2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro First Drive
Toyota unveiled the all-new Tacoma in 2016, and boy was it a long time coming. After a 10-year life cycle for the second-generation truck, a period when Tacoma was the best-selling mid-size truck and dominated the market so well that many manufacturers simply left it entirely, it was simply time for something new.
Fortunately, Toyota didn’t skimp and just do a minor facelift with the new Tacoma. It brought a lot to the table in the new mid-sizer, including a modernized interior, a more efficient engine with comparable performance to the previous one, and quite a few tweaks to the exterior styling (along with big improvements in aerodynamics). The thing we love most about the third-gen Tacoma is the new TRD Off-Road version, because not only does it offer new off-road features and upgraded Bilstein monotube shocks, it also offers a bigger, tougher rear axle not offered on any other model (and no air dam!). The new Tacoma TRD Off-Road wasn’t just stickers and floor mats – it actually offered noteworthy off-road features.
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While the TRD Off Road is good, the 2017 TRD Pro is intended to be better. Toyota is taking the Tacoma’s off-road performance to another level with its TRD Pro, and it might seem a little confusing at first that the new Tacoma TRD Pro is actually based on the TRD Off Road package. But what separates the two is the Pro adds additional next-level performance upgrades and a unique styling package. Toyota invited us on an adventure across the Pacific to the island of Maui to test drive the new truck, and after our short trip to the Hawaiian Islands we have a pretty good handle on how the TRD Pro differs and whether or not it’s worth the extra coin.
What’s “Pro” About This TRD Package?
If you’re wondering what’s so different with the TRD Pro, or more specifically why it’s any better than the TRD Off-Road package, allow us break it down. The biggest addition for the Pro is in the suspension department in the form of new Fox remote-reservoir shocks. While the TRD Off-Road package already offers upgraded suspension in the form of Bilstein monotube shocks that are 1.5 inches in diameter, the TRD Pro employs much larger front and rear 2.5-inch Fox shocks. The Fox shocks have larger, 66mm aluminum bodies that allow for quick heat dissipation. The rear shocks are the same size but also feature piggyback reservoirs for additional oil capacity to help keep temperatures low and reduce cavitation so the shocks keep performing even in the most demanding off-road terrain.
The 2.5-inch Fox shocks offer improved performance, but they also provide additional lift over the TRD Off-Road package. The front coilover Fox shocks, when paired TRD-tuned Eibach springs, provide two inches of lift to give the truck a heightened, more aggressive stance that also improves the approach and departure angles for the truck on the trail (though the actual ground clearance between models doesn’t change). To complement the changes up front, Toyota features TRD-tuned progressive-rate leaf springs.
Toyota’s goal for the TRD Pro s to provide a next-level off-road truck that doesn’t sacrifice on-road handling, towing or payload capacities – so essentially make it better off of the highway without ruining its other truck qualities. These Fox shocks are a huge part of the equation because they feature internal bypass position-sensitive damping, so not only are they larger to accommodate bigger internal pistons and additional oil to dissipate heat and reduce shock fade, but they also feature different internal damping zones to adapt to the conditions. The front shocks features five compression zones and three rebound zones, while the rears feature seven compression zones and four rebound zones. What this basically means is the Fox 2.5 shocks can adjust on the fly to constantly changing trail conditions. Fox also employs a new base valve on the shocks to basically eliminate cavitation (air mixing with the oil to reduce the oil’s ability to dampen). The shocks actually provide slightly softer damping, and to compensate and reduce understeer Toyota added a larger front stabilizer bar to handle the increased height and roll of the truck.
The Pro features a blacked-out TRD 16-inch wheel fitted with Goodyear Wrangler All-Terrain tires that are reinforced with Kevlar. What’s most interesting about the wheels isn’t so much the murdered-out look but the fact that they feature an offset that actually widens the track width of the truck by 1 inch for added stability on and off of the highway.
With the suspension updates making up a large majority of the TRD Pro’s performance features, there are no major changes to the engine, as the 3.5-liter Atkinson-cycle V6 powers the truck. A TRD cat-back stainless-steel exhaust is added to give the truck a slightly more aggressive growl. The exhaust also provides a small bump in performance by reducing backflow, though Toyota doesn’t quote any specific figure.
Additional upgrades on the TRD Pro include a beefy, 1/4-inch aluminum front skid plate, which Toyota says is upgraded from previous designs to include a trap door to make oil changes a far simpler task. For additional trail illumination, Rigid Industries LED fog lamps are employed that feature split optics to provide considerably more illumination. Toyota’s chief truck engineer Mike Sweers noted the key task in working with Rigid was to make sure the lights were compliant with stock vehicle regulations (which they are).
In the looks department, there are a lot of tweaks on the TRD Pro to make it stand out. The obvious ones include the TRD Pro logo on the side of the truck and blacked-out badging on the tailgate, TRD Pro stitching on the leather seats (Toyota opted for leather on this version because customers weren’t fond of mud trapping in the previous fabric seats), a TRD Pro shift lever and floor mats. The front projector-beam headlights feature black bezels and the rear taillights do as well. You might also notice the TRD Pro has a hood scoop, as the hood design from the TRD Sport is borrowed for the Pro to give it an aggressive look.
Since the TRD Pro is essentially a premium off-roader, there isn’t much in the way of options (though there are a few your local dealer would be happy to sell you). The configuration is limited as well, since the truck will only be offered in a Double Cab (four-door) version, with the 3.5L V6 standard equipment with the option of either a manual transmission (starting at $40,760) or an automatic (starting at $42,760).
