With a strong history in desert racing, Toyota is trying to shore up its off-road credibility with the next step in its latest 4x4 package. Toyota is trying a more holistic approach, meaning it is offering the new TRD Pro package for both of its small and large pickup trucks as well as the highly capable 4Runner. This new package, available for 2015 Tacomas, Tundras and 4Runners, is a good step up from the previous TRD T/X Baja Series for the Tacoma, with better on- and off-road feel, and a more extensive and impressive complete off-road package.
We recently had the chance to get behind the wheel of some of the first 2015 Tacoma TRD Pro pickups in a remote section of the Nevada desert, where cruising through the wide-open dirt trails can push the chassis and suspension of the most fortified four wheelers to their limits. But before we talk about how the new Tacoma TRD Pro performed, let's cover a little background.
Toyota started getting serious about its off-road credibility about two years ago, when it introduced the TRD T/X Baja Series Tacoma. We had our first chance to drive the truck Texas. This package had sophisticated Bilstein shocks (the rears set up with dual reservoirs for better cooling and control) and unique front springs that offered more ride height and wheel travel. Unfortunately, that setup, although great for absorbing and swallowing ruts and holes at higher speeds (above 45 mph), tended to beat you up at lower speeds with front and rear spring and damping rates that were a bit too stiff.
New Level of Comfort
This new Tacoma TRD Pro setup takes the Baja package to the next level in several ways. First, TRD engineers have done an amazing job of creating stronger, yet softer, front springs that deliver gobs of control but don't beat you up. The front and rear shock absorbers (although similar to the Baja) have been retuned to provide much stronger and faster droop and compression capabilities to offer better performance on pavement (control) and off-road (cushion).
The wheel and tire combination is essentially the same as the Baja package, with a bead-lock type of aluminum wheel with a wider offset to give the truck a more formidable stance. Tires remain the popular 265/70R16 BF Goodrich All-Terrain T/A KO choice. TRD Pro also includes a cat-back exhaust, blacked-out exterior badging, and several unique TRD accents inside the truck (floormats and shift knob). Modified skidplating is also included.
TRD Pro will be offered in the Access and double-cab versions, with either a manual or automatic transmission mated to the 4.0-liter V-6. All TRD Pro Tacomas will have a 4x4 drivetrain and be stacked on top of the existing TRD Off-Road Package. Pricing will come in the fall, but we expect pricing to be close to the previous Baja pricing structure.
On the Trail
Most of our time behind the wheel of the Tacoma TRD Pro was on rutted and heavily graveled dirt roads through desolate rolling hills outside Jean, Nev. From slower to more enthusiastic speeds on the chattered roads, we noted few situations where the tires felt like they left the ground or lost their tracking. The front springs are definitely softer than the Baja setup and make for a much more comfortable and controlled ride. Throttle response is unchanged yet is plenty capable of making the Tacoma TRD Pro jump or snap around a dirt corner. The tires are a big standout here as well.
On the "slow" trail section of our drive it was like we were transported south of the border where we were cruising the Baja 1000. We ran a few miles of loose sand and rutted gullies in a dry river wash where we encountered large sand berms, brush and boulders — all with a kind of wincing trepidation. It took us a while to recalibrate our bodies and brains not to brace for the big thump or unnerving impact that never showed up. Ruts that we thought would have us smacking into the skidplates and bumper were swallowed with ease, and even when we did hit the occasional immovable object, the force was absorbed progressively with minimal effect. Likewise, the rear of the truck did a superb job of not allowing an empty bed to bounce around when the road got choppy. On a brutal section of the trail, our test truck (a jet-black double-cab short bed) absorbed rocks, ruts and desert moguls as if they weren't there (to a certain degree, the only other vehicle we've ever experienced that in was the Ford SVT Raptor). The total package is impressive and a great addition to the Tacoma lineup, but it's not perfect.
Wish List for Next TRD Pro Package
While we were impressed by the significant (albeit incremental) improvements to this new Tacoma package, but we still wish Toyota had gone just a touch further. Yes, this is a more harmonious and serious off-roading package than ever before, with better overall upgrades than we've ever seen. And, yes, with the exception of Ford's SVT Raptor, this is just about the best grouping of off-road parts and pieces in a midsize package that any truckmaker has offered. Still, small things like a simple electronic switch that offers a smarter and faster-reacting traction control algorithm (for sand, snow or mud) shouldn't be difficult to provide. It's just electronics, right? If desert running is truly what this package owns, then why not offer a heavier-duty air filter or intake design? A full-size spare tire that matches the rest of the tires would be a good option for this off-road capable setup. Or maybe highlight a heavier-duty spare tire jack. Seems like that would be obvious.
And what about some type of navigation screen integration that allows TRD Pro customers to record or keep track of how many miles are traveled off-road or in snow or on sand? The electronics on the truck simply needs to include a wider selection of traction-control parameters to give the spinning tires more choices. Those small changes would help create credibility that would put this truck in the realm of Land Rover, Jeep and (yes, of course) the Raptor.
We applaud the efforts of the TRD team that worked on this project and concentrated so much on wheel travel and overall control and comfort, but we sure hope this is just the first (OK, the second) step in a longer line of stronger off-road and on-road-capable suspension packages coming our way. Toyota has proven that the Tacoma is a wonderful canvas for creative ideas, and we're sure the next generation will offer even more, but we want to see improvements coming faster and integrated into the entire truck - not just the bolted-on parts - especially if the midsize segment continues to heat up. This is a great step in the right direction, but creativity needs to move to the next level.
To read more about the TRD Pro offerings, click here.
Manufacturer images; Cars.com photos by Mark Williams