2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro First Drive: Better but Still Behind

2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro Front Angle

Cars.com photos by Christian Lantry

By Aaron Bragman

Many people point to the Toyota Tacoma as proof of why people buy Toyotas in general: It's not the best-driving pickup truck, not the least expensive, not the most comfortable and not the fastest, strongest or best-equipped. But the Tacoma is the best-selling mid-size pickup in the land, by a significant margin, and has been for 13 years, Toyota says. It sells based on the experience people have with the one they currently own: It's dead-nuts reliable, holds its value, and it's tough and eminently capable in all kinds of conditions.

Related: Updated 2020 Toyota Tacoma Sees Small Price Bump, Except for Top Trims

For the 2020 model year, Toyota has updated the Tacoma with a few minor changes aimed at making it a bit more user-friendly, so I traveled to the blistering prairies of north Texas to sample the latest version on the highways and trails west of Dallas to determine if Toyota's updates have made for a tastier Taco. (Per our ethics policy, Pickuptrucks.com pays for its own airfare and lodging at such automaker-sponsored events.)

Same Good Lookin' Taco

2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro Front

On the outside, not much has changed. There are some new grilles up front, and the top trim levels have new LED headlights with sequential turn signals that look pretty slick. Nearly every trim level of the Tacoma gets a redesigned grille that's unique to that trim, and all Tacomas get new taillight designs.

2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro Rear Angle

Models like the TRD Pro that I drove — arguably one of the best off-road trucks on the market — can be had with accessories like a dust snorkel, designed to put cleaner air into the engine sourced from above the windshield and out of any potential dust clouds from vehicles in front of it. But the bigger news for the looks on the 2020 Tacoma is the color: Gone is the eye-popping Voodoo Blue that was the exclusive color for the 2019 TRD Pro lineup (the 4Runner, Tundra and Sequoia SUVs in addition to the Tacoma). In is Toyota's familiar Magnetic Gray and the new Army Green, which looks exactly like the color of the little plastic army soldiers you might've played with as a kid. I have to say, it looks pretty fantastic on any of the new 2020 TRD Pro models, even when it's been almost completely coated in mud.

Now With Tastier Fillings

Inside, the Tacoma looks pretty familiar as well, save for two items that now make a nice difference in how easy it is to live with. First is the new height-adjustable power driver's seat. It has 10-way adjustability and allowed me to sit in a moonroof-equipped Tacoma in relative comfort. Previously, this was not possible — I couldn't actually sit in a Tacoma equipped with a moonroof without canting my upper body at a 15-degree angle to the right and placing my noggin actually within the moonroof opening; that's how low and cramped the old-school-Tacoma cabin is. It's always had a weird driving position, a holdover from its days as one of the original Japanese compact trucks — you feel like you're sitting on the floor despite its high riding position. You get used to it, and the new height-adjustable seat makes it better, but it's still odd in comparison to competitor vehicles.

2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro Apple CarPlay

The second item that makes the 2020 Tacoma better is the new 8-inch multimedia screen, which features an updated interface as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity. It's an improvement over the old system, and it's definitely nice to have those systems in the vehicle, but the design still feels old: The buttons surrounding the display feel tiny and cheap, the volume knob is unusually small and the display is still oddly dim.

2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro Internal Camera

One nice new feature with the screen on higher trim levels is a forward-facing trail camera monitor, one that activates at low speed when the four-wheel-drive system is engaged and another that gets even more detailed when you engage low range, bringing in side-view, downward-facing cameras. But either the camera or screen resolution is poor, making it difficult to actually discern what you're looking at; the Jeep Gladiator does this better, with much clearer resolution.

Awkward on the Streets, Happier in the Rough

Driving the new Tacoma isn't any different than operating previous models. The TRD Pro is still a fun dual-personality rig, one that's not all that happy out on the street but absolutely shines when you turn it loose off-road. On the street, it's stiff and bouncy: The steering is slow and a bit heavy, and it dips and wallows as you go and stop, but this is expected since it's a purpose-built off-road truck. Other versions of the Tacoma are much more civilized on-road. Toyota updated the 2019 model with some better sound insulation, so at least it's not overly loud inside. You can hear the sonorous 278-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 through the TRD Pro's unique cat-back exhaust very clearly, but it's well tuned and not obnoxious at highway cruising speeds. It's not all that sprightly, however, feeling like it's tuned more for robustness than responsiveness. If you want zippy and quick, a new turbocharged Ford Ranger is your weapon of choice. If you want torquey and solid, the Toyota V-6 will do you just fine.

2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro Rock Climbing Profile

Where the Tacoma shines is off-road. Just like the last version we tested, this latest TRD Pro model is an absolute champ in the dirt. Its high ground clearance, robust suspension, chunky tires and myriad electronic aids all serve to make the thing a blast at super-slow rock-crawling speeds or slightly elevated dry lake-bed speeds. It's no Ford F-150 Raptor, however. You'll find yourself limiting how fast you go over broken terrain as the rear end tends to bottom out with a bang on moderate-speed bumps. But it's still light and tossable in the dust, powerful and purposeful in the mud, and it climbs over obstacles with ease thanks to its electronic Crawl Control, which acts as something of an off-road cruise control when properly applied.

2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro Crawl Control Mode

More Standard Safety Tech

The final bit of improvement for the new Tacoma is the newfound level of standard electronic driver safety aids, called Toyota Safety Sense P, which comes on every new Tacoma. It includes a suite of four safety systems: precollision braking with pedestrian detection, high-speed dynamic radar cruise control (but not low-speed; it's not a stop-and-go traffic aid), lane departure warning and automatic high beams.

Pricing for the new 2020 Tacoma didn't change too much except on the higher-end models. Most versions saw a modest $200 price bump, but the top Limited and TRD Pro models saw a $995 to $1,000 price increase. If you can live without the better headroom afforded by the power seat and aren't a fan of Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, the differences between the 2019 and 2020 Tacoma are so minor that choosing between them becomes a matter of which one you can get a better deal on. If those two features push the Tacoma from the "can't do it" to the "finally, it works for me" category, then the 2020 is the way to go.

The 2020 Toyota Tacoma still feels a step behind rest of the modern mid-size truck class, but legions of satisfied owners can't be wrong. The Tacoma's popularity is undeniable, and the 2020 is as likely to continue to satisfy Toyota owners as previous versions have.

 

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2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro Rear Angle Off-Road in Dirt

2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro Off-Road Dust Cloud

2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro Off-Road Mudding

2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro Covered in Mud

2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro Grille

2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro Headlight

2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro Sideview Mirror

2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro Hood Scoop

2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro Taillight

2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro Wheel

2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro Bed

2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro Skid Plate

2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro Suspension

2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro Front Row

2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro Instrument Panel

2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro Second Row

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