BY TIM SPELL
All pickup manufacturers build trucks that are specially outfitted to cope with challenging off-road trails, but Toyota focuses on its rugged 4x4s with a bit more intensity. This is especially true with its midsize 2017 Tacoma.
While a “4×4 traction is there when you need it” approach is common in pickup marketing, Toyota expects a large percentage of its Tacoma buyers to actually seek off-road adventures.
This mindset is spurred by more than 40 percent of Tacoma buyers choosing off-road-capable TRD models. A pair of TRD trucks is offered — TRD Off-Road, base priced at $32,195, and top-line TRD Pro, with a $41,215 starting price.
For typical active-lifestyle weekend warriors the TRD Off-Road test-truck is the more reasonable choice. It’s considerably less expensive, gets better fuel economy, and, while not quite up to TRD Pro standards, can handle off-road demands beyond those of most 4×4 enthusiasts.
Tacoma Off-Road models are available in three cab/bed configurations: Access Cab with 6-foot-long bed, and Double Cabs with 5-foot short bed or 6-foot long bed. While 4×4 traction and automatic transmissions are the most popular choices, Double Cab short-bed models are available in two-wheel drive and with six-speed manual transmissions (4×4 only).
My test truck was the Double Cab long-bed 4×4, base priced at $36,420 and equipped with standard technology that allows a novice off-roader to confidently tackle rough trails. With a 225.5-inch overall length and 140.6-inch wheelbase, it sacrifices a bit of off-road maneuverability versus the lineup’s shorter 212.3-inch-long/127.4-inch-wheelbase configurations.
Tacoma Off-Road models ride on P265/70R16 Goodyear Wrangler tires, which are Kevlar-reinforced to resist punctures. These tires wrap six-spoke machined-contrast metal/black-painted alloy wheels.
Fitted with a TRD-tuned off-road suspension with heavy-duty Bilstein shocks, the pickup is capable of trekking over hostile terrain, yet generally offering a compliant on-pavement ride quality. Some irregular road surfaces were encountered during testing that produced a rough ride.
The Tacoma Off-Road is equipped with a 4WDemand part-time 4WD system, featuring an electronically controlled transfer case and automatic limited-slip differential. Added grip in low-traction conditions is provided with an electronically controlled locking rear differential. Four-wheel high and low are effortlessly selected via a dash-mounted knob.
The centerpiece of the off-road package is Crawl Control, which is standard on TRD Off-Road 4×4 models with automatic transmission. When we tested the feature on a steep A-shaped hill with no braking or acceleration input, Crawl Control enabled the Tacoma to deftly climb and descend the hill. Crawl Control also assists in traveling over boulder-infested trails and digging the pickup out of deep sand, gravel, and mud. A Tacoma TRD Off-Road can be buried to the frame rails in sand and lift itself out via the Crawl Control system. The system strategically turns every wheel, gradually building up sand to create traction until it reverses itself up, out, and onto solid footing.
Complementing Crawl Control is the Multi-Terrain Select system. After selecting the terrain type from five modes — Mud & Sand, Loose Rock, Mogul, Rock & Dirt, Rock — the system maximizes traction and regulates wheel spin by automatically adjusting throttle response and brake pressure. Standard skid plates protect the front suspension and engine from damaging trail obstacles.
Providing muscle for the TRD Off-Road is a 3.5-liter V-6 that delivers 278 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 265 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,600 rpm. It’s mated to a six-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission with intelligence.
Estimated fuel economy is 18 miles per gallon in the city and 23 mpg on the highway. Towing capacity with the optional $650 V-6 Tow Package is 6,400 pounds. Payload max for the long-bed pickup is 1,120 pounds.
A composite bed and deck-rail system add functionality to toting gear, bicycles, motorcycles, four-wheelers, and other fun toys. The Tacoma’s fiber-reinforced sheet-molded composite 73.7-inch-long floor provides impact strength that’s superior to steel.
Securing cargo is made easy with a deck-rail system featuring C-channel frames and four adjustable tie-down cleats. A standard bed-mounted 120-volt/400-watt AC outlet brings a touch of civilization while exploring remote trails. An easy lift-and-lower/removable tailgate adds to loading convenience.
The Tacoma Off-Road 4×4 Double Cab long bed is a rugged midsize pickup with full-size-truck feel. It’s a practical cargo-hauler that comfortably seats five passengers, and is specially created for the trucker who occasionally enjoys veering off-pavement for a taste of the wilderness.