There’s just something about hitting some mud in a big-ass truck that brings out the joy in all of us. It’s almost as if some dormant recessive gene is lying in wait for the opportune moment to unveil itself, and having the chance to get muddy on some off-road excursions is all it takes for that sucker to pop out. Off-road engineered trucks are a special breed of bad-ass, and should not, cannot, ever be underestimated.
But that is exactly what happened when a pumpkin orange TRD-PRO Toyota Tundra arrived as my review vehicle for the week. I gravely underestimated its potential, writing it off as a dumbed-down version of what we see in the commercials. It had the right color, proportions, stampings, grille, and pedigree, but it surely was just another consumer-grade version of the real deal, cut with 80 kinds of mayonnaise to make it as mainstream as possible.
The Tundra TRD-PRO is a specialty package that is pretty much unmodifiable, and has been designed from the ground up to be the big, bad older brother to the TRD-PRO Tacoma and 4Runner. It’s a very rugged, simplistic approach to modern day off-road ferality, and for that reason alone it kicks ass.
Heated seats are not available, but they are power adjusting, and stitched, Lexus-style soft touch leather trim panels can be found throughout. Self-leveling suspension is non-existent, yet it remains surprisingly comfortable and agile, and save for the steering wheel and the engine shroud, there is not a single emblem on this thing, just an old-school, 1980s TOYOTA. Not to sound cliche, but this truly is a “less is more” approach to creating a leviathan. Simple, sturdy, well-structured, and slightly sinister, this truck turns heads and surprises first-time drivers, as it is a true mud-slinger.
A beast like this belongs in the wild, climbing volcanoes and chasing down unicorns, but 90% of them are likely owned by bros who mod the hell out of them, yet avoid dirt at all costs because chrome wheels are a bitch to clean. Hell, even the guys who do offer the TRD-PRO the occasional chance to sharpen its claws in the silty mud of the American landscape keep it primarily chained to asphalt roadways, and I can’t really blame them, for as good as this Tundra is in the wild, it offers a surprising amount of around-town practicality.
I was extremely skeptical of what this truck could do in the city, what with its lumbering frame, sub-par front bumper visibility, and undeniable dead-weight. But the TRD-PRO is a fantastic cruiser. It offers a spacious cabin, is easy to spot in the parking lot, and will give those on the road a strong reason not to tailgate. Sure, it sucks to parallel park, but given the right opportunity and just enough space, the Tundra TRD-PRO feels completely at home with semi-urban living.
Speaking of highway driving, the TRD-PRO averaged far better fuel economy than expected at 16.8 miles per gallon. Its cabin was an incredibly practical place to be, with cubbies, cup holders, cell phone trays, plugs, and storage spots galore. The special seats with custom stitching were quite comfortable, offering plenty of legroom for everyone, and unlike other manufacturers, Toyota has abstained for the most part from over-branding the cabin of the car.
On the open road the four-piston brakes are the first things you notice: They’re firm but not ferocious, and the specialized suspension is surprisingly supple when working around potholes and speed bumps, leaving the cabin far quieter than expected. Naturally, there is some road noise due to the dual-port TRD exhaust, but that is to be expected, and it leads us to the real reason people should buy this truck: getting muddy.
The Tundra TRD-PRO is a fully purchasable, authentic off-road animal and it shows what is possible if the right team of engineers and a target market are already in place. Fortunately, I have access to all manner of off-road extremity here in the lands surrounding Cincinnati, so when my friend Richard said his farm was open for adventure time, I took him up on the offer to see what this machine could do in the wild.
Once it was in “4WD-HI” the Tundra bounded around trails, eagerly seeking the next bend. A quick disengagement of the traction control unleashed a tail-happy side that liked to fling mud everywhere it went, and the 1/4-inch aluminum skid plate effectively kept all manner of debris away from precious engine components. Its remote reservoir Bilstein shocks made climbing steep hills and clearing logs a cinch, the trapezoidal rear suspension refused to bottom out no matter what was beneath it, and even though it rained like hell the night before, the truck’s A-TRAC and clever limited slip differential kept the whole show firmly planted the entire time.
But don’t get any foolhardy notions that this is just a mountain climber in an Inferno Orange pair of pajamas. This is also a hardcore work truck. It has a TOW/HAUL setting, oil and transmission coolers, an integrated trailer hitch, trailer sway and braking control, rear back-up camera, a double-walled bed with a locking tie-down deck rail, and mirrors that are designed to monitor whatever is being towed.
Issues with the Tundra TRD-PRO are minimal, and save for the tissue-thin carpeting that adorns the inner parts of the door grips and massive center stow box, every part of this truck is about as rugged as the terrain it has been designed to climb. However, it did lose half a point when I realized that in order to clear a sapling, I had to put it in park, mash the e-brake, climb out of the cabin, navigate a treacherous incline, and fold-in the passenger mirror.
The only other issues with this vehicle pertain to its inability to contend with its primary competition: the Ford Raptor. Its 5.7 liter V8 engine may be an older design, but it works well, offering even torques across the board, and the model I received preferred E85, so filling that 38 gallon tank isn’t too bad. But this 381 horsepower powerplant is a far cry from the aggression found in its Detroit-based rival, and all it really needs is one of those recently retired TRD superchargers. Couple the blower with some sand, mud, snow, and rock settings and you suddenly have a truck that really can live up to its slogan, as drivers excitedly say, “Let’s go places!”
So is the top of the line version of the Tundra TRD-PRO really worth the $45,465 sticker price? That depends on what you are looking for in a truck, but considering the amount of off-road prowess and on-road refinement you get with this thing, it is kind of hard to ignore how truly worthy it is. Maybe if Toyota slapped a brush guard on the front, upgraded the tires to a meatier design, and reconsidered its retirement of the TRD supercharger we would be convinced that this was a legitimate Raptor killer. But even without, it is still one of the most capable vehicles I have ever driven, and having the ability to park a “monster truck” in a single parking space instead of two remains a massive advantage for this Baja-inspired Ford fighter.