Words by Dan Sanchez, Photos by Drew Phillips for PickupTrucks.com
There’s no doubt that the Toyota Racing Development-equipped 4x4 Toyota Tacoma has earned a reputation for its off-road capabilities. But now that Toyota has added a T|X Pro package to its 2011 lineup of available options, the Tacoma has a much higher level of off-road prowess that could very well outperform other midsized, and some full-sized, pickups on the trail.
First impressions always make a difference, and the 2011 Tacoma T|X Pro captures the essence of what off-road truck enthusiasts want. Since the truck’s first introduction as a concept at the 2009 SEMA show, this option has incorporated bold angles, skid plates, big color-matching fender flares and a front bumper with integrated fog lights.
But aside from the truck’s good looks, keep in mind that it’s also integrated into the TRD performance package, which in this case includes an off-road-tuned suspension system using Bilstein shocks, hill start assist, downhill assist, an electric locking rear differential and automatic traction controls.
The Toyota Tacoma T|X Pro off-road pickup is a handsome-looking truck that backs up its rugged appearance with superior agility.
The T|X Pro option also adds a chromed exhaust tip and bed-side graphics that, by themselves, aren’t too much to get excited about. But the BFGoodrich 265/70R16 Rugged Trail tires and black TRD 16-inch alloy, bead-lock wheels are a welcome upgrade, which sets the tone for the capabilities of this pickup.
The real knockout punch from the T|X Pro package, however, is the TRD sport-tuned exhaust system that delivers a deep sound and extra power to spin the wheels slightly from a standing start.
Toyota doesn’t make any claims as to how much power the sport-tuned exhaust adds to the 4.0-liter dual-overhead-cam 24-valve V-6. But we can tell you that when combined with the five-speed automatic transmission, the engine — rated at 236 horsepower and 266 pounds-feet of torque — delivers some impressive acceleration, though we’re still waiting for the Tacoma to get a power bump to 270 hp and 278 pounds-feet of torque to match the same mill in the Tundra and 4Runner.
One of the best features of the T|X Pro package is the black alloy TRD 16-inch wheels mounted on BFGoodrich Rugged Trail 265/70R16 tires.
We averaged 18.3 mpg during combined highway and off-road driving. The engine’s variable valve timing is partly responsible for the Tacoma’s ability to not only provide excellent bottom-end and midrange torque but also good fuel economy when needed.
The five-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly and keeps the truck well within its power band during most circumstances. In overdrive, however, the Tacoma seems to lug a little, as there’s a nearly 400-rpm drop between 4th gear and overdrive. But with a quick blip of the throttle, the five-speed downshifts into the appropriate gear, turning any lag into a burst of acceleration.
The off-road-tuned suspension handles short frequencies, such as minor highway bumps and pot holes, with a noticeably stiffer ride than most four-wheel-drive pickups in its class. The Bilstein dampers are true ultrahigh-pressure mono-tube (not twin-tube) shocks that tend to carry these frequencies to the driver, but they are good insurance in knowing that they won’t fail under extreme conditions.
Cloth seats with adjustable lumbar support are also part of the TRD T|X Pro package. The TRD off-road package includes a JBL six-speaker stereo system and metallic tone instrument trim around the dash.
Long highway trips in this truck may be a bit fatiguing for some, but it’s a small price to pay for the way the entire suspension operates off-road. On dips and low-speed off-road conditions (long-frequency bumps), the progressive rate front coil springs help deliver a smooth ride that always lets you feel like you’re in control.
But a properly tuned suspension isn’t the Tacoma T|X Pro’s only advantage. Keep in mind these trucks come standard with Toyota’s sophisticated integration of braking, vehicle stability and traction controls that automatically intervene with throttle or brake action to keep the vehicle on its intended path and maximize traction. This truly aids in vehicle control while pushing the Tacoma at speed down a packed dirt road, ultimately leading into a wide river wash that begins an 18.8-mile trek into Last Chance Canyon trail.
This 4x4 road is in Southern California’s Red Rock Canyon State Park and is surrounded by beautifully colored red rock cliffs. It eventually enters into an old mining area where people have been digging for gold since the 1800s. While the trail guide lists Last Chance Canyon as moderate with some difficult sections, the first three miles that wind through a river wash had some serious obstacles.
The 4.0-liter dual-overhead-cam engine delivers incredibly good acceleration and fuel economy. We averaged 18 mpg in both highway and off-road driving conditions.
The rocks that we had to try to maneuver the Tacoma T|X Pro over initially took us by surprise. Because we didn’t expect to air down the tires, we were worried we wouldn’t make it through, and it took all of our rock-crawling skills to maneuver the Toyota over the terrain without a scratch. We were lucky to use the truck’s rear locking differential to help us get out of some difficult situations more than once.
The only casualty of the grueling first portion of the trail was the passenger-side front mud flap that hangs very low. It got pulled off as that tire came down off a good-sized rock. While the mud flaps are great for the open road, it’s well worth your time to unscrew them from the wheel wells before heading into some serious terrain.
After clearing one field of rocks along the wash, we were teased with some open sandy areas that would only lead to another large rock field around the next corner. Nevertheless, the Tacoma T|X Pro pushed forward with precision and excellent articulation that would impress even hardcore Jeep owners.
A steep hill along the trail offered the opportunity to evaluate the Tacoma’s Hill Start Assist and Downhill Assist controls. Turning the dash-mounted knob to the four-wheel drive low position and placing the transmission in 1st gear, The T|X Pro Tacoma crawled up the face of the hill without giving us any fear of rolling back or loss of traction — even though we could only see sky looking out the front windshield.
Articulation is the way to get over large obstacles, and the TRD sport-tuned suspension provides superior traction and agility that isn’t too common among off-road trucks in its class.
Aside from the performance aspects of the TRD T|X Pro package combination, you also get a nice JBL sound system, keyless entry, an engine skid plate, fog lamps, sport seats with lumbar support and other convenience features that are well worth the extra $4,850 for this option (code OF). Other options that we liked included the large front skid plate (code S0), which not only looks great but also helps protect the entire front underside of the Tacoma. We also liked the V-6 tow package (code TO) that comes with a class IV hitch, a 130-amp alternator and supplemental oil coolers for the engine and transmission. These will come in handy if you want to add extra off-road lights and tow a trailer with ATVs out back.
The Tacoma T|X Pro as tested had an MSRP of $34,581. The T|X Pro package itself is a $1,699 option available on any Tacoma Access or Double cab, in two- or four-wheel-drive models. Toyota also aggregated the package to be more cost effective for consumers, saving them $754 over the cost of buying these options separately.
The Tacoma T|X Pro proved itself worthy beyond its tough prerunner appearance. It’s definitely an exciting truck that can take on some high-speed desert terrain and rock crawl over some difficult obstacles. Aside from adding more ground clearance with a 2-inch lift and larger-diameter tires, the Tacoma T|X Pro is pretty much set up to do everything you’d want a real off-road truck to handle, without letting you down.
At speed down a sandy wash, the Tacoma’s vehicle stability controls come into play, keeping the truck in control and on course.