Toyota’s Tacoma TRD Pro can handle backwoods – and neighbourhoods – like a pro

BLUE MOUNTAIN, Ont. — The Toyota Tacoma has long proven itself to be a tough little truck, able to billygoat its way over the most challenging trail or weedy gulch – even those occupied by ducks. But when the factory adds some genuine off-road components and zips them up in a pretty package, the Tacoma enters new territory.

First seen at the Chicago Auto Show in February, the TRD Pro Tacoma is finally arriving in Canada, joining the Tundra TRD Pro pickup that landed last year — and the just-announced 4Runner TRD Pro that will hit dealerships in January 2017.

Differentiating the 2017 TRD Pro Tacoma from off-the-shelf Tacomas is a “heritage” grille in smoke grey, LED foglamps from Rigid Industries, and TRD stamping and badges. Underneath, a TRD front skidplate made of quarter-inch aluminum joins a unique suspension that includes a TRD remote reservoir, TRD-tuned front coil springs with Fox Racing shocks up front, and progressive-rate leaf springs in the rear. In a new “Cement Grey” colour, the truck looks fantastic, the 16-inch gloss black TRD wheels and black wheel arches adding to the appeal. White or red are the only two other colours.

Unlike the Tundra, the Tacoma use a single TRD-tuned exhaust, which gives off just enough sound to be heard but not so much as to be intrusive. The Tundra TRD Pro’s tuned dual-exhaust might be a bit obnoxious over the long term.

Surprisingly, the ride in the Tacoma TRD Pro — while definitely on the firm side — doesn’t whack the driver into submission or feel too stiff over regular roads. Off road, it chews up bumps and depressions as well as any Jeep Wrangler. The body-on-frame and solid-axle underpinnings making it feel very much like the truck it truly is, but with a poise and balance that’s unique to the Tacoma. On some 33-degree inclines and rolling mounds, the Tacoma simply ate the side of the dirt hill, even in the rain. No matter what the road, the truck feels tight.

On more treacherous terrain, the Tacoma showed a Sherpa-like determination to reach the crest of hills that looked too steep to climb even on foot, let alone a five-passenger pickup with a decent stereo. Descending similarly spooky hills, the Tacoma’s Crawl Control happily takes command of the descent through selective braking and throttle inputs so all the driver has to do is steer. Although the system sounds crude and loud when it’s working, it functions brilliantly and the speed can be adjusted by a knob just aft of the rearview mirror, making the Tacoma TRD Pro a true rock crawler when the driver wants it to be.

Under the hood, the same 3.5-litre, Atkinson-cycle V6 producing 278 horsepower and 265 lb.-ft. of torque found in regular Tacomas is found here, also. Midrange grunt is definitely lacking, though. Decent acceleration can be achieved by gearing down and flattening the pedal, but while the engine is both port- and direct-injected, it feels as if it could benefit from a turbo or another 50 to 100 lb.-ft. of torque. As it is, the Tacoma needs encouragement on most grades, in part because it’s trying to save fuel.

Flipping the six-speed automatic transmission to manual mode makes a big difference; just don’t expect Tundra-like acceleration. That automatic, controlled by a beefy shifter in the centre console, sorted the gears beautifully, though, always on time and without hesitation or confusion. A six-speed manual is also available, but the manual transmission means giving up crawl control, multi-terrain select, as well as forgoing push-button start and keyless entry. But both transmissions are married to a lockable rear differential.

Available only in four-door, Double Cab configurations with a five-foot composite bed, the Tacoma TRD Pro can tow a decent amount, too — up to 6,400 pounds, Toyota says. Every Tacoma TRD Pro also gets a class-IV towing receiver, an engine oil cooler, seven- and four-pin trailer wiring harness, and trailer sway control.

Like other Tacomas, the TRD Pro cabin is handsomely appointed. Gauges are clear, though some buttons could be bigger. The TRD Pro gets a leather steering wheel (but no option for heated wheel), heated leather seats with red stitching and a power-sliding rear window. New for 2017 are blind-spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert.

There is, of course, a price to pay for all this differentiation: While base 4×4 Tacos start at about $33,000, the TRD Pro with the automatic transmission rings in at $53,295 and the manual version is $50,000. Still, for a truck that can handle the backwoods of B.C., or anywhere else for that matter, as well as it can negotiate most urban neighbourhoods on a daily basis, the cost could be worth it — especially at trade-in time. If the past is any indicator, the resale value of the Tacoma will be excellent.