Review: 2016 Tacoma TRD 4×4 Off Road

The 2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off Road 4×4 Double Cab in the middle of the collards at Lovejoy City Gardens. (Photos/Danny Harrison)

The 2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off Road 4×4 Double Cab in the middle of the collards at Lovejoy City Gardens. (Photos/Danny Harrison)

2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off Road 4×4 Double Cab

As tested: $37,610
3.5L V6, 278hp
6-speed auto, 18-23mpg

Base model: $23,600
2.7L 4, 159hp
5-speed manual, 19-21 mpg

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Review by Danny Harrison

I never noticed it before, but after driving the 2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road 4×4 Double Cab for a week I have discovered that Metro Atlanta’s south side has an unfortunate lack of off-road driving opportunities.

It was only a few weeks ago I was reviewing the somewhat similar 2016 Toyota 4Runner Trail Edition SUV, and that was a fun vehicle to drive sans pavement, but nothing I’ve ever taken to the dirt topped the “Taco”, as I’ve begun hearing the Tacoma called. Looking back, I wish I had made better plans to push the Taco a bit harder and more often, but it surely exceeded expectations on the few challenges I did throw at it.

The Goodyears on this bad boy are reinforced with Kevlar, which is also used in bulletproof vests for law enforcement officers. They are pictured here tackling the rugged pine roots at Starr’s Mill Park in southern Fayette County near Senoia.

The Goodyears on this bad boy are reinforced with Kevlar, which is also used in bulletproof vests for law enforcement officers. They are pictured here tackling the rugged pine roots at Starr’s Mill Park in southern Fayette County near Senoia.

The first remarkable thing I noticed walking up to the Taco is that it was shod with all-season, all-terrain Goodyear Wrangler Kevlar tires. According to Goodyear, the Kevlar-reinforced sidewalls make the tire 35 percent more puncture-resistant. Kevlar, of course, is one of the key materials used in bullet-proof vests police officers wear.

These are some pretty tough-looking tires that really accentuate the Taco’s jacked-up posture, but surprisingly, they don’t add a lot of extra road noise to the cabin when driving down the highway at normal speeds. So while you’re ready to rumble on the outside, you can still enjoy your favorite classically-composed pieces on the inside and catch every note.

The next thing I noticed was that this all-new Taco design comes with a lowered roof line. I wish they hadn’t done that. I stand just over six feet tall, but I’m short-legged and long-waisted, which means I have to step up higher to get into the Taco, and then I have to duck to miss the top of the doorway. It’s a weird combination of moves, and in just a week I only nailed it a few times without bumping my head, if only slightly.

The Taco we tested is a good looking truck, but it would look just a good with a little taller cabin. Here it is pictured in the woods by the Brown Family Cemetery in Peachtree City.

The Taco we tested is a good looking truck, but it would look just a good with a little taller cabin. Here it is pictured in the woods by the Brown Family Cemetery in Peachtree City.

Once I was settled in the very comfy driver’s seat, I remembered that Tacomas have feet-forward seating. I wish they weren’t still doing that. I’m not normally an off-roader, so I don’t know if there are advantages to having a shallow floorboard, but I’d love to see Toyota both heighten and deepen the Taco’s cabin. I know it can be done, because I’ve owned a much smaller 2001 Chevy S-10 and an even smaller 1988 Ford Ranger, and both had legs-down-and-only-a-bit-forward seating.

Now on to the stuff I loved about this truck.

As I stepped out the office door to take my first spin, I saw some Fayetteville City Hall friends in the adjacent IHOP parking lot, so I rolled over that way to see if they might think this was actually my new truck. One of the first questions I got was, “What color is that?”

Toyota is definitely trying to get your attention with this new hue, which I would call either red or orange, depending on how it was reflecting sunlight at that moment. Toyota calls it Inferno. In a box of crayons, it would be Orange-Red.

While this color wouldn’t be my first pick, it is an impressive one, the truck looks good in it, and someone younger and sportier will appreciate it more.

What anyone will appreciate about the 2016 Taco is how impressive it performs off road. Let’s talk about that.

It took me three days to finally find the time and location to challenge the Taco’s off road sensibilities. By that third day, driving on nothing but paved roads was beginning to feel like a being a kid sittin’ still in church. I got antsy. I sensed that the truck really wanted to feel grass and dirt between its toes.

The Taco at Starr’s Mill.

The Taco at Starr’s Mill.

And that’s when I began to wish I lived on a farm. A terraced farm. A terraced farm on the side of the Andes Mountains somewhere in Chile. In my case, Starr’s Mill Park in southern Fayette County would have to do.

As you approach Starr’s Mill from the north, there are two little driveways that lead down to the south side of the creek. It’s a loop driveway, and only the first few feet of each end are paved so that lower-riding cars like my own daily driver can manage the suddenly steep slope. In between the driveways… well you don’t even want to think about leaving the road between the driveways, because it’s just too steep.

