Rural Michigan is pickup country. Ford F-250 duallies towing equipment. Laden Silverados hustling to service jobs. Gorgeous Ram trucks prowling construction sites. And macho pickups of all stripes with big tires, menacing hood scoops and lifted suspensions eager to go beyond where the asphalt ends.
Despite its rare Toyota badge, my hulking, 2021 Tundra TRD Pro tester fits rights in. Sitting atop 32-inch Michelin all-terrain tires, Fox off-road shocks and 11 inches of ground clearance, the Lunar Rock-painted behemoth bristles with hood scoops and tow hooks.
This is not your father’s Camry, but a serious, bark-chewing beast.
Think of Toyota as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The Japanese automaker has built a reputation as a dependable daily driver (backed up by years of JD Power reliability MVP awards) and a weekend track warrior. Its Toyota Racing Development (TRD) shop has climbed podiums at the highest echelons of motorsports from NASCAR to Formula One. That resume includes winning the Baja 1000, North America’s premier off-road competition.
Beginning in 1998, the TRD badge started to show up on the Tacoma (Taco, as it’s known to its legion of fans) as a rough-and-ready off-roader. While the Detroit Three dominated full-size trucks, Taco owned the mid-size segment with its Mr. Hyde variants leading the way.
Tundra followed with its own TRD features but has lived in Taco’s shadow — its sales just half that of little brother (much less anywhere close to the Detroit Three). But Tundra got serious in 2015. It grew a comprehensive TRD Pro package (like Taco) with serious suspension and skid plate mods. It even brought back a Baja 1000 trophy in the Pro Stock class to make little brother proud.
Tundra? My TRD Pro tester is Tund-raw.
I took it to The Mounds Off-Road Vehicle Park near Mt. Morris, Mich. The Mounds is 200 acres of dirt, sand and bog. It’s a place where dirt bikers, ATV owners, and Jeepsters can let out their inner child.
And where Tundra lets out Mr. Hyde.
I shifted to Neutral and turned the transfer-case dial from “2WD” to “4WD.” Then I held the traction control button to turn off the nannies. When I say “held” I mean “held for a loooong time.” This is a Toyota, after all, and the nannies don’t retreat easily.