Extreme Off-Roading in Toyota's TRD Trio

TRD Trip 1 II

By Brian Wong

"All stop, all trucks stop," came the call over the radio as our convoy crept to a halt in the semidarkness. Heavy rains had rolled through the area the day before, but there was no evidence of that to us — blue skies were overhead the whole day as we drove into Canyonlands National Park. It turned out that the deluge had already taken its toll — what had been a dirt road was now a 6-foot-deep pit large enough to hold a mid-size sedan, and it was sitting directly between us and our targeted campsite. We'd have to find another spot to stay for the night.

It was then that I realized this was not going to be like any press trip I had ever been on. Usually when we're invited to test a truck by a manufacturer, the environment is controlled: We drive on a street route, do some guided off-roading, maybe some towing. I get it — each truckmaker wants its vehicles to be shown in the best possible light.

That's why I was surprised when Toyota invited us to test its latest Toyota Racing Development off-road products on a trip it called a "Drive to the Summit." Our group, however, would be doing the opposite, traversing the summit in Colorado down to St. George, Utah. The trek would be mostly off-road, camping as we went along. Most trips are tame. This one would be wild.

Here were the three vehicles serving as our transportation:

2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road Double Cab

TRD Tacoma Only II

MSRP: $37,610 (including destination)

Powertrain: 278-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6, 265 pounds-feet of torque; six-speed automatic transmission

Key 4x4 Features: Part-time 4x4 system with two speeds and electronically controlled transfer case; automatic limited-slip differential; off-road tuned suspension with Bilstein shocks; locking rear differential; Multi-Terrain Select System with crawl control.

2016 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro CrewMax

TRD Tundra Only II

MSRP: $46,834

Powertrain: 381-hp, 5.7-liter V-8, 401 pounds-feet of torque; six-speed automatic transmission

Key 4x4 Features: TRD dual exhaust, TRD front skid plate; 2.5-inch Bilstein shocks with remote reservoirs; part-time four-wheel drive with electronically controlled transfer case; automatic limited-slip differential.

2016 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro

TRD 4Runner Only II

MSRP: $42,790

Powertrain: 270-hp, 4.0-liter V-6, 278 pounds-feet of torque; five-speed automatic transmission

Key 4x4 Features: Part-time 4WD system; locking rear differential; Multi-Terrain Select System with crawl control; TRD front skid plate; Bilstein shocks with remote rear reservoir.

The support vehicles in our group belong to Expedition Overland, which provided protection and expertise for the adventure. These seasoned off-road and adventure enthusiasts have done long treks across Central America and even Siberia, and their experience came in handy multiple times on the trail. Our guide for the trip was Kurt Williams of Cruiser Outfitters. Williams was nicknamed "Kurt-ipedia" for his encyclopedic knowledge of the Four Corners region and Utah especially, and proved it with anecdotes about everything from gas stations carved into rocks to the origins of the trails we traveled.

Both of Expedition Overland's vehicles were heavily modified with rooftop tents and custom racks on top and in the back to hold gear, supplies and propane stoves, which slid out to cook dinner each evening. Its Tacoma, called "X3," even towed a trailer the entire time. The 4Runner was named "Rufio," a nod to the character from the movie "Hook" who leads an adventurous band of wild boys. Fitting.

The four-day journey would cover more than 800 miles and take us from the Rocky Mountains to St. George, Utah, through mountains, deserts and canyons. Along the way, I found a love for adventure travel I didn't know existed and I got to know these rigs by using them the way they were intended: on trails, gear in the back and dirt plastered in every possible crevice — on both myself and the truck.

Day 1: Ouray to Telluride, via Imogene Pass, to Canyonlands National Park

I spent the first day of the trek in the 2016 Tacoma TRD Off-Road, the most off-road-capable version of the Tacoma until the TRD Pro launches as a 2017 model. Although the TRD Pro will take the Tacoma's off-road prowess to the next level with a more aggressive Fox shock setup, the TRD Off-Road is also impressive: Bilstein shocks, Toyota’s crawl control and Multi-Terrain Select technology, and good all-around all-terrain tires.

TRD Trip Tundra 2 II

The Imogene Pass runs from Ouray, Colo., up the western Rockies to 13,114 feet, then down the other side of the mountain to Telluride, Colo. The trail was a mix of loose gravel, with some portions that required rock crawling and a water crossing or two. It also offered the most genuinely spectacular views I've ever seen. Standing at the top of the pass, you can see down both the eastern and western sides of the Rockies — breathtaking stuff, and not just from the altitude. I've driven the Tacoma TRD Off-Road in a couple of off-road parks, but this was the first long trail I'd taken it on and it proved to be a capable performer in that setting as well.

