By on June 28, 2016

Toyota Tundra Pro Runner Ocotillo Wells 8, Image: © 2016 Seth Parks/The Truth About Cars

Do you yearn to feel your truck lunge forward under moderate throttle, the hood heaving up before you? Do you ache for that gentle linear pre-runner sway into every corner? Does your current rig sport a sticker with Calvin maliciously relieving himself on a Blue Oval? If so, Dealer Services International’s Tundra Pro Runner may be the truck for you.

The Raptor is said to have no real peers. And while that is strictly true, this Toyota makes a compelling argument to look hither. But it’s not the truck’s canyon-absorbing wheel travel, miraculous hydraulic bump stops, or bad-ass 18-inch black aluminum wheels in 35-inch rubber that make this Tundra exceptional. What makes this a viable Raptor alternative is that you can buy one right off a Toyota showroom floor today. No lapse in warranty coverage, no payload penalty, and no need to max out your credit card for the modifications.

The Pro Runner gives Raptor drivers more than one reason to check their rearview mirror.

Source: DSI. Tundra Pro Runner FMVSS Testing 2

This is not a product comparison, but juxtaposing these two products is unavoidable. The Pro Runner was bench-marked against the wildly popular Ford and engineered for the same mission: pounding across the desert at freeway speeds. Just like the Ford, this Toyota meets Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS 126), which means the electronic stability control system remains OEM compliant. On the flip-side, that means without a terrain management system like the Raptor has, the Tundra may lack some of the at-limit off-road capabilities exhibited by the Ford.

What about the TRD Pro? Sure, the TRD Pro offers a meaningful 10.5 inches of wheel travel in front and 9.5 out back, versus 11.2 and 12.1 inches for the Raptor. But the Pro Runner goes several steps further with a 4-inch Pro Comp lift including new cast upper and lower control arms, internal bypass coilovers at the front, and reservoir shocks at the rear. Along with modified fenders all around, the package delivers a well proportioned rig with 14 inches of wheel travel, well within the range of a Sportsman Class race truck. That all sounds great, but aside from the Ensenada-Swing, how does the Pro Runner perform?

Toyota Tundra Pro Runner beside Ocotillo Wells Sign, Image: © 2016 Seth Parks/The Truth About Cars

The 85,000 acre Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area straddles the San Diego/Imperial County line and is one of Southern California’s premier off-road destinations. On weekends and holidays, tens of thousands of off-road enthusiasts gather there. But on one Wednesday in May, it was an empty playground. No need to watch for fast-moving flags bobbing through the desert.

Testing began in the broad San Felipe Wash. Its 100- to 200-foot wide sand-blown washboard with occasional sets of whoop-dee-doos and encroaching dunes were an invitation to get the Pro Runner up to speed. Accelerating through 30 miles per hour makes for a bumpy ride. Arriving at 40 mph, about where a stock full-size truck would generate enough head-toss to eject its driver, the Pro Runner begins to smooth out. At 50, it’s composed. And at 60 the Pro Runner is in its serene, exhilarating element as it cruises flat, devouring 3-foot sand banks and laughing at 2-foot whoop-dee-doos.

Toyota Tundra Pro Runner Ocotillo Wells 21, Image: © 2016 Seth Parks/The Truth About Cars

It’s a blast through the long straights. The extra 5 inches of track along with its capable 381 horsepower V8 give this rig a powerful, planted feel. The hydraulic steering is sensitive, requiring more input than would be ideal, but it dealt remarkably well with a testing regime for which it was not originally designed. One does however need to match forward speed with the span between bumps to find the right frequency. When the truck gets out of sync, generally due to too much speed, the hydraulic bump stops step in to prove their eye-opening capabilities. They provide 2 inches of progressive deceleration at the height of suspension compression, all but eliminating impact-energy transmission to the frame. In other words, that teeth-rattling, frame-risking experience of finding the limit of suspension travel in just about any other truck, Raptor included, is not present here.