Driving the Tacoma TRD Pro in Hawaii is hardly what we’d call a tough day in the office. So, we’re going to take a helicopter to a private ranch near Hana on Maui to drive the truck for the first time? Yeah, of course, sign us up. The phenomenal setting for our event didn’t detour us from our goal of the trip: find out if this off-road package takes the Tacoma to the next level.
In our last test of the Tacoma TRD Off-Road for our 2016 Mid-Size Shootout, a test in which the new Tacoma ended up on top, we praised the truck for its effortless confidence off-road. The Tacoma TRD Off-Road offers a composed off-road suspension package that’s great in fast-paced open desert conditions or more technical hill climbs and rock crawls, and the ground clearance, departure and approach angles compared to the rest of the class makes the truck feel right at home in the dirt.
The TRD Pro takes all of those positive attributes and makes them better – much better. The heightened stance of the TRD Pro is the first thing noticed when stepping into the truck, but as we started to cruise around the lumpy ranch roads that see consistent rain throughout the year it was clear the additional travel and larger shocks make the truck even more composed when the going gets rough.
Our trip to Hawaii proved to be a great test, as a large downpour of rain just hours before our arrival to Hana Ranch made the conditions pretty sloppy. Our first stop was dubbed the “race course,” and the muddy, greasy conditions in someone else’s truck just meant pure fun for us. It was so muddy in some turns that you’d easily overshoot corners, finding unforeseen bumps and ruts, but the truck just took it all in stride. The conditions were so muddy that practically any tire would get gunked up and full of mud, but it was clear in this section the weak spot of the truck is the Goodyear Kevlar all-terrain tires. For us, they simply aren’t an aggressive enough to match the rest of the truck’s capabilities. It’s an easy fix, but we’d just like to see something more suited to the truck on this turnkey package.
Throughout the day, we had plenty of opportunity to test the front and rear automatic limited slip differentials and the selectable rear locker (exactly the type of addition we like to see on a true off-road package). Although we griped about the tires a little bit the TRD Pro’s traction in just about everything we threw at it was great. There wasn’t really anything we encountered that put the truck out of its comfort zone.
Two systems Toyota highlighted during our event were the Multi-Terrain Select and Crawl Control, functions found on the TRD Off Road and the TRD Pro. Multi-Terrain Select is pretty simple to use overall, as you simply adjust the dial for the system to the appropriate terrain and the truck helps control wheel spin to provide additional traction where needed. Easy peasy.
Toyota took us to another portion of the ranch to test Crawl Control system, and it had a few good demonstrations ranging from mild to a little more wild. Crawl Control, which is activated via a button and dial on the overhead controls, puts the truck into a slow-speed off-road setting that works only when the truck is in 4WD Low. Crawl Control allows the driver to focus on steering the truck in challenging spots while the system takes over the controls for throttle and braking, although you do have the ability to select the speed the truck will ascend or descend a section but all settings are within only a few mph at very slow speeds. To clarify which Crawl speed the truck is in, the LED instrumentation speed will also alert the driver so he doesn’t have to take his eyes off the trail to look at the overhead dial.
After testing the system on a moderate downhill section with a tight hairpin exit turn, we later took a more epic downhill adventure down a trail of broken down lava rock. Like a version of a lava-rock sand hill, the decent had two sections, both of which had at least a portion that was basically a controlled slide. Using Crawl control, we’d ease into each downhill portion and straight out the truck for the short slide. The system works as intended and forces the driver to simply take on one job – steer! We’ve never been a big fan of descent control systems like Crawl Control, as we’d prefer to control every aspect of the vehicle to stay in tune with the trail… because to us that’s half the fun. That said, this trip gave us a little better perspective on how Crawl Control can even be useful to the experienced off-roader, and as we’ve seen in previous demonstrations the system does a great job of helping get unstuck as well.
An Honest Off-Road Truck
Toyota aimed to create the most capable off-road truck in its class without sacrificing its on-road performance. Although we spent all of our time for this impression off of pavement, in our book Toyota has hit the mark. The TRD Pro adds on true performance off-road suspension, some additional lift, and enough design cues to make the truck special and unique enough to warrant its existence versus just offering some of the upgrades as add-on parts.
The first incarnation of the Tacoma TRD Pro in 2015 was a decent truck but it still felt a little rough around the edges, which wasn’t a big surprise since that generation had one foot out the door. After a break in 2016, Toyota returned for the upcoming 2017 model year with a truck that simply feels more complete, and the whether that’s due to having more time to tinker with the suspension or it’s the switch from Bilstein shocks on the 2015 TRD Pro to the 2.5 Fox internal bypass shock on the 2017 model, the truck just feels more dialed in compared to the previous version. One thing worth nothing is the TRD Pro also get the same updates the 2017 Tacoma will, which is mainly a new power rear sliding window.
Pricing for the truck isn’t exactly cheap, but considering it’s pretty close to a turn-key truck (even though we would want to swap out the tires) the pricing of about $41,000 for the manual and roughly $43,000 for the auto isn’t ridiculous. Color choices include Barcelona Red Metallic, Cement and Super White. The truck will also be covered by Toyota’s basic limited warranty, which includes 3 years/36,000 bumper to bumper and 5 years/60,000 miles for the powertrain.
The bottom line is the Tacoma TRD Pro is a great mid-sized off-road truck. If you think you might want one, keep in mind they are only offered in limited quantities (about 5,000 or so) and they are already in dealerships now.
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