Working and Playing With the Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road

2018 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road
Cars.com photos by Matt Barnes

By Matt Barnes

The Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road's V-6 may have 278 horsepower, but it also has only 265 pounds-feet of torque, and we have concerns about any pickup truck's actual use as a truck whenever there's more horsepower than torque. The Tacoma's 3.5-liter V-6 and six-speed automatic transmission are designed for maximum on-road cruising efficiency, so we wanted to answer the question of how the Tacoma functions as a work and play truck. We did some yard work, towed a 3,000-pound trailer and then headed to the mountains for a little adventure to see how well the Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road can be used as a daily work truck as well as a weekend warrior.

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Working With the Tacoma TRD Off-Road

2018 Toyota Tacoma Cockpit

Except for the steering-wheel controls, interior switches and buttons are large and easy to use even with gloved hands. The rear seats have storage behind and underneath them, and they fold flat for transporting larger items. While our test truck was equipped with heated leather seats, it remained a very utilitarian and durable interior, but lacked things as simple as power adjustable seats (We tested a 2018 Tacoma, but an optional power driver's seat has been added to the 2020 Tacoma.)

2018 Toyota Tacoma Engine

The Tacoma TRD Off-Road, however, is plenty capable of being a light-duty work truck with a maximum tow rating of 6,400 pounds and a maximum payload of 1,420 pounds. It could make for the perfect multipurpose truck for those in lawn care, residential painting or other industries that don't require towing heavy trailers full of equipment and supplies. We towed a 3,000-pound flatbed trailer around town and on the highway, and we found that while the Tacoma was stable and controlled the load well, it had trouble accelerating and maintaining speed on inclines. Pushing the electronically controlled transmission power button changed the transmission shift points and throttle response to be more vigorous, but it didn't overcome the engine's low torque output. For 2019, among other subtle changes, Toyota revised its engine management to be more responsive.

2018 Toyota Tacoma Hauling

We also hauled garden soil and pulled out a tree stump with the Tacoma. Fully loaded with people and garden soil, we had roughly 1,000 pounds in the truck. The extra weight smoothed out the ride a little, but the truck otherwise felt unaffected by the added load. When it came time to pull the stump, we simply put the transfer case in 4-Low and locked the rear differential (this was in hopes of not tearing up the lawn). The 2.57:1 gearing reduction made a world of difference in the torque at the wheels — with a little application of the throttle, the stump came out without any drama. Sadly for us (but good for the lawn), there was no yanking and there were no spinning tires.

Playing With the Tacoma TRD Off-Road

The Tacoma really shined off the pavement and on rough mountain roads. The truck's small size made it easy to navigate the mountain trails we traveled. It also made it easy to move and make room for an oncoming vehicle. The truck was empty for our off-highway adventure apart from some recovery gear, so without much extra weight in the bed, the rear would bounce more than we expected in the higher speed sections of the trail.

2018 Toyota Tacoma Off-Roading

When we arrived at the trail's first technical portion, we were worried that the factory equipped Goodyear Wrangler A/T tires wouldn't provide enough traction to overcome the wet boulders following a stream crossing. That simply wasn't true, and the only thing that stopped us was fear of damaging the truck's rocker panels; there was plenty of traction to climb any of the obstacles on the trail. The only place the tires struggled was on a very steep, loose-dirt side trail: Even with Crawl Control engaged, the truck couldn't make that climb, though neither could the Jeep Wrangler we saw attempt it on 35-inch M/T tires. The TRD skid plates gave us confidence when working our way through the rock field even though they never actually took a hit.

We set the Multi-Terrain Select to Rock & Dirt for most of the trail. We found this setting quickly applied the brakes on wheels with less traction, providing power to the wheels with traction but not so aggressive that it hampered steering. Our experience with Crawl Control was mixed, however. In most cases, we found it easier to leave Crawl Control off as it would be rather jerky at the lowest setting, and the portion of our trail where we would have wanted to use it wasn't suited for higher speeds.

2018 Toyota Tacoma Rock Climbing

2018 Toyota Tacoma Boulder Climbing

To test articulation, we climbed a couple of boulders that were more than 2 feet tall. Wheel travel in the front was limited due to the independent suspension, but the rear solid axle traveled so much that we felt it made up for the shortcomings of the front. The high approach angle made summiting those boulders easy, but even with a decent breakover angle, the unprotected rocker panels would have been damaged. Therefore, we reversed off our articulation test boulders rather than drive over them.

Oddly enough, our best observed fuel mileage of nearly 24 mpg was achieved during our 20-mile off-highway trip. This just adds to the feeling that the Tacoma was designed to be driven on roads less traveled.

2018 Toyota Tacoma Undercarriage Skid Plate

Overall, there were only two limiting factors during our off-highway adventure. Those were the tame A/T tires and the unprotected rocker panels. With rock rails to protect the body and more off-road-oriented tires, we could have pushed the Tacoma much harder and further than we did.

How'd the Tacoma Do?

The Tacoma TRD Off-Road is an excellent vehicle for the worker hauling lighter loads, as well as the recreation enthusiast who needs a capable truck to get away on the weekends.

What We Liked

  • Capable four-wheel-drive system with a manually selectable locking center and rear differential
  • Great rear-suspension articulation
  • Extra storage compartments and a 110-volt outlet in the bed
  • Easily manageable size for tight trails and small parking stalls

2018 Toyota Tacoma Bed Storage

What We Didn't Like

  • Low-torque engine that made for many gear changes on the highway
  • While the towing and payload capacities are like low-end half-ton trucks, it doesn't have the power to handle loads as well as a half ton
  • The jerkiness of Crawl Control on its slower speed settings

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