My preference has generally been for the Tundra’s more powerful V-8 over the Tacoma's V-6, but on a tight, rocky trail, I was happy to be in the smaller, lighter, more agile Tacoma. There were a few moments where I missed the larger V-8 in the Tundra: When Toyota redesigned the Tacoma, it put in a 3.5-liter V-6 that has good power numbers on paper but falls flat in practice. It runs on the Atkinson cycle at lower rpm — good for efficiency, but it also means that to get to the power, you have to climb higher in the rev range. I'd prefer more low-end torque in 4-Low to have more control while crawling obstacles, but when we reached the end of the pass, the rest of the package's performance was so good that it more than made up for it. I didn't even touch any of the fancy off-road technology. As an analog machine, the Tacoma is still excellent.

After the pass, we jumped on the highway before heading into Canyonlands National Park. This is where the Tacoma falls a bit flat, especially at altitude. The transmission would constantly hunt for gears on uphill sections, even with the Power mode engaged, to get it to hold longer and there's decent road noise from the tires. In some ways, the Tacoma reminded me a bit of the Jeep Wrangler — driving on rugged terrain makes it come alive, but there are compromises on the road.

As we stopped for gas in Monticello, Utah, before heading into Canyonlands, the final turn into the parking lot proved to be the straw that broke the camel's back for our trailer. I heard a loud bang behind me and whipped my head around to see the trailer on the ground and one of the wheels bouncing away. It took us a few hours and plenty of helping hands from the locals, who even opened up a closed auto shop to get us back on the road. By the time we got into Canyonlands, it was getting dark fast. That's when we stumbled across the washed-out road with the car-sized hole in it.

We backtracked to the main road and made camp next to it to ward off anyone who tried to pass that night, but nobody did. Living in Los Angeles, I sometimes forget that there are still plenty of secluded places in America — you just have to find them.

Day 2: Canyonlands National Park to the Henry Mountains

I awoke the next morning to see Canyonlands in its full glory at sunrise, a sight to behold. We were surrounded on all sides by towers of rock that stretched hundreds of feet into the sky as we packed up camp and headed out on the next leg.

My vehicle for the second day was the 2016 4Runner TRD Pro and you can head over to Cars.com to see more in-depth impressions of the rugged SUV. The short version: The larger V-6 in the 4Runner is preferred to the Tacoma's, the new Cement paint color is fantastic and if I had to pick one of the three to do a full overlanding trip in, it would be my choice (since you can sleep in it if it rains a lot).

TRD Trip 4Runner 1 II

Our route on Day 2 took us out of Canyonlands and across the desert, then back up into the Henry Mountains. We crossed the top of the range and part of the way down the other side, ending on the leeward side of the mountains and setting up shop at my favorite campground of the trip at 9,000 feet. A secluded grove of trees protected us from wind and the evening was capped with a campfire, good cigars and a few pours of scotch. Not a bad way to cap a long day on the road.

Day 3: Henry Mountains to Coral Reef State Park

The final full day of our overland trek was Tundra time. Just like the other two days, the scenery stayed beautiful as we picked our way out of the Henrys, up the switchbacks of the Burr Trail and into Coral Reef State Park. Our route continued to offer diverse terrain and scenery, taking us from the green forests of the mountains, past towering spires of red rocks and through wide, flat deserts.

The Tundra TRD Pro, especially in CrewMax configuration, is a large rig and tips the scales at 5,640 pounds. You feel its size on trails like Imogene and you have to be conscious of tire placement because you need lots of grip to pull it up and over obstacles. A good set of tires goes a long way and the Tundra had them, but you still spend a lot of time looking in the mirrors and checking your spots.

But if you get the Tundra out on dirt, it's a completely different story. Running at speed on loose material, the Tundra feels much more at home. Its weight isn't a drawback; in some ways, it helps to keep the back end settled as you kick up dust clouds. The suspension also works overtime to keep it composed even at high speeds. In our 2015 4x4 Challenge last October, the Tundra TRD Pro barely beat the Ram Rebel 1500, with its edge in 4WD capability comprising the entire 12-point difference in scores. Many of those tests took place on dirt and sand similar to what I encountered on this trek, and driving it in those conditions again was like meeting an old friend.

