Has anyone else noticed how intense the truck market is right now? Trucks and SUVs are selling at astonishing rates, as evidenced by the fact that streets and freeways are full of the monster-sized vehicles.
Albeit a small piece of the pie, the purpose-built off-road machines now gracing the market represent the “fun” side – you’ve seen the Ford F-150 Raptor, Chevy Colorado ZR2, and the Toyota TRD Pro lineup. The latter of the bunch have gone through a significant mid-cycle refresh and we recently returned from a first drive of the new 4Runner, Tacoma, and Tundra TRD Pro vehicles in the muddy confines of Northwest OHV Park in Bridgeport, Texas.
After driving all of these machines in TRD Pro trim in the past, save for the Tacoma, which I had only driven in TRD Off-Road trim, I had a great comparison between these new trucks and the past models that you’ll now be able to find on the “used” lots. Well, just kidding, Toyota can’t keep any of these TRD Pro models in stock, and that probably isn’t going to change.
Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro
Toyota has a special thing going with the Tacoma. It sells like hotcakes, offers so much capability in a small package, and is darn near bulletproof. So, what happens when you add some TRD Pro secret sauce to the mix?!
Magic, that’s what happens…
Like the other TRD Pro vehicles in the Toyota lineup, the Tacoma TRD Pro has purposeful performance upgrades built right into the stock vehicle. 2.5 inch Fox shocks are mounted up front and provide consistent dampening force with 46-mm pistons and 8 bypass zones (5 compression, 3 rebound). The shock package is wrapped with TRD-tuned springs, which provide 1 inch of additional lift for that Pro-truck look right from the factory. The rear is similarly equipped with 2.5 Fox shocks, but this time they feature 11 bypass zones (7 compression, 4 rebound) to ensure that the vehicle stays in the sweet spot of the suspension travel no matter how rough and tough the terrain gets. If the terrain does indeed turn that gritty, the rear shocks are paired with 2-inch piggyback reservoirs to keep the shock oil cool.
The Tacoma TRD Pro doesn’t only come with suspension upgrades, there are also features like a TRD front skid plate and a burly sounding TRD cat-back exhaust with Black Chrome tip. Yes, you are probably asking if the Black Chrome adds an addition 5 horsepower over standard Chrome… The answer is absolutely YES, in a shiny world. In the real world, it’s all for looks, but it does sound great with the 278 horsepower 3.5-liter V6 engine.
How about that big air scoop on the front right A-pillar? Toyota says that’s a “TRD Desert Air Intake” and after taking a close look at the build quality of this system, I’d have to say that it is definitely made to take on the desert and extremely dusty conditions. During our time behind the wheel in the muddy Texas terrain, we can say that having the intake up high gave us more confidence when blasting through the puddles and sending water at least 15 feet high. Even in the technical, tight terrain in our loop, the intake system didn’t impede on our outward vision from the cab when looking at tight angles to the right, so it’s a win-win with this added feature.
On the inside, passengers will notice the standard navigation-fitted Entune Premium JBL Audio system, which includes a sub and amp. The system provides great sound for those looking to crank up the tunes on the trail. Overall, the layout of the Tacoma is the most modern of this TRD Pro trio, with wireless phone charging options, a clean center stack, and all of the buttons in the right places. TRD Pro badging throughout the cabin lets you know that this truck is a special model in the lineup, and the theme continues to the outside. In addition to the TRD Pro badges, we appreciated the Rigid Industries LED fog lights, projector-beam headlights with LED DRL, black Toyota grille, and taillights with black sport bezels. Overall, Toyota did a very nice job at making sure you know this truck is something special compared to the other Tacos out on the road.
Driving this truck is very similar to other Tacoma models, just with the performance taken up a significant notch. The cat-back exhaust gets the party started with a solid exhaust note, albeit not as burly as the Tundra V8 though. A quick shift of the gear selector puts the truck in Drive, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I kept it in the manual mode for most of our off-road driving portion. The six-speed in this truck has a very low gear, especially when you rotate the 4WD selector to 4-Low, and the transmission seems to be very well calibrated. I look forward to driving this truck on paved roads in the future to see if that claim resonates true on the street as well.
Climbing up and over steep obstacles with the Low gearing and Goodyear Wrangler Kevlar tires proved to be an easy task, even in the mucky mud that was present. CRAWL control (standard on Tacoma and 4Runner TRD Pro models), an automated 4WD mode that controls your speed and braking with the turn of a dial, allowed us to concentrate on the rocky climb ahead. While most hardcore off-road enthusiasts will dismiss this feature as “gimmicky,” most will find the system useful when in tight technical terrain as the system takes in every motion and angle into account to make sure the truck gets over the obstacles and provides the driver with the most traction possible.
