The Case for the 2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro Truck
The Ford F-150 has been the best-selling vehicle in the U.S. since the Reagan administration.
For good reason: Ford’s flagship truck combines reliability and grit under an iconic American brand. It looks athletic and is capable off-road and on. You can’t talk about trucks without talking about Ford.
But if you want to stand out from the norm a little bit, with something that has its own winning ways, consider the 2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro. It’s not as powerful as the $48,325 Ford F-150 Raptor, though it has the same-size engine, and it can’t tow as much. But for a good-looking rig that is more affordable, no less reliable, and just as commanding to drive (especially for people who will use it in the city as much as in the country), it’s a smart option.
I don’t typically review non-luxury products. Technically, this truck wouldn't qualify. But as the highest-end version of the Tacoma line, I like to think of it as a luxury in a certain way; it could be an indulgence, a $42,760 toy to add to your garage for those days when you want to get dirty—or just do some chores. At any rate, I liked how it looked on the stand when it debuted at the 2016 Chicago Auto Show, and it’s a healthy practice to periodically explore the top ends of mass brands in order to know just how far is the divide between luxury and “non.” Plus, I’ve heard great things about its sprightly nature over rocks. I wanted to see it up-close for myself.
The new TRD Pro is the natural progression of Toyota’s rugged high-performance lineup that includes Tundra TRD and 4Runner TRD models. It’s smaller than the Tundra, with only a double cab (not super crew) space. It’s roughly equal in price to the 4Runner TRD. But at $44,814 with options, it’s nearly twice as expensive as the $24,000 base-level Tacoma.
What you lose in mass and people-hauling capacity, you gain in nimbleness. The six-speed automatic on the one I drove for a week in New York achieved 278 horsepower and 265 pound-feet of torque from a 3.5-liter V6 engine. It feels light to drive, both in steering and in braking. (By comparison, the Ford Raptor comes with 450 horsepower and 510 pound-feet of torque on a 3.5 eco-boosted V6; plenty of drivers will never use this full capability and would do well to save money and go for the Tacoma.) It came with a part-time 4x4-wheel drive; electronic-locking rear differential; a limited-slip center differential in the 4WD system, preventing too much power from focusing on one wheel and thereby ensuring maximum traction; high-performance shocks; and a unique coil-spring suspension that gave it an extra inch of lift in the front.
Toyota is marketing this new model as “all about off-road performance” able to perform in “the toughest off-road environment.” Indeed, that suspension and the exhaust enhancements, which also include a complex ABS system and a cat-back stainless steel exhaust system, make it feasible for snow, mud, gravel, and rough terrain. Towing capacity is 6,400 pounds. (With the Ford Raptor SuperCab, it’s less, at 6,000 pounds; the Raptor SuperCrew can do 8,000 pounds.) At 18 miles per gallon in the city and 23mpg on the highway, the EPA numbers on the TRD Pro are relatively decent—and significantly beat those of the Raptor.
The Tacoma TRD Pro is high enough to give a commanding perspective from the drivers seat, but those technologies keep it connected enough to the ground to really drive it. I like that. Weaving through traffic down Manhattan's FDR Highway felt more like a game than a chore; initial pickup through the low gears can feel halting, but then the truck lunges forward like an adolescent Greyhound, all lanky legs and bounding energy.
I should note here that the additional cost of the TRD Pro over the standard model is justified—the increase in horsepower, torque, and off-road capabilities (not to mention hill-start assist and an excellent five-mode traction control) will feel essential soon after you get them.
At 212 inches long, the Tacoma TRD is substantially shorter than the 243.7-inch Ford, which makes it easier to park in small spaces and lighter on its feet in general. (The five-foot bed is a half-foot shorter, too, but most people using this rig for light weekend adventures, home and garden chores, and daily commutes will consider that a plus.)
Its exterior is nearly indistinguishable from the Ford, minus the wheels and the large T O Y O T A spelled out boldly across the grill. (This effect is different, too, from the other Tacoma variants, which instead have some version of the Toyota logo.) The hood is also slightly different, with a wide vent running across the top, parallel to the grill.
Toyota has done well here, offering plenty of nice exterior things as standard. LED Daytime Running Lights, 16-inch TRD black alloy wheels (you’ll want bigger), TRD-special projector-beam headlights with black bezels, and an auto on/off feature enhance its souped-up look, compared to the lesser versions. The truck bed comes with a deck rail system and tie-down cleats, plus a lockable and removable tailgate, which are invaluable for when you actually try to load things to haul down the road. The bed extender costs $320 more. All-weather floor and doorsill liners cost additionally, too. I’d splurge on both.
Ride height here is easily accessible, even for shorter people, if less impressive than that of the Raptor: Ground clearance on the Tacoma TRD Pro is 9.4 inches vs. 11.5 inches for the Raptor.
Inside, the Tacoma TRD Pro is refreshingly no-nonsense. Oh, it comes with conveniences such as Bluetooth, a rear backup camera, parking and blind-spot sensors, cross-traffic alert systems, and a seven-inch control screen. But those feel blessedly out of sight/mind until you need them, at which point they’re unobtrusive and intuitive to use. The dashboard is stocky and bare; the rear seat is large enough to fit adults; shoulder and head room are non-issues inside the cabin.
Leather-trim heated seats, remote keyless entry, wireless smartphone charging, and dual-zone cooling come standard.
The general feeling inside is that, yeah, I could use and abuse this truck for years and be happy.
In fact, that’s the lasting impression you’ll have with the TRD Pro. Yes, the Ford F-150 dominates the segment, and for good reason, but the Tacoma is a capable alternative. It’s the perfect option for the non-truck person who happens to need a truck.