The temperature gauge registers minus-33 as the Brooks Mountain Range comes into view, our convoy of TRD Pro 4WDs pushing north to the Arctic Ocean. At the lead was the 2017 Tacoma TRD Pro, the most capable pickup truck ever produced by Toyota. Our team of Andy Bell, Ryan Millen, and Sinuhe Xavier had traveled thousands of miles to the extreme northern reaches of the North American continent to test the vehicles – and ourselves.
As most manufacturers have trended towards light-duty AWD SUVs, Toyota has stayed true to the origins of the brand and still produces proper body-on-frame 4WDs. For 2017, the TRD Pro lineup includes the Tundra, 4Runner, and now the Tacoma. Most important, these are not just limited edition vehicles with a few badges and custom graphics. These 4x4s have genuine modifications to improve both performance and durability.
Parked along the Dalton Highway in Alaska. Images show pre-production model tha may vary slightly from final production.
The Tacoma TRD Pro
With 2016, the Tacoma received a major redesign, the country’s best selling compact truck gaining an additional speed in the automatic transmission and a 3.5-liter, 278-horsepower V6. Both the body and interior were significantly revised, adding a refinement not present in previous models. As I drove for days through the Arctic, all of these significant and subtle improvements became apparent, from multi-level heated seats to the traction afforded by the multi-mode terrain response. We are the first editors to test this new model for review, our insights gained from this overland adventure to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, on the shores of the Arctic Ocean.
Off Road Performance
Without question, the 2017 Tacoma TRD Pro is the most capable compact truck Toyota has ever produced, eclipsing even the venerated HiLux for technical terrain and high-speed dirt performance. I do not make these accolades lightly, having owned both earlier Tacomas and even solid axle HiLux models. The list of new features is significant, but starts with a robust foundation, the all-new 2.5-inch Fox Internal Bypass coil-over shocks. This suspension was custom tuned by FOX and TRD engineers to both support overland loads and to handle high-speed dirt road travel. The rear shocks also include remote reservoirs for increased fluid volume, all contributing to less heat-induced fade and better overall damping effectiveness. The performance of the new suspension was immediately apparent once I took the wheel, surface irregularities transmitting a rounded feedback to the occupants, even deep potholes softened while still maintaining stability and control. Directness and straight line stability has also improved with this new suspension, the hoodline remaining flat even under aggressive directional changes. This stability was particularly apparent on the ice-covered roads to Prudhoe Bay, where even modest impacts can significantly affect directional control. However, the Tacoma remained true to course and required only minimal countersteer even one ice and wet snow.
For slow-speed technical terrain, the new Fox suspension continues to reward the driver, articulation improving with additional droop travel, and overall ride height in the front increased by one inch over stock height. The spring rate was also softened slightly to improve frequency tuning at slow speeds (think rock crawling) and to allow for better ride quality. The rear springs from the TRD Off-Road were chosen by TRD for their progressive rate, again improving ride comfort while still allowing for full payload capacity. For traction, the TRD Pro comes standard with a rear locking differential (driver selected) and multi-mode traction control called Multi-terrain Select. This is the next evolution of A-TRAC, providing adjustments to the traction control algorithms for loose rock, sand, and mud. The same dial in the roof panel allows for activation of crawl control, which manages precise throttle and braking inputs automatically. While the system is easily dismissed by more experienced drivers, it is a useful tool in several conditions, particularly on steep descents. It can also be used as a recovery solution in sand and snow, each wheel turning slowly and independently to (potentially) extract the truck.
We were thankful for the rear locking differential and traction control in the deep snow of the Brooks Range
Final enhancements for off-highway driving includes the ¼-inch thick aluminum skid plate which protects the lower radiator all the way back to the transmission. The plate is so robust that Toyota included a jacking point into the stamping. This skid plate is as strong and effective as any aftermarket solution. For use on the trail and the highway, this 2017 model also delivers with factory Rigid Industries LED fog lights in the front bumper. These lights provide a 35-degree beam and a sharp cutoff to prevent blinding other drivers. We used these lights extensively in the Arctic and with great effect. The bezel is also custom to the TRD Pro and based on my initial inspection, it looks like a few modifications would allow fitting a second LED in the same housing. My only criticism of the trail performance is the factory tire fitment, which certainly favors good fuel economy and noise, vibration and harshness (NVH). The Goodyear Kevlar model is certainly strong, but could benefit from a more open tread pattern and increased siping for wet and icy conditions. Fortunately, tires are easy to change and this truck has room to easily fit a +1-inch taller size. It is impressive and encouraging to see such legitimate trail hardware on a factory truck.
Toyota is providing serious hardware with the newest TRD Pro models, including well-known industry brands like FOX and Rigid Industries Lights.
On the Road
On the highway, the new Tacoma is a significant improvement in ride quality, comfort and refinement. As I drove for hundreds of miles on snow-covered roads and trails I noted how enjoyable the on road experience is, an exponential improvement over my first pickup, a 1984 Toyota Hilux. Not only is the new Tacoma way more comfortable that my old truck, it has nearly three times the horsepower and by some form or witchcraft actually gets two miles per gallon better fuel economy than the old 4-cylinder 22R (the new Tacoma gets 21-24 on the highway based on our testing). All of the luxuries are present, which includes climate control and heated seats. The stereo paired easily to my iphone and produced powerful and clean sound. Fortunately I had an extensive playlist, as there were no radio stations above the Arctic Circle and the XM channels stopped working north of Fairbanks. When I grew tired of my music, the note from the TRD tuned exhaust was enough to keep the good vibes rolling.
Having owned several generations of Toyota trucks and driven on all seven continents with Toyota 4WDs, this new Tacoma TRD Pro is without question the most capable, efficient, and refined Toyota truck ever brought to North America. I would also argue that this is the best compact truck from any manufacturer ever sold on this continent as well. While this may smack of high praise, sales results mirror my sentiments, the Tacoma is the best selling compact truck in the country with limited availability leaving many new buyers with long waiting lists. I believe what is most important about this new 2017 TRD Pro Tacoma is the commitment from Toyota to build genuinely capable and exceedingly reliable adventure vehicles, a truck that could leave the dealership today and start driving around the world tomorrow. . . Toyota.com
Rigid Industries LED fog lights
FOX Front Internal Bypass Coil-overs tuned by TRD
TRD tuned front coil springs for 1″ lift
FOX Rear Internal Bypass Shocks with Remote Reservoir and progressive leaf springs
TRD Front Skid Plate (1/4-inch Aluminum)
Locking rear differential, multi-terrain select and crawl control
16-inch TRD wheels with 1-inch wider track
Goodyear Wrangler Kevlar All-Terrain Tires
Youtube Video Review:
Seeing the Aurora Borealis is a reminder of why we explore the remote corners of the globe
The Tacoma on the North Slope of Alaska, just as the moon rose above the Brooks Range.