The up and down terrain that we sampled in Texas did reveal several things that we didn’t find so appealing with the Tacoma TRD Pro, including the seat position that verges on uncomfortable for taller drivers. For my 6’3” frame, I find that the Tacoma’s driver seat needs to have a vertical front adjustment to lift the seat up. My legs become cramped with no support under them, and the steering wheel only adjusts so far out to alleviate the issue. The 4Runner has an adjustable seat in this direction, making the driving position much more comfortable. And out of the 3 vehicles here, the Tacoma ranked in the middle of the pack when comparing the sight lines out of the front of the vehicle.
Like the other Tacomas in the lineup, the TRD Pro version comes with a fully outfitted cargo bed, complete with a 110V outlet and storage area, along with adjustable tie-down points. These features along solidify why the Tacoma is such a high selling vehicle for Toyota – it’s the little things that make this truck so great as a whole package, and the TRD Pro tuning just takes it to the next level. The way that it smoothly handles the bumps with the Fox suspension and keeps the tires on the ground make this one of a kind truck truly magic.
Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro
As Toyota likes to say, the “4Runner needs no introduction.” Not only is the 4Runner iconic in past forms, it remains a top seller because of its body-on-frame chassis, robust V6 and 5-speed powertrain package, and feature-rich but “just right” interior packaging.
The interior on the new model has remained vastly the same with the TRD Pro badging throughout, a well portioned rear seat that folds flat so you can put in a ton of gear in the rear cargo area, well-bolstered front seats that are also adjustable both fore and aft and vertically for better ergonomics, and a now standard for 2019 Entune Premium JBL Audio system with integrated Navigation and App Suite. The 4Runner has the smallest center screen of all 3 of these, but it isn’t lacking any features. Plus, if you like a more hardcore off-road feel to the interior, the 4Runner is where it’s at with beefy knobs.
The 4Runner has a couple of great exterior additions for the 2019 model year, so we’ll start from the top down. As you may have noticed, the roof looks slightly different because of a roof rack that now comes standard. Having the ability to haul a total of 110 pounds on the roof means that you can easily haul a kayak or bicycle equipment, or just fill it full of extra “stuff” for a long adventure on the trail. With plenty of tie-down points, this is an easy task. Lighting up the way in front of your path is also better this year with the addition of LED fog lights. Just in case you can’t see what’s in front of you (out of the 3 TRD Pros, the 4Runner has the best forward sight lines for a variety of terrain), a TRD-stamped, 1/4 inch thick front skid plate provides top-notch protection for critical components. It was used several times on our test loop and proved to be very effective. Hello, rocks!
Like the other TRD Pros, the 4Runner utilizes Fox suspension for the 2019 model year. The front is fitted with 2.5-inch shocks (7 total bypass zones) and TRD-tuned springs, which provide 1 inch of lift and 1 inch of additional wheel travel compared to other 4Runner vehicles. The rear also has 2.5-inch shocks, and these include 11 bypass zones and 2-inch piggyback reservoirs that have been cleverly offset so they can house additional oil for better shock performance. Drivers will also appreciate the 1 inch wider front and rear track width, thanks to wider offset 17-inch alloy wheels wrapped in Nitto Terra Grappler P265/70R17 A/T tires, which perform very well in a variety of terrains. We’d say these are the best all-around tire offered in the TRD Pro group.
When you combine the fact that this 4Runner TRD Pro has a more compact wheelbase and a fairly stealthy 4,750 pounds overall weight, you can begin to understand why this vehicle is such a hoot in the dirt. From my seat of the pants driving experience, the 4Runner exemplifies these features by providing the driver and 4 additional passengers with superb ride quality through rough terrain. When hitting whoop- or mogul-filled terrain in pre-2019 renditions, the front would simply blow through the travel and rebound too fast, leaving you with a front bucking sensation. Not so anymore – the dampening on the Fox’s was dialed in perfectly for a stock setup. The back squats nicely, not too much, when laying down the power, which the 4Runner has plenty of, and the vehicle powers through the bumps rather than bouncing over the top. Both front and rear Foxs work very well together, and the chassis is also very nicely balanced for off-road, whether going slow or fast. The test area had a balance of tight technical terrain, water crossings, and a full-on fast Baja-style course. The 4Runner’s tight turning radius and good approach/departure angles made it excel in the tight and technical terrain. The fact that I could also shut all of the traction nannies off and throw it into high-speed sweepers made this machine a “best of both worlds” vehicle that I would happily drive off the showroom floor and not think twice about taking it to Moab or any other off-road destination.
