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

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]

Chris Tonn
Chris Tonn

Some enthusiasts say they were born with gasoline in their veins. Chris Tonn, on the other hand, had rust flakes in his eyes nearly since birth. Living in salty Ohio and being hopelessly addicted to vintage British and Japanese steel will do that to you. His work has appeared in eBay Motors, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars, Reader's Digest, AutoGuide, Family Handyman, and Jalopnik. He is a member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, and he's currently looking for the safety glasses he just set down somewhere.

More by Chris Tonn

Join the conversation
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.

  • Lorenzo Subaru had the ideal wagon - in 1995. The Legacy Outback was a straight two-box design with rear quarter and back windows you could see out of, and was available in brown with a 5-speed manual, as God and TTAC commenters intended. It's nice they're not raising prices, but when you've lost the plot, does it matter?
  • Bkojote Remember a month a go when Cleveland wanted to create a more walkable Cleveland and TTAC's 'BIG GOVERNMENT IS THE PROBLEM' dumbest and dullest all collectively crapped their diapers? Here's the thing- look on any American highway and it's littered with people who don't /want/ to be driving or shouldn't be. Look at every Becky on her phone during the morning commute in her Tucson, look at every Brad aggro driving his 84 month loan GMC. Hell look how many drivers nowadays can't even operate a headlight switch. You expect these people to understand a stoplight? In my neighborhood alone 4 people have been rear ended at lights from someone on their phone. Distracted driving over the past 10 years has spiked, and it's only going to get worse unless Becky has an alternative, because no judge is going to pull her license when 'she needs it to get to work!' but heaven forbid she not check fb/tiktok for 40 minutes a day.
  • Scott Shouldn't the The Italian Minister for Business be criticizing The Milano for being too ugly to be Italian?Better use of resources doing that....
  • Steve Biro Frankly, while I can do without Eyesight and automatic start-stop, there is generally less B-S with Subarus in terms of design, utility and off-road chops than with many other brands. I just hope that when they adopt Toyota’s hybrid system, they’ll also use Toyota’s eCVT.
  • The Oracle These are all over the roads in droves here in WNC. Rarely see one on the side of the road, they are wildly popular, capable, and reliable. There is a market for utilitarian vehicles.