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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.

The suspension, tuned for trails, softens bumps and dips well enough around town, too. It is well controlled on corners for a body-on-frame truck weighing around 4,500 pounds, but steering is dull and mushy; The truck tends to wander on the highway.

Tacoma's cabin has the same rugged attitude. It's ready for truck stuff, with lots of washable rubber and plastics, but don't look for anything special or lavish. Kudos to Toyota for finally adding a power-adjustable driver seat.

Leather-trimmed seats are comfortable, supportive and heated. But the cabin is as cramped as an airplane cockpit -- that includes the bigger double cab that seats five. Head room is minimal even up front, and both head and leg room are relatively tight in the rear.

Infotainment appears on an 8-inch touchscreen which is user-friendly and has short-cut controls on the center stack so the driver doesn't have to mess with digital icons while driving. New this year is compatibility with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Amazon Alexa, and it includes a JBL audio system with six speakers.

 

While it may be missing some high-tech elements inside, the Tacoma does come with a Toyota's Safety Sense package of features, including adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning with automatic braking, pedestrian detection, roll mitigation and lane-departure warning. It also has a post-collision SOS alert.

With it all, it's safe to say what draws many to the Tacoma -- the best-selling midsize truck in the U.S. -- is it's beefy look and many variations. Its grille is bolder this year and flanked by blocky headlights and LED running lights. The TRD Pro gets a hood scoop, too.

Buyers can mix and match the cabs and cargo beds. The two-door Access cab or Double Cab each can accommodate five- or six-foot beds. Tacoma has eight trim levels and offers 10 exterior colors, from Voodoo Blue and Barcelona Red to five shades of gray.

Whatever the options, the Tacoma TRD Off Road is ready for the rugged. Even if you don't have river canyon hills to climb.

2021 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off Road 4x4

With double cab, long bed

MSRP: $37,890

As tested: $44,550 (Includes TRD Off Road package, $3,815; Advanced Technology package w/multi-terrain monitor, $1,670)

What's all the excitement about? Best-selling midsize truck in U.S. is beefier, ready for trails with new technology

Powertrain: 3.5-liter V-6 engine makes 278 horsepower, 265 pound-feet of torque; mated to 6-speed automatic transmission

How's the performance? Built for trails with 9.4-inch ground clearance, locking rear differential, hill descent and crawl modes; 0-60 mph in 7.8 seconds

Fuel economy: 18 mpg city, 22 highway, for 20 combined

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