The bigger engine also makes the Tundra better than the Tacoma on the road. The transmission doesn't hunt for gears when cruising and there's gobs of power on tap for passing. The CrewMax cab version is also great for overlanding if you'll be carrying more than two passengers. The rear seat is huge, easily seating three passengers with plenty of legroom and headroom.

That afternoon, the rain we dodged for most of the trip caught up to us as we were on a dirt road, turning it to a slick, muddy mess. The website for the Burr Trail says that "wet weather may make the road impassable even for 4WD vehicles" and I can now vouch for that through personal experience. Even though we proceeded with great care, our Tacoma lost traction and skidded off the road, dropping a tire over the side. X3 had to winch it out with the help of Maxtrax.

TRD Trip Tacoma 1 II

Just as soon as it came, the rain lifted and the near triple-digit temperatures dried out the road in a matter of minutes. From there, it was on to Coral Reef State Park and the final campsite. Our campground that night felt like the lap of luxury — there were showers, toilets that flushed and lights so you didn't trip over anything in the dark. After not showering for three days, I decided that wasn't time to tap out. It could wait for my return to civilization the next day.

Day 4: Coral Reef State Park to St. George, Utah

The last day was bittersweet as it was time to say goodbye to new friends and three rigs. Each vehicle proved up to the task on our adventure and were able partners for the drive.

The whole concept of overlanding and adventure travel was new to me. Though I've done plenty of off-road driving in my time at PickupTrucks.com, this was my first real, epic trek. When your vehicles are carrying all of the things necessary for your livelihood for the duration of your trip, they get cast in a different, harsher light.

Toyota offers probably the most well-rounded off-road lineup of any automaker. I had driven each of these rigs before in various conditions, but I came away from this trip with a new appreciation for each of their capabilities, especially since they came in stock form. This journey pushed each to their limit and after starting out the trip with clean rigs, they (along with the drivers) were caked in dirt and muck by the end. That's the way they're supposed to look to me.

A big thank you to Toyota, Clay Croft and the rest of the Expedition Overland crew, Kurt-ipedia, and my fellow journalists, all of whom made this trip one I'll never forget. Check out the video Expedition Overland made of our adventure below, and we look forward to hearing about your own adventures with your trucks in the comments.

Cars.com photos by Brian Wong




TRD Route Graphic 1

TRD Trip Beauty 1 II

TRD Trip Camp II

TRD Trip Packmule 1 II

TRD Trip Tundra 1 II

TRD Trip Tundra 3 II

TRD Trip Grille 1 II

TRD Trip Tundra 4 II

TRD Trip Wheel 1 II

TRD Trip Tacoma 3 II




I have yet to read an article where the new Tacoma engine gets a good review. It's a dog according to the journalists. The Tundra as usual roo big. Does everyone see what's needed here. The size of the Gen 2 Tundra with V8 power as the perfect sized truck. Power to weight was excellent.

Amazing write-up. Great Toyota trucks as always. Considering that the 4.0 270hp is still in production with the 4Runner and other overseas models, Toyota should make the 4.0 an option on the Tacoma. If you want it pick it up. If not then buy the 3.5. But since the 4.0 is still in production and a great heavy duty engine to boot, it should be an option.

The 3.5 was a mistake and everyone says so. Toyota should have kept the 4.0 which was a great engine and reengineered it to the 300HP and 300 ftlbs of torque to compete with the smaller V8's. Offer that and the 4.6 V8 in both the Tacoma and 4Runner.


Sounds like fun to me.


The ram in that video didn't do any hard offroading, the hardest part was within the first 1:15... A Jeep Renegade could do that crap.

Tacoma people wanted better MPGs, Toyota gave them that with the 3.5. The old 4.0 in the Tacoma was not speedster, and it got terrible MPGs. The 5th gen 4Runners with the 270hp 4.0 get pretty crappy MPGs also.

I think Toyota made a mistake putting a 3.909 gears behind the new 3.5 6 speed auto, they should have done 4.30 gears like they did for the 2.7 4 cylinder Tacos with the 6 speed. The 3.5 would feel much more responsive. The 3.5 with the 6 speed manual gets the 4.30 gear set.

Don't need quick response anyway on difficult terrain.

Ha! Love the "yawn" comment! That guy obviously would like you to please write a story for him---you know, showing how he uses his truck to pick up groceries at the local Safeway. For the rest of us, this was an excellent story, with fantastic pictures! cheers!

Toyota trucks as usual out in the rough, while Colorado's stay with grandpa back home!

@John, try this in your jeep lol


Thank you for the great article. That was a great read. I too think the 4.0 should be an option.

