On the Road Review: Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro

When you have a new vehicle as extroverted looking as this Electric Lime Tacoma in specialized off-road trim called TRD Pro, it only seemed prudent to balance my perspective with another driver, like Bill Green — owner of a ’15 Tacoma SR extended cab model. Bill, the very popular longtime host of the TV show “Bill Green’s Maine,” just happened to be home to answer my rainy Wednesday text message invite for a quick chance to get out of the house — and drive the newest Tacoma.

Bill’s Tacoma is basic transportation — no power windows or mirrors and uses the 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine with four-wheel drive and an automatic transmission — yet he says the $26,000 truck was just what he wanted and all he needed eight years ago. Upon first glance at the Lime TRD Pro in Freeport he proclaimed, “How is that color gonna feel after five years of payments?” After being alerted that I would see the TRD Pro 2 miles before it arrived, it appears that Bill and I are on the same page.

Bill jumps into the pilot seat, a power unit at this trim level ($28,365 base, $48,000 as shown) and immediately notes the modern amenities: keyless ignition, tilt/telescoping wheel, power windows, locks and mirrors, cruise control, sunroof, plus satellite radio with Apple/Android and even Alexa for entertainment. TRD includes a sunroof and a power rear window, plus special 16-inch wheels, front skid plate and new embossed emblems in the rear fenders this year. The chassis, with stout Fox shocks, is also higher, which Bill and I both note later as we savor the smoother ride dynamics of his Tacoma. The stretch up is due to 1.5 inches of added ground clearance up front, a half-inch in the rear for improved off-roading.

Admitting that we are not the target audience for this dynamic off-road machine, Bill notes that the V-6 is more responsive in the TRD while the plethora of off-road traction assist controls — some of which are mounted, strangely, on the ceiling — is a sure signal that this pickup’s primary occupation is to run hard where the surface isn’t paved. With a 5-foot composite pickup bed — 1 foot shorter than Bill’s metal bed — Mr. Green tells me that 1 foot makes a big difference while executing chores at home.

The Tacoma is far and away the top seller in the small/midsize pickup segment, with legendary reliability and high resale value. Still equipped with straightforward analog instruments, efficient controls, knobs and buttons, plus typical Toyota durability, the Tacoma is a well-rounded tool.

However, it is not a perfect tool. The cabin is tight, with a low seat that is working with a low ceiling that forces driver contortions to enter unless you want to bang a knee or head on something. The TRD’s tuned rear exhaust is akin to trying to watch TV with a vacuum cleaner running next to your head — yes, annoying. And the fuel economy is at the lower end of this segment; 17/21 mpg for the six-speed manual with this engine, only 1 mpg better with the six-speed automatic. On the interstate, the automatic constantly surges up and down, looking for the gearing to maintain your selected momentum. With that cat-back exhaust, the powertrain grows tiring. At almost the same time, Bill and I thought why hasn’t the King of Hybrids created a Tacoma hybrid? It seems like a serious question given the runaway initial success of Ford’s Maverick hybrid pickup.

And, Toyota remains steadfast in not offering an auto-mode AWD/4WD setting. Plus, what about that combination safe in the console?

When the road ends is where this truck settles into its rhythm. The steering is precise. The Crawl mode is an effective cruise control for the dirt, capably handling the ups and downs and rock crawling much better than the super-slab. The big Goodyear Territory tires with Kevlar cords spew out rocks and gravel like a dog chasing the neighbor’s cat, with the cornering and climbing grip of the cat. Here, the gearing and the powertrain prove their mettle, with the truck grinding out progress with little effort.

With eight Tacoma trim levels now, there is a Tacoma extended cab or double cab (no regular cab anymore) that can be tailored to small truck consumers. With growing sales of the Gladiator, Frontier, Ranger — and now the Maverick and other smaller pickups — Toyota has recently announced that the Tacoma will get a makeover for the 2024 model year.

From a guy named Green, perhaps some other exciting colors besides Electric Lime might warrant inclusion on the build sheet.

Next week: Subaru Forester Wilderness

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.

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