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Auto review: When the road ends, new Tacoma TRD gets busy

Barry Spyker, Tribune News Service on

Published in Automotive News

These days Marcus uses his Toyota Tacoma pickup to haul kayaks along the Banana River in Central Florida. He's a tour guide in the beautiful Thousand Islands region, home to dolphin, manatee and pelicans.

But at one time his truck needs were more dire. "I had a seven-mile climb to my house from a river canyon when I lived in Mexico," he said. "My van wasn't getting it done, kept getting stuck and stranding me. That last mile was so rough you could barely walk it."

His TRD Off Road 4x4 did get it done. The beefy midsize pickup, while lacking in general ride quality and interior refinement, excels when it comes to rough terrain. It's what draws folks to it. And, for 2021, it's more capable than ever.

It tackles the choppy ground with a 9.4-inch ground clearance and approach/departure angles of 32 degrees and 23 degrees -- a lift kit is available, too. It also has a locking rear differential, off-road-tuned suspension with Bilstein shocks, and hill descent control.

A terrain-select system controls the throttle and transmission to manage different surfaces, like mud, sand and loose rocks. Then there's Crawl mode, controlled by an overhead dial, which will take over acceleration and braking and can work itself out of sand or muck if it gets stuck.

As a preventive measure, Toyota offers a new Multi-Terrain View Monitor which provides an under-carriage view of what you're climbing over. That'll help spot a problem before scraping over the problem; A front skid plate protects against the ones you missed.


Four-wheel-drive Tacomas are tow rated for at least 6,400 pounds, more than ample for a couple of Jet Skis or dirt bikes, and have a maximum payload capacity of 1,685 pounds.

For avid off-roaders, Toyota for 2021 unveiled the Tacoma Trail Edition, though only 7,000 units were planned. It comes with its own badging, unique grille, wheels and all-terrain tires, 120-volt outlet in the cargo bed, and lockable storage compartments -- one of which can double as a cooler.

OK, so Tacoma can go anywhere, do anything on the trails. What about on the road, as a commuter, a daily truck for folks who just want to join the Tacoma cult? Well, here's the deal: It's plenty adequate but it could use more giddy-up, has a firmer ride and a sometimes finicky six-speed automatic transmission (a 6-speed manual is available on some trims). Oh, and expect fuel economy at a not-so-economical 20 mpg combined.

A 2.7-liter four-banger is standard but better to get the 3.5-liter V-6 engine, which delivers 278 horsepower and 265 pound-feet of torque. It takes nearly 8 seconds to reach 60 mph.That's not so bad but it feels strained climbing inclined on-ramps or in highway passing lanes.


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