by Brendan Appel
Watching one of my favorite trilogies, I realized that the main character of the movie and a Toyota pickup have some things in common. While that is a bit vague, the trilogy I’m talking about features a man of extreme focus, commitment, and sheer will. You could apply those same attributes to the 2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro and the team who created it, sure, but I’m really talking about the fact that Toyota didn’t actually name its pickup truck in the US until it released the Tacoma in 1995. Until then, like John Wick’s second dog – named simply “dog” – Toyota’s truck was just called “truck” (although in the rest of the world it was known as the Hilux). And like Mr. Wick, the top-of-the-line TRD Pro trim is a truck that can tackle seemingly impossible tasks with relative ease, style and even comfort.
Fully redesigned in 2016, the 2020 TRD Pro gets a new (and to our eyes, better looking) grill design, an upgraded 8” multimedia display with Android Auto and Apple Car Play (unlike a Nissan Frontier, which has neither), sequential LED headlights, a new wheel design, standard Panoramic View Monitor (Toyota-speak for a 360 surround camera system) and Multi Terrain Monitor. That’s all nice and good to look at, but what really makes this Tacoma a TRD Pro are the specially tuned Bilstein shocks, electronic locking rear differential (for under 5mph, really just to get you unstuck), Hill Assist Control, Multi-Terrain Select (which changes the traction control and torque vectoring to suit the surface), and Crawl Control. For 2020, Toyota also updated the tuning of the Fox 2.5-inch internal bypass shocks and front and rear springs. Pro’s ride on Goodyer Wrangler All-Terrain tires which, like a John Wick business suit, are Kevlar-reinforced. You also get a standard part-time 4-wheel-drive system with an electronically controlled transfer case. Shifting between 2Hi and 4Hi happens with just the turn of a knob, but getting into 4Lo requires you stop, shift to neutral, and then push and turn the button. If you hear a constant beep, chances are you forgot the “shift to neutral” part. An optional $750 snorkel, which looks great but kills your gas mileage, was also fitted to our test car. And, of course, a giant TRD Pro emblazoned skid-plate covers up the important bits down low and lets everyone know this isn’t just another pretty pavement pounder. Rather, these systems are designed to take the TRD Pro to places other trucks might fear.
Propelling all this hardware is a 3.5L-V6 with direct and port injection, VVT and other tricks to make 278hp @6000rpm along with 265 lb-ft of torque at a pretty high 4,600rpm. Our test truck came with a 6-speed automatic transmission but – thank the maker – you can still opt for a 6-speed manual transmission in the TRD trim. The automatic drove smoothly, but seemed to hunt gears at highway speeds, frequently dropping us down to 4th to maintain cruising speed. That latter part didn’t help our fuel economy numbers either. While the TRD Pro is rated at 19/24/21 (city/hwy/comb) in 2wd, we only saw a max of 18.5mpg on the highway – so plan on refueling often. The snorkel’s lack of aerodynamics probably played into this number as the extra air resistance was likely the cause of the transmission hunting at cruising speed.
Our tester’s Army Green paint may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you’re driving around in a fully decked out truck like this one, it certainly fits with what this ride can do. And opting for the top-level TRD Pro is the only way you can even get this unique color on a Tacoma.
Off road, the Tacoma – known affectionately by many owners as the “Taco” – excels in 4WD-Lo, tackling dirt hills and mud with relative ease. The high ground clearance and off-road shocks mean you’ll crawl over obstacles with ease and comfort in a way we really haven’t seen since the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. While the Tacoma doesn’t have disconnectable sway bars like the Jeep, the ride is surprisingly good over the bumpy stuff.
Despite this TRD Pro’s obvious off-road pedigree, its on-road manners are impressive as well. The combination of a high floor and low seating position gives the Tacoma a sense of being in more of a sports car than pickup truck. Ride is good and the tire noise is less than expected from the All-Terrain tires. Helping make the Tacoma feel more car like is the bevy of Toyota Safety Sense features, including a Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, High-Speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control (DRCC), Lane Departure Alert and Automatic High Beams. There’s a standard moon roof and the premium JBL audio system is included with the automatic transmission. Topping off the list of included goodies, the adaptive cruise control is one of the best we’ve ever sampled.
Of course, all this fun, utility and safety doesn’t come cheap. The TRD Pro double-cab starts at $46,665.00, and our tester stickered at $49,708.00. Toyota says 60% of every Tacoma sold has some kind of added TRD package or equipment, so most Tacoma’s sticker on this higher end. For comparison’s sake, the Jeep Gladiator Rubicon starts at $45,370 and similarly equipped runs about $50,200. Similarly equipped, however, both the Ford Ranger and Chevy Blazer come in significantly lower at $38,945 and $43,275, respectively.
And finally, if all of the above didn’t make you think long and hard about the Tacoma as a top option for your next mid-sized pickup, just remember this truck is the “Baba Yaga” to all the other vehicles in its class – it has killed every competitor in sales for over 14 years running. Hell, with a track record like that, the “Taco” doesn’t even need to have a name.
2020 Sons Of Speed LLC