Our only caveat in the 4Runner TRD Pro is the aging 5-speed transmission. The 6-speed out of the Taco would be a welcome addition to this machine.
While the 4Runner might have the most dated interior, its functionality, superior sight lines, capacity, and excellent suspension make it a winner. I’d buy one, today in fact.
Toyota Tundra TRD Pro
Leaving the best sounding member of the TRD Pro lineup for last, the Tundra burbles out of the driveway with a serious V8 note with the standard TRD exhaust. Could that sound be my favorite part of this vehicle? Absolutely, but then there are those forged wheels and new shocks to think about, too… Yes, the Tundra sounds great because of its tried and true 5.7L V8 engine, but the newly revised components from the A-arms out are what really make this truck special when stacked up against the rest of the Tundra lineup.
The new 2.5 Fox shocks get the party started on the inside of the wheel wells. The front Fox shocks come fully equipped with 46mm pistons and 11 total bypass zones – 7 compression and 4 bypass. In total, the new TRD-tuned springs provide an additional 2 inches of lift and the front wheel travel has been increased by more than 1.5 inches (over a stock Tundra). The rear Fox setup is equally impressive, with 2.5 inch, piggyback reservoir equipped units with 12 bypass zones – 8 compression and 4 bypass. This setup increases the wheel travel by a full 2 inches in the rear, which is no small feat!
Other niceties on the outside of the Tundra TRD Pro include Rigid Industries LED fog lights, LED headlights and LED accent lights, TRD Pro-specific grille, and TRD Pro-specific stamping on the bed’s rear quarter panels. Like we mentioned before, there is a shiny new set of 18 inch BBS forged-aluminum wheels wrapped in Michelin P275/65R18 all-terrain tires. In total, this new wheel/tire combo is said to reduce unsprung mass by 3.35 pounds per wheel, a number that is highly significant when we look at how this truck performs in the real world.
Speaking of the real world, I think about the pre-2019 Tundra TRD Pro and remember wishing for more control from the suspension with less of a “bouncy” feeling, which is a true technical term saying that the valving just wasn’t quite set up correctly for multiple, consecutive hard hits in the desert. That is precisely where the new 2019 Tundra excels the most with this new Fox setup and forged wheels – the 2019 truck not only stays more planted in high-speed terrain, but it exhibits more control over the bumps, never rebounding too fast or blowing through the suspension travel. The engineers told us they put some serious time in tuning these new shocks so that the truck could tackle a variety of terrain at any speed, and that it does. Hitting consecutive mogul style bumps, some in the 1-2 foot variety, didn’t unsettle the truck, and the Tundra consistently drove “through” the bumps with an impressive amount of smoothness and control, all while still laying that impressive V8 power to the ground. Impressive, indeed!
With all of these impressive features, there is still one thing that holds this truck back – the stock Michelin tires. This mud-filled testing location proved the fact that these tires are just not made for serious off-road because they inherently pack up with mud almost immediately. On the flip side, when the traction control is set to full “OFF”, which still has a little interference but not much, you can throttle up some serious, donut-filled fun. Maybe that’s the reason they kept these tires on the truck?
Like the other TRD Pro models in this lineup, the Tundra gets an interior fit for off-road fun with features like “TRD Pro” stamped seating, floor mats, shift knob, and center console. We recommend getting the moonroof, too – there is nothing quite like seeing the mud soar over the top of your truck as you coast over 1.5-foot rollers and huge puddles, all while using the manumatic transmission to shift down and let that amazing engine note sing!
The Verdict: 2019 Toyota TRD Pro Lineup
Two more words are significant when I think about the entire TRD Pro lineup: VooDoo Blue. This is the TRD Pro-specific color that is not only a unique shade of blue, but it just looks great on any of these vehicles. One look and you’ll be hooked on it!
The great debate – is it worth spending over $40k on a brand new vehicle with snazzy suspension and a host of features only found in these limited-edition models? It’s true that diehard Toyota fans will love these upgrades and vehicles, and the TRD Pro lineup is winning away buyers from other brands with great parts and legendary Toyota reliability. After driving all of them, I can assure you that each TRD Pro vehicle is impressive in its own right and definitely worth a second look at your Toyota dealer.