For the past decade or so, we have been inundated with full-sized half-ton pickup trucks that have been heart of the North American automotive industry. While there is nothing wrong with that observation, we often forget that there are other classes of pickups – both larger and smaller than the run-of-the-mill, profit-making beasts we're completely used to.
That is why a lot of attention has been given to the mid-sized pickup truck market. When the average truck consumer has gone into sticker shock, smaller trucks are becoming more desirable. If you overlook the lack of performance and capability compared to their larger compadres at the worksite, the farm, and at the boat launch.
If you have to start somewhere, why not start at the best selling vehicle in its segment – the Toyota Tacoma.
The Tacoma is popular because their customer base is loyal – sounds familiar, truck owners? Not to mention, Tacomas have a reputation for high quality, durability, and overall reliability.
There is one thing about the Toyota Tacoma: Unless you have a fleet and can only budget for the base SR model in quantity, the most desirable model of the lineup is the TRD Pro.
Choosing the TRD Pro gives you more than just the average Tacoma pickup truck. There is a specific front end with a unique grille and specific LED headlamps with new "flowing" turn signals. The truck rides on a set of black 16-inch alloy wheels, all-terrain tires that mean business. Let's not forget all of the TRD Pro badging that announces it arrival where the deer and the antelope play.
And, by the way, the TRD Pro only comes in the Double Cab four-door model with the short box. You can get in four colors, including this absolutely awesome Army Green.
My tester had a very interesting feature mounted on the passenger side A-pillar. I heard you called it a snorkel. Sorry, wrong answer! This feature is called a Desert Air Intake. Its function is specified in areas where dust is present – like the desert. The Desert Air Intake increases outside airflow into the airbox by capturing cleaner air above the dust line. When I received the Tacoma TRD Pro, the top of the air intake was turned around for winter use. Wait until spring when you can see one the right way around – at your local Toyota dealer.
The interior is cool looking, if not highly functional. By choosing the TRD Pro, you get additional badging and subtle red accents all over the cabin. Perforated black leather adorns the front and rear seats. They were very supportive and comfortable, but having a tall torso limited the amount of headroom to work with. If you're slightly smaller than me, you'll be fine.
Ergonomically, the Tacoma TRD Pro is all Toyota. Controls placed where you expect them with great touch and logic. However, make sure you look up on the console on the roof above you for specific four-wheel-drive controls, including CRAWL control, Hill Start Assist Control, and so forth. For the off-road enthusiast, you're going to need those features.
To my surprise was the updated 8-inch touchscreen on the Tacoma. It now features Apple CarPlay, I know that Toyota has been adding smartphone integration to their lineup, but having it on the TRD Pro made my time with it extremely pleasant. The JBL speakers sound equally superb. This system is exactly what you need for trekking away from the tarmac.
Power came from a 278-horsepower 3.5-liter Atkinson Cycle V6 attached to a six-speed automatic transmission and a four-wheel-drive system powered by a two-speed transfer case. The TRD Pro adds a limited-slip differential to the mix. I'm OK with this setup, but not without some frustration on passing and onramp maneuvers. As for fuel economy, I only averaged 16.7 MPG.
Ride quality is soft on the Tacoma TRD Pro. Though not exactly designed for on-road use, the TRD suspension with its FOX Internal-Bypass shock absorber system softens the blow from various surfaces, including off-road tracks. Handling is also soft with little care needed to maneuver the pickup truck around some turns. However, tight maneuvers may require some patience with the axles and transfer case, as you will feel some "bucking" from the driveline.
The brakes are good, though sometimes it may feel a bit touchy. Pedal feel is strong with solid reaction down to the wheels. Steering is handled by a large wheel, which may hinder sharp maneuvers. On-center feel is soft and will need some adjustment to keep the Tacoma inside the lane. The turning radius is quite large for this size of pickup truck.
One thing I will suggest to potential customers of the Tacoma TRD Pro – take a look at the tires. The Goodyear Wranglers on my tester were not bad, really. However, I would find a more aggressive tire to handle the rougher stuff – including several inches of snow on top of ice. That's just my $.02.
In terms of pricing, let me cut to the chase. My TRD Pro tester came with a sticker price of $49,708. It is on the high side for its class, but it is really worth it considering what you are getting.
Perhaps the most important thing to understand when buying a pickup truck of any size is how you will actually use it. If you are an off-road enthusiast and love carving out trails or blasting through the snow – then, the 2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro is perfect for you.
For the rest of us, there are five other Tacomas to choose from. They're just as equally well-built, reliable, and durable as the TRD Pro. Hey, you can't go wrong with a Toyota Tacoma!
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Toyota Motor North America
All photos by Randy Stern