This picture doesn’t do justice to how steep the shoulder of Hwy. 85 is here at Starr’s Mill, but it’s steep, and the Taco tackled it brilliantly in 4×4 mode. It felt extremely sure-footed as I turned at the top of the hill to drive back down. This was probably the most fun I had in the Taco.

This picture doesn’t do justice to how steep the shoulder of Hwy. 85 is here at Starr’s Mill, but it’s steep, and the Taco tackled it brilliantly in 4×4 mode. It felt extremely sure-footed as I turned at the top of the hill to drive back down. This was probably the most fun I had in the Taco.

It’s too steep unless you’re driving a 2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road 4×4 Double Cab with a 20-degree breakover angle, more than nine inches of overall clearance, a whopping 32-degree approach angle and a respectable 23-degree departure angle for when you get to the bottom of the hill. I didn’t actually go down this way, because I was a bit chicken, and I kept imagining Rene the media review fleet manager wagging his head as I would have to explain how I managed to roll a $37,000 truck on a review drive. But once I got to the bottom of the hill the proper way, I did drive back up straight through the middle of the two drives.

It was like driving up a roller coaster hill; Goliath at Six Flags over Georgia, perhaps. In four-wheel-drive mode, which can shift on the fly with a turn of a dial, this didn’t even feel like a risky move. The Taco performed like it was made for this maneuver.

And so it was. This all-new truck has a 3.5-liter V6 that churns out 278 horsepower and offers 265 lb-ft of torque. It’s not going to smoke the sedans at the green light, but it will leave them stranded as it climbs a steep, grassy bank like Spider-Man.

The copy Toyota loaned me also had off-road tuned suspension, including Bilstein Shocks, which meant the Taco performed exceptionally well when I put it to the pine forest exposed root test there at Starr’s Mill Park. The Fayette County Water Department grounds maintenance crew rolled their eyes at me as I purposely drove over all the gnarly, knuckly pine tree roots I could find, but by-cracky, the Taco smoothed them out better than any other vehicle I’ve ever driven.

That’s why you’re going to buy the Taco at this trim level. You’re going to buy it so you can tow motorbikes, jet skis and small go-kart trailers, and otherwise you’re going to romp around hunting sites and perhaps terraced farms. You’re not going to buy the TRD Off-Road edition if you’re a city slicker who won’t get back to the trails for another month or so.

The double cab edition I tested is a good choice if you have kids, and especially little ones. You’re not getting a ton of leg room back there, but it’s enough. Three child booster seats fit great, and eyeballing it I’d say two full-sized child car seats would fit with a booster in the middle. So a family of five rides great, and there’s loads of cup holders all over the place to put sippy cups, bottle of water and whatever.

Back at Lovejoy City Garden, we used the Taco’s tailgate to display the produce we were picking. We loved the easy-down feature, which means the tailgate doesn’t “bang” when you drop it. It just glides down smoothly.

Back at Lovejoy City Garden, we used the Taco’s tailgate to display the produce we were picking. We loved the easy-down feature, which means the tailgate doesn’t “bang” when you drop it. It just glides down smoothly.

Your kids are also going to love the tailgate. I loved the tailgate. For starters, it has an “easy lower” feature that means you can unlatch it, drop it and it won’t bang at the bottom. It opens quickly, but it slows right at the bottom. Slick feature.

Once you’re sitting on the tailgate with the kid too young to play soccer, you can plug something into the AC power outlet just inside the bed of the truck. I charged up a battery for my Nikon. Handy feature.

The bed of the truck is covered in a durable composite material, so it will be protected and look good a long time. It also offers an innovative deck rail system, which is great for tying down cargo and even motorcycles. Optional is a lockable, tri-fold tonneau cover, which keeps your cargo secure so long as you also lock the tailgate.

Tacos at all trim levels have the super-handy back-up cameras standard these days, and as a sporty bonus they also have a pre-installed GoPro camera mount on the inside of the windshield near the rear-view mirror.

A basic, “access cab” version of the new Taco runs about $24,000 with the 2.7-liter, 159-hp, four-cylinder engine. The one I tested (V6, double cab, top-tier technology package) sits on the lot at $37,610.

You can get a bigger, more powerful truck in between those two price tags, including several iterations of the 2016 Toyota Tundra, but they’re not going to give you the same off-road capabilities.

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About

Danny Harrison, a 1992 Fayette High School graduate, began his journalism career with Fayette County News in 1995. After taking several leaves of absence to pursue journalism and Christian ministry opportunities, including a few out of state and overseas, he returned full-time to Fayette County News in August 2014. Harrison earned a bachelor's degree in pastoral ministry in 2009 while serving as a missionary journalist in England and Western Europe.


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