The friendly Toyota representative fairly choked on his water as he crossed the parking lot to correct us. “It’s not a snorkel, it’s a desert air intake.”
I suppose that encouraging new truck owners to ford creeks or flooded streets is a bad idea. Anyhow, the off-road park outside Dallas was mostly dry and, at least to this Yankee, quite nearly desert. It was stiflingly hot, with the occasional breeze doing little to cool the gathered hordes of sweaty journalists.
Still, we cranked the air conditioning on the venerable 2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro in an effort to fight back the heat, and worked our way through the various courses. And the trucks kept on running without complaint, despite the abuse dished out by my colleagues and myself. Indeed, as the day wore on, we kept doing more and more stupid maneuvers – from jumping to high-speed washboard runs to drifting, and the Tacoma TRD Pro kept taking everything in stride.
My Ohio homeland is flat and nearly completely paved, so any opportunity to test an off-road vehicle in the proper environment is welcomed. In this case, my only wheel time in the Tacoma TRD Pro was in the dirt, and it’s quite clear that Toyota’s reputation for building a rugged go-anywhere truck is well deserved.
New Tech, At Last!
The 2020 Tacoma looks a bit different than before, as it’s received a slight facelift with both a new grille and new taillamps. That’s really it on the outside – but the everyday livability has been finally improved with the appearance of Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and Amazon’s Alexa in every Tacoma. While the base SR trim gets a seven-inch touchscreen, the rest of the lineup gets a larger eight-inch display.
That big display comes in especially handy for one feature – the Panoramic View Monitor paired with the Multi Terrain Monitor. This feature uses cameras front, rear, and side – normally used in the city so you don’t accidentally park atop a Prius or something – to view obstacles whilst wheeling off-road. This comes in especially useful when slowly ascending a hill with a steep drop-off, as the windscreen has the driver looking at the sky.
I found myself taking a look at the center screen so I could confirm that other trucks and spotters had cleared my descent path. The Multi Terrain Monitor is standard on this TRD Pro trim, and optional on the TRD Off-Road package.
One thing, however – be sure you know the location of those cameras, and keep a rag handy. I found that after slogging through some mud, the side camera was obscured by a layer of muck.
I’m sure that I’m just an old man yelling at a cloud here, but I hate the proliferation of glass roof panels across so many cars. Yes, it gives the opportunity for fresh air, but the headroom reduction is a pain for us tall people. I found my head knocking against the moonroof surround as the Tacoma and I sped along some washboard surfaces at speed. The moonroof comes standard on the TRD Pro and Limited models.
I’m not completely certain if I like or dislike the presence of standard leather seating in a truck meant to get seriously dirty. The first owner of this Tacoma TRD Pro will likely appreciate the wipe-off nature of leather. Down the line to the second and third owners, however, and the aging hides might start to see creases and cracks that will attract the dirt.
I’m impressed, however, with the comfort from the ten-way power adjustable driver’s seat – I felt as if I could drive all the way from Texas to my Ohio home in plenty of comfort if the good people at Toyota had turned their backs.
Off-Road Capability Has its Drawbacks
As I’ve noted, I didn’t get a chance on this drive to test the Tacoma TRD Pro on the road. Driving similar models in the past, however, has revealed a somewhat nervous nature to the steering. Some of that is down to the wheels and tires – at sixteen inches with seventy-series sidewalls, the feel is a bit squishy as road imperfections are transmitted to the steering wheel with a subtle vibration. The chunky tire tread adds noise on the highway, too.
Really, though, anyone looking at a Tacoma TRD Pro should be buying it for the off-road abilities, not for the commuter duty. It would be a shame to buy one of these and NOT use it as intended, though sadly we know some will never take it as far as a groomed gravel path.
The TRD Pro absolutely shines when being used and abused – and if any group of people know how to abuse a vehicle, it’s automotive journalists, who generally pair a lack of driving skill with the reckless abandon of knowing they have a bus to return them to a nice hotel room should something go horribly wrong. I saw someone jump a Sequoia, after all!
It’s Got the Bits
But the TRD Pro suspension, specifically the FOX coil-over shock absorbers, soak all of the abuse up with aplomb. That slightly nervous nature on road disappears as soon as the tarmac does.
Placing wheels to avoid sharp rocks is simple, making even the least-experienced off-road driver feel like a Baja champion. The front skidplate is such a welcome sight – as I forgot to look at the Multi Terrain Monitor, I heard a nasty scrape when I completely ignored a tall rock in my path. It’s a sound that would have likely accompanied a hole in the oil sump had that plate not been there to save my dignity.
Another features that’s just beyond impressive is the crawl control – an off-road cruise control of sorts meant to smooth out throttle and brake inputs in the rough stuff. With the low-range four-wheel drive engaged, press a button overhead and dial in one of five speeds – then take your feet off the pedals. The crawl control will manage brake and throttle to ease up or down a hill. The sounds made by the crawl control are a bit weird, however, as the brakes will hammer on and off to maintain control.
A bit crude. Yes. But it works fantastically.
Avid TRD Pro fanatics know that Toyota loves to offer a limited-time color option every year. This year the Army Green color is featured – and I love it. First – it’s not a boring silver, grey, black, or white. But the deep olive drab looks right at home in nature – especially when accented with plenty of mud.
The Verdict: 2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro Review
The 2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro is an expensive mid-size truck, certainly. But considering all of the capabilities off-road, it’s hard to argue with. It makes me want to buy a tent and some bug spray and get out and explore.
[Images © 2019 Chris Tonn, interior images © 2019 Toyota]