The long, wide curves in the wash passed without drama, which was disappointing. In spite of healthy throttle input, the tires refused to rotate at the requested velocity and the back-end remained right behind the front. And just to add distraction to the mix, the ABS and Traction Control lights lit up the dash like a Christmas tree. Alas, operator error was to blame. One must hold down that VSC button for at least three seconds to disable 75 percent of the traction and stability control. Failing to do so allows the truck’s yaw sensor to intervene, cutting the throttle and applying braking to the inside wheel. Oversteer is thus eliminated, as are both forward and lateral progress. In this environment, failing to employ the VSC button properly turns the promise of a maniacal Six Flags roller coaster into a kiddie teacup ride. The Pro Runner may lack the drive modes offered by the Raptor, but with the VSC properly managed, this rig enjoys getting sideways. And when its full performance envelope is opened up, which is perhaps 9/10ths that of a Raptor in the open desert, it has about as much go as any non-SCORE race driver will be capable of extracting. If that is not enough, there may be a 40 amp fuse you can pull to disable the electronic nannies.

Toyota Tundra Pro Runner Ocotillo Wells 9, Image: © 2016 Seth Parks/The Truth About Cars

The Pro Runner is not a one trick pony. It ran more than 40 miles of high-speed washes and baked desert with aplomb, its raison d’etre. But it also tackled numerous technical obstacles on the Freedom and Pumpkin Patch Trails where its clearance, ability to keep all four patches of rubber on the ground, and aggressive 35-inch Pro Comp tires served it well. This rig does not have traditional running boards. But given the lengths the development team — which includes former Toyota TRD Design Engineering Manager Ted Moncure — went to their omission was not a cost cutting measure. Rather its creators understand that cab access does not trump break-over angle, so they offer the Pro Runner either without running boards or with automatic retracting side-steps. This 146-inch wheelbase Toyota is long. Nonetheless, it took off-camber, steep uphill, and abrupt downhill bumper-grazing approaches and departures with ease. Four-wheel drive would not have been required for any of these low-speed shenanigans were it not for the fact that this was a you break it, you bought it affair.

Dealer Services International (DSI) offers a range of off-road performance packages for Ford, GM, Jeep, Ram, and Toyota trucks, all sold exclusively through new car dealers. According to DSI director Dan Ciganovich, the company’s expanding dealer network moves 1,200 of its modified trucks each month. Its Toyota range includes packages for Tacoma, Tundra, and 4Runner. There are now hundreds of Toyota stores across the U.S. and Canada offering DSI products.

Toyota Tundra Pro Runner Carlsbad Toyota, Image: © 2016 Seth Parks/The Truth About Cars

I sat down with Sales Managers Michael Boone and Scott Messier from Toyota Carlsbad, which has been selling about 60 DSI modified rigs annually for the last decade. Michael and Scott confirmed what Honolulu Ford told me a couple of months ago about DSI customers. These modified rigs are purchased overwhelmingly by men, 35-55 years old. At least 70 percent finance their purchase and they rarely arrive planning to buy one of these rigs. Michael and Scott went on to say, “Over more than ten years selling these trucks, we have never seen a rig come back with a mechanical problem related to DSI’s upgrades. And when a customer is dissatisfied [fuel economy is the most common complaint] DSI jumps right in to help, even contacting customers directly. Their service is incredible.”

Toyota Tundra Pro Runner Ocotillo Wells 4, Image: © 2016 Seth Parks/The Truth About Cars

Dealers establish their own markup on DSI packages. The Pro Runner, not including the wrap on our tester, adds $19,950 to a Tundra MSRP at Toyota Carlsbad. Thus a 2016 CrewMax Pro Runner with a 5.7-liter V8 will set you back between $60,000 and $70,000, depending on how it is optioned. Pricing for the 2017 Raptor has yet to be released, but will likely maintain Ford’s $5,000 to $10,000 pricing advantage. It is a modest premium for a truck that does not compromise on quality, warranty, or load capacity but will be one of a 1,000 versus one of more than 15,000.

In exchange for its healthy passenger and cargo volumes, as well as a track widened nearly half a foot, the Pro Runner will be compromised in wooded terrain and other tight spaces where compact trucks, SUVs, and Wranglers reign supreme. But those rigs cannot offer the boundless delight associated with bringing the back-end sideways through an arroyo seco at 60 miles per hour. The Pro Runner is not for everyone, but automotive individualism is part of our cultural fabric, and standing out is exactly the point.

Disclosure: Dealer Services International provided the vehicle and insurance for the purpose of this review. Seth paid out the nose for fuel.

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35 Comments on “Toyota Tundra Pro Runner Off-Road Review – Japanese Raptor with a Warranty...”

  • avatar

    I’d take a RAPTOR instead.