For all you 4.0 fans there is actually a petition on tacomaworld forum to make the 4.0 an option. Most comments are not because the 3.5 is bad but rather the legendary reliability of the 4.0 and the endless parts and aftermarket support for it.

Before I petition a 4.0, I would ask for a 4 cyl diesel option.

Odd that they call the 4Runner a 2016 model when the cement paint color is only available on the 2017 model not the 2016

The 3.5 liter V6, 2gr-fks is a fine engine.
It just needs an 8 speed automatic.

@Jon the model we drove was a prototype, the sticker was 2016 and I verified that with Toyota during and after the trip, but the color wasn't spec (you're right)

When I was racing down in Baja, we had a saying, the bigger and more powerful engine gets you to the rock that puts you out of the race faster!

Think about that...

All you guys focus on is engine power but do not discuss, approach, departure, break-over angles, wheel travel, weight distribution, tires, tire size and type, gearing, retrieval points, ground clearance, etc...

Proves you guys really lack real world off-roading experience.

I say that because I am a lifetime driver of Toyota 4-cylinder trucks off-road, and those 4-cylinders hold their own off-road. Wow, engine size is not all that it is folks!

The four corners region is a treat. If you haven't made that trip it's a must.

For you east coast guys just fly into Denver or Colorado Springs and rent an AWD pickup or SUV and you're set. Go west from there but hurry. The winter will be closing some of the mountain passes very soon.

Those roads won't re-open till late May at the earliest. Check out Monarch Pass. You'll wish for a V8.

If smaller engines are so great for racing in Baja you should tell all the trophy truck drivers they are doing it wrong.

I am not a Toyota fan, but give credit where due. Toyota has THREE vehicles that can hold their own off-road. Who else comes close? Sure the Raptor would kick all their butts, but that's ONE vehicle only. GM? Didn't think so. Ram? Powerwagon only. Jeep? Maybe two if you count the 2-door and 4-door Wrangler as separate entries.

Toyota wins

@Toycrusher. Oh boy, You forgot the Rebel Hello? How about a Cherokee? Patriot? Renegade? compass? Ram 2500 off road pavkage? amd more.

When it comes to off road NO one has you covered more than Ram and Jeep. Toyota second. Remember kids Dodge started the off road market. They have two ww2 legends in their stable.

Dodge and Jeep started the Civilian off road market. Dodge was building 4x4's for the Military in 1934.

@hemi - none of those are ready to rock in showroom condition. At the least you would need to remove air dams and in reality much more than that. The Rubicon and Power Wagon are the only ready to go models. Even the Rebel is little more than a sticker package.

@toycrusher, You need to get out doors more. Sorry I respectfully disagree.

Jeep Cherokee,


Toyota is only showing the TRD Pro trims. The landcruiser, prado and hilux all will hang with these TRD Pro packaged vehicle and maybe even better them because these non_TRD Pro packeged three doesn't require a trim package to be able to offroad well.

I am not a Toyota fan, but give credit where due. Toyota has THREE vehicles that can hold their own off-road. Who else comes close? Sure the Raptor would kick all their butts, but that's ONE vehicle only.

Toyota wins
Posted by: toycrusher | Oct 23, 2016 1:50:27 PM

1) Raptor
2) F-150 FX4
3) Super Duty

The Ford Raptor might be the best all-around 4WD vehicle that Ford makes. But for hardcore, slow-going four-wheeling that requires you to tow or haul a heavy payload, choose the Ford Super Duty.

Did Hemi say the Compass? ROFL!!!!!!!!!!
A subaru would school a compass offroad all day!

A Ford super duty is a poor off-road vehicle. They are meant to tow and haul but they sink in mud or snow.

Actually the Super Duty is one of the top 10 off-road vehicles specially if you need to haul or tow heavy loads.


My Super Duty goes right through mud and snow.

@ HEMI V8,

So why does the military not buy Jeep's anymore?

In fact solid axles are a thing of the past, independent suspensions are now becoming mandatory on military trucks!

The military still buys Toyota trucks and Land Cruisers for Special Forces overseas!


And the average Joe can afford a $50,000 plus truck like the Raptor?

Raptor is a great truck but suffers huge weight problem and size. It will be dented and scratch on just fire lane trails and sink in soft mud unless it has 38" or taller tires!

Seen how those full-size trucks with only 35's get stuck off-road quite easy.

@ BD,

And how many races did Toyota win with just a V6 back in the 1990's? Yeah look up the Ironman defeating those big V8's and V-10's back in the day!

