2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road Review – Conquering the Most Challenging Tarmac

Chris Tonn
by Chris Tonn
Fast Facts

2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off Road 4x4 Double Cab Long Bed

3.5-liter V6, DOHC (278 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm; 265 lb-ft @ 4,0000 rpm)
Six-speed automatic transmission, four-wheel drive
18 city / 23 highway / 20 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
19.7 (observed mileage, MPG)
Base Price: $36,475
As Tested: $40,617
Prices include $960 freight charge
2017 toyota tacoma trd off road review 8211 conquering the most challenging tarmac

I was 15 or so, basking in the heady scents of Armor-All, Windex, cheap suits, and desperation. Mom was waiting for the salesman to “check with the manager” as she negotiated for her second of six Corollas. I wandered off, as I typically did when presented with rows of shiny new cars.

You’d think I’d have gravitated to the Supra, or perhaps the Celica, considering my youth and love of motorsports. Nope. The brand new first-generation Tacoma 4×4 is what caught my eye that day. Taut lines and purposeful flares made it look so much more aggressive than the old nameless Toyota Truck. Not that I hated the classic HiLux – while other kids of my era gravitated toward the DeLorean in the Back To The Future series, I lusted after Marty’s black Xtracab 4×4.

It seems that every time I’m looking for a new vehicle, a Toyota truck ends up on my shortlist, but I’ve yet to pull the trigger. I’ve never really needed the capability of a traditional pickup, so I was interested in seeing how the modern midsize crew cab works as a family hauler. This 2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD Offroad appeared at my door just as I was doing my periodic rationalization of the current fleet. Can this minivan family live with a truck?

I’m not a truck owner, and have never been a truck owner. I didn’t grow up around trucks, either – my dad had a standard cab, short bed, two-wheel drive Toyota in the mid-Eighties for a few months, and then (again for but a few months) an early 2WD Dodge Dakota. Both trucks were incredibly Spartan – manual transmissions, AM radio (maybe FM on the Dodge), but I know the Toyota didn’t even have a clock. They were cheap, sturdy, and bought to do a job.

This Tacoma, like all modern trucks, is still built to work, but as more truck owners use them as their daily commuter vehicles, the bells and whistles have ratcheted up commensurately. I hesitate to call this TRD Off-Road package plush, but heated front seats, parking assists, and wireless phone charging are little luxuries that are well beyond what one could have imagined in a pickup truck a couple of decades ago.

I’m a bit ashamed as a member of the Brown Car Appreciation Society (hi, Sajeev!), but I’m not a fan of the Quicksand paint on this Tacoma. It’s unique – and I’ve ranted about automakers not expanding their palette beyond the usual shades of gold, grey, white, and black – but this beige is simply not striking. It makes me recall a misspent youth in high school theater – it’s basically the color of the pancake makeup I’d wear on stage.

Still, in TRD Off-Road trim, the Tacoma looks appropriately butch. I love that Toyota has resisted the big rim trend, at least in its more trail-focused packages. 16-inch wheels give plenty of sidewall, protecting the wheels and absorbing impacts – and looking rugged. The 18-inch alloys on higher trim levels are absurd. Ride quality diminishes, and the wheels take a beating when the truck is used as a truck.

I don’t often have a need to drop a cubic yard of gravel from six feet up into the bed of a pickup, so I didn’t get a chance to test the Tacoma like trucks are shown in TV commercials. The heaviest load I hauled was two pails of kitty litter. The optional folding, locking hard tonneau cover was welcome, as I’m always concerned about kitty litter thieves in my rough neighborhood.

I was a bit surprised that the ride was indeed trucky – that is to say, a bit unrefined, bouncing a bit over rough pavement, with a bit of a buzz about the cabin when the big V6 reached higher revs. I’m used to more genteel crossovers, of course, and the Tacoma is most certainly not a crossover. It’s not an unpleasant truck to drive daily, by any means – it just required a recalibration of my expectations. The controls are appropriately weighty, giving plenty of feedback through the steering wheel.

I could drive all day in the Tacoma, honestly. The seats were perfectly supportive, giving me an ideal driving position. The raised ride height meant the kids had a bit of a climb to get in the back seat, but once there they had no complaints. The goofy geometric pattern in the hardy cloth seats reminds me of the Nineties – it only needs simulated splattered neon colors to properly fit the decade in which I became enamored with the original Tacoma. I’m still trying to decide if the factory windshield mount for a GoPro camera is genius or frivolous, however. I suppose that living the Proper Off-Road Lifestyle require documentation of said lifestyle.