    At least till the HELLCAT RAM TRUCK comes.

  • avatar

    Oh how I want one of these with an extra fuel tank and gun-turret-mounted flame-thrower to prove to Immortan Joe I am worthy to RIDE THE FURY ROAD TO VALHALLA SHINY AND CHROME ETERNAL.

  • avatar

    At what speed do the nannies kick back in? IIRC 35 mph is the legislated reactivation speed. It sucks because under more high speed circumstances where you need speed they reactivate and make a mess of things. Deep sand or deep snow or slimy terrain with some yaw will cause a power cut and then you are screwed.

    We don’t get the TRD Pro package in Canada. ”


  • avatar


  • avatar

    Maybe if they didn’t slap those hideously stupid fenders on it. Whoever designed those should have their crayons taken away.

    • 0 avatar

      Increased width & flared fender arches are required for a long travel suspension with a wider track to accommodate the wheel travel when the suspension is fully compressed. Otherwise the tires would rip through the fenders during extreme high speed articulation.

      I prefer my Raptor as the off-road capability was engineered from the factory along with on road livability/utility. This Toyota is still an aftermarket part equipped truck albeit supported by Toyota warranty.

      Still a nice truck though.

      • 0 avatar

        I know what flared fenders are for. These are just cheap looking, nasty, ugly ones. The ones on the Raptor are actually quite lovely.

        • 0 avatar

          The fuel door is where it fails for me. Clearly shows that these were tacked on after the fact (and thus, very aftermarket looking) and not integrated into the initial design.

          • 0 avatar

            This. The fuel door thing is an epic fail. Makes it look like you spent about $45 on plastic arches, rather than $70,000.

          • 0 avatar

            It is a 5k option to have that fuel door blended into the flare.

            It’s in the fine print.


  • avatar

    4+ inches of extra, soft, supple travel and articulation, most certainly compromises load capacity. Load capacity RATING may stay the same, but if so, that’s one heck of a sleight of hand I doubt Ford, as an OEM, could get away with.

    It’s a bit like the bros with 6+ inch lifts on their diesel 1 tons, who still assume “capacities” remain the same, since the sticker hasn’t changed….

    • 0 avatar

      Long travel suspensions give up load carrying capacity for wheel travel….it’s a trade off. The lift spring kits just add height for additional upsized tire clearance but typically load capacity doesn’t change by much.

      • 0 avatar

        In a dynamic setting, say, driving down a twisty road; keeping track the same but lifting the load a few feet higher, isn’t exactly irrelevant.

        The official rating number may not take rollover risk into concern when calculating “load capacity”, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a concern. Even the tiniest amount of lift on already tall 1 tons, become very noticeable when carrying tall, heavy slide-in campers, for example.

    • 0 avatar

      My friend had a neighbor back in the 90’s who had a F350 with 8 inches of lift and 44″ swampers that was his work truck, he used to tow an enclosed race trailer with it and sometimes a 34′ travel trailer. Of course his daily driver was a big block Chevelle so you know it’s all relative. We talked to him once he was a retired pit crew for a number of big Nascar teams.

  • avatar

    “And when a customer is dissatisfied [fuel economy is the most common complaint] DSI jumps right in to help, even contacting customers directly.”

    Oh really? I wonder how they help in this regard…

  • avatar

    So this, or a one year old Land Cruiser.

    Too mush moneyyy for a Tundra. I know it’s been altered for offroading, but it’s so single-purpose and ridiculous.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    I prefer the looks of the “standard” non Raptorised Tundra. I agree those black, tacky looking flared fenders are abysmal from an aesthetic perspective.

    One thing, it’s good to see some one offering a vehicle to better take on the Raptor, but the downside is this was poorly executed. You’d have to be a real Toyota diehard to choose this over the much better looking Raptor.

    I think Toyota should should of developed a Raptorised Taco, this segment would most likely bear more fruit than the Tundra and most likely look much better. A Raptorised Taco will be nearly as good in the desert and far superior in many other situations.

    As for the performance of the vehicle, for it’s overly large size and from what the author has written it appears to be quite compentent.

    For me this vehicle would be of less use than a Taco off road. I believe size really matter off road, there can be just to big.

    I do know there are those who are ill informed who believe that bigger vehicles make better desert runners. I believe differently, just look at the Dakar, how many vehicles as large as a full size Tundra win, let alone a full size pickup?

