At Their Highest Levels, Toyota's Off-Road Trucks Perform Very Differently

2020 Toyota Tundra and Tacoma TRD Pro Group Shot

Cars.com photos by Christian Lantry

By Aaron Bragman

We recently had an opportunity to drive the 2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro and 2020 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro back-to-back at Toyota's intro of its 2020 models at an off-road park in Bridgeport, Texas, to see how the two compare to each other in the wilds of the north Texas prairie. We came away convinced that both are impressive performers, but that they do different things well. (Per our ethics policy, Cars.com pays for its own lodging and transportation at such automaker sponsored events.)

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

2020 Tacoma TRD Pro: The Nimble Crawler

2020 Tacoma TRD Pro Rock Crawling

The Tacoma TRD Pro receives a few minor updates for 2020, but the goods that make it a superior off-road truck haven't been altered. The truck comes from the factory with a laundry list of specialty off-road equipment: Fox 2.5-inch internal bypass shocks, TRD-tuned front and rear springs, a 1-inch lift, an aluminum skid plate, 16-inch wheels with Kevlar-reinforced Goodyear Wrangler All-Terrain tires, a TRD cat-back exhaust and Rigid Industries LED foglights. It comes with the standard 278-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6, and can be had with either a six-speed manual or automatic transmission. It features a ton of electronic aids aimed at helping you navigate challenging terrain ... slowly. Toyota's Crawl Control, for instance, is a kind of low-speed cruise control that you can engage when the transfer case is in low range; it uses all manner of sensors to keep you moving over boulders and trails. A bevy of new downward front- and side-facing cameras are also present now and use the truck's new 8-inch multimedia screen to help you see the way ahead when you can't quite see over the hood.

All of these systems serve to make the Tacoma TRD Pro an outstanding rock crawler. Its tidy dimensions help in that regard too — it doesn't feel big and ponderous like the massive Tundra; it feels narrow and lithe, able to squeeze down trails that other trucks might have a challenge fitting through. The Fox shocks and progressive-rate rear leaf springs soak up broken pavement well at low to moderate speeds, but some quick blasts over a dry lakebed showed us that the soft back end doesn't like bigger dips, bottoming out the rear suspension regularly with an alarming bang. Keep your speeds down, however, and the Tacoma is a treat, never once hesitating to go up or down any of the loose, rocky, boulder-strewn landscape that we threw it at.

2020 Tundra TRD Pro: The Charging Bull

2020 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro Dirt Running

The Tundra TRD Pro couldn't be more different. First of all, it's a far larger truck — full-size to the Tacoma's smallish-to-mid-size dimensions. It's heavier, it's wider, it has a bigger cabin, and it's much more comfortable as well. It's equipped similarly to the Tacoma, however, replete with off-road equipment tuned by TRD and installed at the factory. Up front are TRD-tuned coil springs and multileaf springs out back, while TRD-tuned Fox 2.5-inch internal bypass shock absorbers are fitted at all corners. The suspension gets a 2-inch lift versus the Tacoma's 1-inch rise. Lightweight 18-inch BBS alloy wheels are shod with Michelin all-terrain tires for off-road grip, while a TRD aluminum skid plate is also affixed. Under the hood, the standard 5.7-liter V-8 remains present pumping out 381 horsepower, mated to a six-speed automatic and standard four-wheel drive for the TRD Pro. As power plants go, it's not a very modern one — and most automakers' trucks offer at least eight speeds, with some including 10-speed automatics.

Related: Sibling Rivalry: 2018 Toyota Tundra Vs. 2018 Toyota Tacoma

Off-road, that doesn't seem to matter. The big Tundra is a bit ponderous when negotiating tight rock obstacles due to its width, length and heft, and it doesn't offer Toyota's nifty Crawl Control system to help you get over obstacles. So rock crawling may not be its forte. But when your speeds start to climb, the additional 1.5 inches of wheel travel up front and 2 inches in back make a big difference in smoothing out the ride. Across the dry lakebed that shook my fillings loose in the Tacoma TRD Pro, the Tundra exhibited much better ability to absorb big shocks to the suspension. Put the transmission into 2nd gear, switch off all the traction and stability nannies, and the big Tundra TRD Pro will power-slide all day in the dirt, and jump low mounds with ease, all while delivering a fantastic soundtrack thanks to the dual cat-back TRD exhaust system.

So Which One Is Better?

That depends entirely on what you plan on doing with your off-road truck. Looking to go rock crawling in something tidy and parkable in a standard home garage? The Taco is a tastier treat. Want to go a bit faster across broken terrain, carrying more people and stuff? The Tundra is the one you'll prefer. Both look pretty fantastic in their off-road trim and new-for-2020 Army Green paint, exclusive to the TRD Pro line of trucks (which now includes the 4Runner and Sequoia as well). These aren't the most comfortable or modern trucks on the market, and they're not blessed with the nicest interiors either, but their reputation for solid dependability and resale value makes up for that in the eyes of many owners. One thing they definitely are, however, is off-road capable, and if that's a priority for you, they're definitely worth a look.

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