Many car models have successful runs. A select few – think Porsche 911 or the Jeep Wrangler – fill an emotive niche we previously did not know existed. These models inspire a passionate, perhaps sometimes too passionate, base of enthusiasts. Sales numbers are immune from market forces. Used car values surpass anything resembling common sense. Updates are few and far between, and that’s how the fans prefer it. Count Toyota’s beloved and durable “Taco” among that few. And the Tacoma TRD Off-Road is a prime example.
The Good: Off-road capability. The TRD Off-Road perks up like an eager puppy when you leave the pavement behind. With true high and low gears, a specially tuned suspension, Bilstein shocks and Kevlar-reinforced Goodyear Wrangler tires, it is well outfitted for elementary off-roading. For the more ambitious, it also features crawl control, hill start assist, multi-terrain select settings and an electronically locking rear differential. Competitors may offer a token 4×2 manual with a base engine. Toyota will give you a stick with the V6 and the higher-end trims.
Who They’re For: Someone energetic and outdoorsy whose 9-5 gig is a means to get them to the beach, the trail or their remote cabin in the woods on the weekend. He or she may be parting, begrudgingly, with a first or second generation Taco.
Watch Out For: The Taco is not as eager on pavement. Even the 3.5L V6 putting out 278 horsepower and 265 lb-ft of torque can prove downright truculent when pushing the throttle or climbing a hill. Toyota tuned the automatic transmission to shift at low revs, and it can be spotty in highway driving. Fuel economy numbers, 18/23 mpg in city/highway driving, underwhelm and were hard to match in real conditions. The cabin can be tight, especially when you throw an infant car seat into the mix. While classified as a mid-size, this is far from a compact vehicle. Larger configurations leave the TRD Off-Road within inches of the length of a full-sized truck (and with similar parking anxiety).
Alternatives: The Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 ($40,360) is as close an off-road competitor as can be found on the current market. Until Ford’s new Ranger comes along, these two will duke it out on the trails. The ZR2 starts at $5,000 more than the Taco Off-Road, but does offer some attractive equipment, like front and rear locking differentials (the Tacoma offers only a rear locker) and an optional diesel engine. (See Chevy’s comparison chart between the ZR2 and the top-end Tacoma TRD Pro here.) Given Toyota’s traditional reliability and longevity, and given the Tacoma’s relative affordability, we feel it comes out on top.
Value: Tremendous, at the back end. Initial pricing and features are comparable to others. The advantage comes through the avid, loyal Tacoma fanbase. Tacomas hold their value better than just about any other American automobile. Per Kelley Blue Book, they have a 61.1 percent resale value after five years. You can “go places,” and still end up with a nice pile to put toward your next Tacoma.
Design: The curb appeal is spectacular. The Taco’s sporty, muscular exterior with a whiff of shark at the front end is a refreshing departure from the boxiness, overbearing grilles and eccentric headlight detailing favored by American competitors. Inside is a different matter. An eclectic interior and flimsy plastic buttons and paneling evoke the early 2000s more than the future of pickup trucks.
Tech: Bells and whistles proliferate. There’s a smart key system, push button start, dual climate control and wireless charging. Toyota’s Safety Sense P offers multiple features as a standard upgrade for 2018. The Premium and Technology package includes blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert systems. The seven-inch touchscreen and rear-view camera were adequate. Phone connection was seamless through a USB cord. That said, Toyota’s Entune infotainment system, like almost all proprietary systems, felt wonky and limited. Apple Carplay and Android Auto were notably absent.
Verdict: We could prattle on about comfort, performance, and fuel economy. But, ultimately, style, fun, and that little bit of je ne sais quoi are primary reasons people buy trucks and fall in love with them. Avoid the four-cylinder. Sacrifice some of the techy features for the six-speed manual. The Pro trim is a bit fancier. But, the money saved buying the cheaper Off-Road trim can go further in the Tacoma’s robust aftermarket.
What Others Are Saying:
• “The Tacoma is like a punk-rock band—an edgy alternative to more sophisticated, grown-up mid-size rivals. Its iconic off-road cred is demonstrated by definitive trail-ready trims and packages featuring rugged equipment and impressive capability.” — Car and Driver
• “The combination of a double cab and long bed in this Tacoma results in a 225.5-inch truck — that’s nearly 19 feet long! So this particular model is not parallel-parking friendly, and you have to stop and chuckle at the fact this is technically considered a small truck. It’s a truck. One with an over 6-foot-long bed capable of carrying 1,120 pounds. And one that can tow 6,400 pounds.” — Autoweek
• “After the nukes fall, all that will remain are the ruins of our cities, cockroaches, and people selling 10-year-old Toyota Tacomas for $25,000.” — The Drive
Toyota Tacoma Off-Road Key Specs
Engine: 3.5-liter V6
Transmission: six-speed manual or six-speed automatic; electronically controlled four-wheel drive
Torque: 265 lb-ft
Towing: 6,400 pounds
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