    These perform well for a full size pickup, but are not the best option off road in my eyes. I still think a 76 Series pickup is a better option. It might not be able to traverse the desert at 60mph, but it will still traverse a desert and go anywhere this Tundra will go, plus lots more.

  • avatar

    So…ten years, thousands of trucks, designed to go off road at high speeds, bought by a bunch of 35-55 year old dudes, and not one has ever had a broken mechanical component that was upgraded by DSI?

    Fishy at best.

    Maybe they meant “related to materials and workmanship”, or “during the warranty period”, or both, or something else entirely. But nothing broke or worn out over ten years? I find it very difficult to accept that statement at face value.

    • 0 avatar
      Seth Parks

      Von – You are absolutely right. There are a couple considerations at play here. First, given that most of these rigs are purchased by “non-enthusiasts” who did not even know they were going to buy a jacked up truck, they probably don’t spend much time of-road. This is speculation on my part, but neither Toyota Carlsbad nor DSI could provide any after-sale customer use information. Second, there have been failures but they have been related to miss-use. For example, the guy who took his DSI modified FJ to Imperial Dunes and thought he could run with sand-rails. He destroyed his rig – suspension and frame damage. It was a total loss. They shared a couple stories like that. Third, TTAC tries to keep articles under 1,000 words, much less the 1,400 this one ran, so lengthy explanations are minimized. And believe me, I’d love to add another 1,000 words and get into more detail. Fourth, TTAC frowns on anything that begins to sound like advocacy. If a writer likes a product, great, explain why. But don’t include excuses or start to make a piece sound like a company press release.

      In the end, it sounded to me like a lot of Toyota Carlsbad customers are thrilled with their modified rigs and the dealer loves selling them, which speaks to both their profitability and the lack of headaches they create. Apparently many customers have come back after 3-5 years to buy another one. I would have included this information, but the dealer was not able to provide any loyalty data, which is an example of how TTAC wants it content written. And I agree, if a writer cannot substantiate a claim, don’t include it.

      • 0 avatar

        Seth, I have abstained from commenting on this thread so far because my Tundra is different from this Japtor. I own a 2016 SR5 Plus, TRD 4X4 5.7L CrewMax, 18″ wheels, Michelins, skidplates, and all. With factory tow package. Not jacked up. Factory standard, all the way.

        I don’t use mine to run the dunes of White Sands or Fort Bliss, or any other off-road activity, but I have done so to get the feel of how it performs off-road. And it is a very capable truck. Then again, I don’t abuse it either. Don’t race it. Don’t bog it.

        I use mine on paved roads mostly, highways and the Interstates on occasion, and it rides a bit harsher than my 2011 Tundra DC Long Bed 2WD did, but it is not objectionable. Mpgs are a bit worse, but who cares? I don’t.

        So I would agree that people buy what they buy because they want it, and most dealers haven’t a clue what the buyer does with their new Tundra after they buy it.

      • 0 avatar

        Real off-road enthusiasts buy theirs used, except for BAFO, or they wait ’til it’s paid off and can afford a total loss, especially if they have to eat the whole bill or write-off. True enthusiasts of this or a new Raptor that have to thrash on a truck, off road, have an extra beater that’s highly modified for that action.

  • avatar

    Another industry first! Pro Comp is proud to announce that …

    [Sorry mackenzieoz, but TTAC doesn’t allow advertising in the comments unless you identify your affiliation with said company. Edited by Mark S.]

  • avatar

    It’s highly irresponsible for a pickup maker not to attempt a “Raptor” of their own.

    The Ford Raptor gave buyers the impression of “value”, as far as factory conversions go. An actual “wide body” besides wider frame, Fox shocks, BFGs, racing (sideways) algorithms, etc. The truck is noticeable from a good block away, even minus the graphics.

    The “Raptor” package was $3,000 just itself, if you could subtract the “Lariat” level of luxury it forced (you couldn’t), besides all the “options” dealers forced. Still dealers couldn’t keep them on the lot, while outselling the C6 Corvette at one point.

  • avatar

    I do like this, but the cladding around the fuel filler cap is a bit of a mis-step, as has been mentioned above. Otherwise it seems like a decent package. A Raptorised Taco might work too and could also make some cash for Toyota along with the Tundra. With that being said, Toyota should really follow Ford and make a factory version of this, IMO.

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