that regulate wheel spin by automatically adjusting engine throttle and traction control. Fans of the six-speed auto will also get to enjoy the TRD Pro’s helpful Hill Start Assist Control (HAC), as it minimizes backward roll when moving one’s foot from the brake to the accelerator.
Although we were unable to spend more than an hour with the rugged little pickup, we came away from the entire experience impressed with what we discovered. While it was a bit too large for taking on the narrow, mud-filled trail where things like crawl control and down descent mode could be enabled, the fact that it bounded around the high speed course in both two-wheel and four-wheel drive mode without issue remains a top focal point. With an MSRP of $40,760 for a stick shift equipped Double Cab, and $42,760 for the Double Cab automatic model, there’s a lot to like about the Tacoma TRD Pro, and by offering a manual version Toyota has taken an already impressive pickup and turned it into a legitimate trail vanquisher.