TRD on the Taco has always been a pretty good package. On the Tundra it falls right in line with Z71 and FX4 so nothing really special there. 4 Runners are cool but honestly haven't in the US been relevant or sold in numbers or been affordable enough to be either for years now.

@papa, I know the Durango, CO area I visited a few years ago was fun in the Jeep rental :)

This is a great write up, nice job.

The FX4, Z71, TRD Offraod (Tundra), Rebel/Ram offraod package is nothing more than stickers, some monotube shocks, and an extra skid plate. Nothing special as the "offroad shocks" are off the shelf crap. I don't even consider these vehicles offroad worthy.

The Rebel offers no actual benefits except for tires and adjustable suspension. The lack of wheel travel in the Rebel makes it worthless in any high speed desert running. I guess you could see how long the air suspension lasts jumping the truck (You can actually jump the Raptor and TRD Pro Tundra and not blow up the front suspension), doubt Ram would warranty it when it breaks.

You want to talk about vehicles are actually "offroad" worthy and not a shock/sticker package then these are honestly it:

Nothing on the market right now

Power Wagon (really an overweight pig that only excels at 5 mph off-roading, but makes up for being a bloated land whale with lockers, ~2" lift, 33" ATs and the winch)

Wrangler Rubicon (If you buy a Wrangler without lockers, you should have purchased a Compass)
Cherokee (in TrailHawk trim only)

Tacoma TRD Pro/TRD Offraod (rear locker)
4Runner TRD Pro/Trail (TRD Offraod in 2017, both trims have rear lockers)
Tundra TRD Pro (although no lockers, basically a truck with mid travel suspension)

In reality unless you are doing high speed or very WIDE trails, the Raptor, Power Wagon and the Tundra are worthless as you'd be banging trees due to the width of these trucks on majority of trails.


Why don't they ever go further off the beaten path? A national park is not the place for that. Sure there is beautiful scenery, but those huge roads look very easy to navigate. If you want to find a truly nasty road you have to go to remote places that rarely get traveled. I'd love to see a review in alaska or some remote mountain hunting roads in idaho or nevada. The kind of places where if you get stuck you have to hike a ridge to call for help.

Those look better than some of the public dirt roads we take our AWD subaru on. Lol and I've actually beat a jeep grand Cherokee at wading 2ft of snow in our subaru although I think it was mostly driver skill though that made the difference. Lol


the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Durango, Uray and that whole four corners is really tops.

Utah is another under-appreciated part of the west, but I don't understand why.

Ditto for eastern Oregon. God's country for sure.

The off road assist systems on Chrysler products are awesome. If you watch the Cherokee video that was traversing harder obstacles than the Toyota video you'll notice when a wheel leaves the ground the system takes over and causes the power to go to the other wheel. A little more drama than a locker but you can definitely see it working. It's obvious to me quite a few folks do a lot of bench racing and need to go out an experience some off roading.

No question Ram and Jeep have the 4x4 market covered. Way more than their cross town rivals in selection and capability. Have no use for a Tacoma rather have a Rubicon.

I do feel sorry for those who think this Toyota video above was extreme off roading.


@ HEMI V8; even the jeep video was lame, the water forging was a joke; come to my valley & welcome to my jungle; I'll show you what 4-wheeling is all about.

No question Ram and Jeep have the 4x4 market covered. Way more than their cross town rivals in selection and capability. Have no use for a Tacoma rather have a Rubicon.

Posted by: HEMI V8 | Oct 24, 2016 7:48:49 PM

@ RAM; of course the jeep video cut-out all the breakdowns they had LOL (broken axels/leaking oil) - I know, friends with more recent Jeep Wranglers/GC broke/twisted these parts just from climbing curbs...hahahaha!!
But I can attest the my 23 yr old YJ with lockers, 4.11 gears/4.5 inch lift/33's can run rings around these new wanna be off-roaders & then some...

Wonder what they consider "off-road" if they rank a heavy duty in the top 10? Lol I don't see how a 6000-8000lb HD could be compared to 3-4000lb quarter ton pickup such as the Tacoma, ranger, Dakota or s-10.

Granted a HD can do some light off-roading but they're not designed for really off-roading like rock climbs or old skid trails or handling dunes they're just not light or flexible enough or even narrow enough. Lol

To all the Ford fangirls hating on Toyota. Notice in the video that his Toyota buddies are waiting for the Raptor to come through and can hear them say " we will tow him out." You can hear something snapping in the Raptor. Another denied warranty claim .


Posted by: GMSRGREAT | October 25, 2016 at 01:18 AM

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