There’s one segment in the American truck market that is not dominated by American carmakers. Toyota has held a lock on the mid-size pickup truck market for many a year, ever since Ford seceded them the market by discontinuing the Ranger in 2011. Since then, the mighty Tacoma has reigned supreme as the ultimate small truck.
Although Toyota is well known to be a Japanese company, the Tacoma is uniquely American. Designed in the US and built in San Antonio, Texas, the Tacoma is then exported by Toyota USA to North and South American countries where the indestructible Toyota Hilux doesn’t exist.
Toyota introduced the TRD Pro, both the most luxurious and most off-road focused trim available for the Tacoma, for the 2017 model year, and has since become one of its most profitable models. And it’s easy to see why.
Under the hood is a 3.6-L V6 with a respectable 276 hp and 265 lb-ft of torque. It’s not as much as certain Chevy competitors (which we’ll talk about more later), but it’s certainly more than enough to do any kind of off-roading short of truck racing.
Power is routed through either a 6-speed automatic or 6-speed manual transmission to all four wheels only some of the time. The Tacoma has part-time four-wheel-drive, which means that the front axle is disconnected by default until the driver activates the 4WD system. This helps the Tacoma save on fuel and only uses all that traction in off-road environments or difficult road conditions.
Speaking of difficult conditions, the Tacoma’s traction control comes equipped to handle all kinds of terrain, including mud, sand, snow, rocks, and clean pavement. As the pinnacle of Toyota off-roading, the TRD Pro also comes with Crawl Control, which is essentially low-speed cruise control. The driver can select one of five low-speed options and stay focused on the terrain instead of needing to split their attention between both steering and throttle.
Further off-road enhancements include an electronic limited-slip differential, an electronically locking rear differential, and a set of FOX internal bypass shocks on all four wheels. You might remember these shocks from the Ford Raptor, another off-road behemoth, so you know they’re top of the line.
The TRD Pro only comes in one configuration: crew cab (which Toyota calls Double Cab) and short, 5-foot bed. Those looking for a larger bed or a smaller cabin will need to opt for a lesser trim and build from there. But the TRD Pro does come with a lot of great standard features that should really make a pickup buyer hesitate before opting for a lower trim.
On the outside, the TRD Pro is protected by an aluminum front skid plate, while an available snorkel helps the Tacoma’s engine breathe the cleaner air above the cabin rather than the dusty road by the grille. As with the Colorado, this does not mean the Tacoma is intended to ford any small streams, so don’t even try making the waterline come anywhere near your bumper.
A set of 16-inch alloy wheels are covered in Goodyear Wrangler All-Terrain Kevlar-reinforced tires. Automatic LED headlights and a unique TRD Pro grille and hood scoop complete the aesthetic exterior package.
On the inside, the TRD Pro has perhaps the best interior of any mid-size pickup. Everything the driver needs to be aware of is in a well-defined section of the dashboard, with steering wheel controls for the cruise control and infotainment. New for 2019 is a standard sunroof and JBL premium audio for those pickups equipped with an automatic transmission (we’re not really clear on why the manual couldn’t get the same audio upgrade).
Unlike many other truckmakers, the TRD Pro comes standard with some of the best driver assistance tech available. Emergency braking, pedestrian detection, lane departure alert, automatic cruise control, rear cross traffic alert, and blind-spot monitoring are all standard. A wireless charging pad, 2 USB ports, and dual-zone climate control are likewise standard features.
About the only thing you can criticize the TRD Pro’s interior for is a 7-inch infotainment system that looks a little dated and a little small by modern standards. Similar criticisms can be leveled at the TRD Pro for lacking Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, or any kind of wifi hotspot capabilities.
Not that an off-road enthusiast really cares about a wifi hotspot.
For many a moon, the only real competition the Tacoma TRD Pro had was from the Chevy Colorado ZR2. A starting price of $43,890 for the ZR2 beats the TRP Pro, which starts at $45,365 for the 6-speed automatic, but the 6-speed manual beats the Colorado by coming in at $42,660. The Colorado ZR2 doesn’t even come in manual, so if you want a manual mid-size pickup, the Tacoma is pretty much your only real option.
The Tacoma also comes with a lot more standard tech than the Colorado, keeping the TRD Pro’s price from ballooning past the 50-grand mark easily. Not so the Colorado, which can shoot past 50 large easily once you install the Bison package. On the other hand, that same Bison package turns the ZR2 into an armored off-road monster that will surely be more durable than even the legendarily reliable Toyota name.
But 2019 is a new year, and the Tacoma will have two more contenders for the throne. Ford is eyeing the mid-size pie with a reborn Ranger, and Jeep will soon bring the 2020 Gladiator with its emphasis on modular design and off-road capabilities. Will the Tacoma retain its place in a 4-way battle for mid-size pickup supremacy?
We’ll find out next year.