The midsize pickup market has been growing lately, and the newly announced 2019 Ford Ranger has taken clear aim at the Tacoma. I look forward to seeing how a turbo four-cylinder stacks up against a traditional big-bore V6, but there’s no question why Toyota remains the standard for this segment. I wouldn’t hesitate to put a Tacoma in my driveway.

Paint mine black, though. With some KC Daylighters, of course.

[Images: © 2018 Chris Tonn/The Truth About Cars]

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2 of 79 comments
  • Peeryog Peeryog on Jan 25, 2018

    Oh, that's my truck, right down to the color. Except mine is the smaller access cab and has the manual transmission. Around our house its known as the Toyota Tramacet.

  • JustPassinThru JustPassinThru on Jan 28, 2018

    "Conquering the Most Challenging Tarmac." Glad you get it, or the editor writing the headers, sees the irony. That thing is a CAR - the new ImageMobile, jacked up to portray "toughness," an open box in place of a trunk; with a wide gap to make it clear, this ain't no sissy-boy Honda, son... I love trucks; but I like my trucks AS trucks. If you need space for six, you need a car - or a minivan. Back before an SUV was called an SUV, when it was called a utility rig...and you wanted "tough"...you bought a Suburban or an SJ Wagoneer, and put your ranch hands in it. Now, there's not really that option. Nobody makes a rig you don't have to worry about spilling a biological sample in the back. Nobody makes an interior with the bent-tubing back seat benches held in with six bolts; or the double-fold-up shotgun-rider's seat. Now, I'm slowly setting into my new Montana neighborhood...I'm not native. Neither are thousands of others who relocated here. Interesting phenomenon, though...the seeming TRUE Montanans, the old ranchers with the weathered Stetsons, who you think might just be packing a rod under that denim jacket...they mostly seem to drive CARS. I like that. Because, now, if I can't have my practicality...not cheaply, anyway...I can save money and just buy a beater. Which I have done. And I get about forty percent of the utility, having taken out the right-front seat.

  • MaintenanceCosts Despite my hostile comments above I really can't wait to see a video of one of these at the strip. A production car running mid-eights is just bats. I just hope that at least one owner lets it happen, rather than offloading the car from the trailer straight into a helium-filled bag that goes into a dark secured warehouse until Barrett-Jackson 2056.
  • Schurkey Decades later, I'm still peeved that Honda failed to recall and repair the seat belts in my '80 Civic. Well-known issue with the retractors failing to retract.Honda cut a deal with the NHTSA at that time, to put a "lifetime warranty" on FUTURE seat belts, in return for not having to deal with the existing problems.Dirtbags all around. Customers screwed, corporation and Government moves on.
  • Bullnuke An acquaintance of mine 50+ years ago who was attending MIT (until General Hershey's folks sent him his "Greetings" letter) converted an Austin Mini from its staid 4 cylinder to an electric motored fuel cell vehicle. It was done as a project during his progression toward a Master Degree in Electrical Engineering. He told me it worked pretty well but wasn't something to use as a daily driver given the technology and availability of suitable components of the time. Fueling LH2 and LOX was somewhat problematic. Upon completion he removed his fuel cell and equipment and, for another project, reinstalled the 4 banger but reassembled it without mechanical fasteners using an experimental epoxy adhesive instead which, he said, worked much better and was a daily driver...for awhile. He went on to be an enlisted Reactor Operator on a submarine for a few years.
  • Ajla $100k is walking around money but this is almost certainly the last Dodge V8 vehicle and it's likely to be the most powerful factory-installed and warrantied pushrod engine ever. So there is some historical applicability to things even if you have an otherwise low opinion of the Challenger.And, like I said up thread, if you still hate it will be gone soon anyway.
  • Carlson Fan GM completely blew the marketing of the Volt. The commercials were terrible. You'd swear they told the advertising company to come up with an ad that would make sure no one went out and shopped a Volt after seeing it!...........LOL My buddy asked why I bought a car that only goes 40 miles on a charge? That pretty much sums up how confusing and uninformative the advertising was.