In the first quarter 2020, before outside influences really affected vehicle sales, the Toyota Tacoma sold 4,000 units fewer than the Chevrolet Colorado, Jeep Gladiator and Ford Ranger combined.
How does a truck essentially designed 15 years ago and refreshed in 2016 outsell its competitors (Colorado, Ranger, Gladiator, Frontier, Ridgeline and Canyon — in that order) by 2.5 to 12 times?
Resale value, styling and, now, smartphone integration.
The subject here is the top Tacoma, the TRD Pro automatic. With optional desert air intake, Pro graphics package, lesser miscellaneous options (more later) and freight, the Monroney reads $49,833.*
COMPETITORS & RESALE
Until Ford brings out a mini-Raptor Ranger, the closest alternatives are a Colorado ZR2 and a Mojave Gladiator. However, the ZR2 does not offer safety assists such as forward collision and lane departure warnings, which are standard on the Pro. So most similarly configured, it’s about $47,300, while the slightly larger Gladiator runs past $55,000 to match.
Whether or not you find the “value” in these desert-flyer trucks superior to buying an older out-of-warranty model and modifying it yourself, there is one thing that sets Tacoma pricing apart, and that’s resale value.
According to MarketWatch, it is No. 1 of all vehicles in that regard, at 5 years retaining roughly 10 percentage points more than the Ridgeline in 7th and Colorado in 8th. It’s 20 points ahead of the average. Using the prices above, in 5 years this Pro might be worth $6,600 more than the ZR2, and in my area, used Tacomas are difficult to find because all the landscapers and pool services keep scooping them up.
While its styling is often credited for much of its sales, the TRD Pro looks better the more time you drive off the pavement.
I won’t speak much to styling as that’s purely in the eye of the beholder—though I would tell Toyota to stuff it for charging me $699 for the wallpaper (listed as standard in some literature) and $160 for a tailgate emblem to advertise their truck.
Plus, I’m not a fan of hood lines that rise forward from the windshield base.
I invariably called the desert air intake “the tree-branch-catcher,” and unless there is someone in front of me or the front tires are spinning up dust, the intake air is the same regardless where it’s sucked in from.
AUTOMATIC VS. MANUAL
At $43,960 for a manual and $46,665 automatic, the Tacoma TRD Pro is $8,625 to $9,700 more than the penultimate TRD Off-Road Double Cab short bed. While $2,705 appears steep for an automatic, the automatic comes with pushbutton start, JBL subwoofer sound system, multi-terrain select and crawl control not offered on the stick.
Curiously, only the automatic also includes hill-start assist, a feature originally developed for and far more useful on manual gearboxes, not an issue here given a proper handbrake connected to big drum (yup) brakes. Finally, a TRD Pro is the only Toyota Tacoma model that does not offer a hard tri-fold bed cover.
All TRD Pros come with unique grille and wheels, all-around cameras and multi-terrain monitor, roll and pitch displays (with no redlines), TRD cat-back exhaust (pleasant tone and no drone empty, towing might be another matter) leather upholstery and steering wheel, 8-inch touchscreen navigation with CarPlay and Android Auto integration, wireless charging, LED lights with sequential front signals, power driver seat and moonroof.
HEADING OFF ROAD
But more of the price premium is in the unique suspension and tires.
The Kevlar Goodyear Wrangler all-seasons don’t look that aggressive, especially next to a ZR2, Rubicon or Power Wagon — a choice I attribute to noise, braking and economy concerns. They were plenty stout for everything I threw at them, including loose hill climbs and going way faster off pavement than on the interstate, but typical southwest arid conditions meant no mud.
At speed TRD Pro will settle softly into a depression and launch gently out the other side, landing just as softly if you caught some air. It’s not a mogul-bashing beast like a ¾-ton-heavier Raptor, but it soaks up two-track, washboard and dirt roads with a “C’mon, is that all you got” attitude that suggests you might break before the truck does.
And it’s just as good crawling over rocks or meandering along steep rutted trails — none of the black diamonds I tried required the diff lock or crawl control.
Such activities do demonstrate the Tacoma’s relatively cramped cabin, and more than once, my head intersected with the door pillar or roof. I know my 6’3” is a bit taller than average and the power seat is supposed to help, but with a flat floor and minimal telescope to the wheel, there’s only so far I can recline to avoid the headliner/moonroof while still holding the wheel.
HITTING THE HIGHWAY
On the highway plentiful front travel and a touchy brake pedal conspire to pitch the truck in traffic, and it feels like most rear travel is drop rather than compression — when you hit a pavement dip at speed, it’s unnoticed by the front but gets a stiff impact from the rear.
Roll stiffness appears a good balance between stability and flexibility, while the steering favors dirt more than cone or canyon-carving precision. I never put more than 300 pounds of parts in the bed and find the pavement performance trade-offs perfectly acceptable for how it works on the trail.
The 4.0-liter V-6 runs port and direct injection, delivering 278 horsepower (at 6,000 rpm), 265 pound-feet of torque (at 4,000 rpm) and an estimated EPA fuel economy (city/highway/combined) of 18/22/20 (auto) and 17/20/18 (manual) — both 6-speeds.
This represents a power deficit to some competitors – certainly a torque deficit to Ranger — and most others have more gears to work with.
Hence, performance is best described as adequate.
You need revs on for any sort of major progress, and my mileage was in the high teens — whether I ran the default or pushed the ECT power button every time I got in and shifted myself to taller gears on the highway.
Unlike most competitors the Pro offers a manual, too, and while the 44:1 crawl ratio is better than the auto’s 36:1, it isn’t enough to overcome a torque converter advantage if you don’t know what a clutch-start cancel switch is for.
THE BOTTOM LINE
I’m fortunate to be near places I could exercise a Tacoma TRD Pro regularly, and if you aren’t, it might be wiser to try a TRD Off-Road and put the savings into an ATV. Plus, if resale is irrelevant, the Chevrolet Colorado is the better truck on the pavement.
Were I buying a Pro, I would shop around to avoid some dealer markups and get exactly what I want: a 6-speed manual with no options. The $45,000 tab saves me $5k on this as-tested automatic, with which I could buy a rather decent subwoofer, winch, tow strap and still be $ ahead.
*In many places dealer markups bump this $2500-10,000. All our calculations are based on MSRP. If someone tried to charge me $60,000 for a Tacoma I’d buy a Power Wagon with MaxCare extended warranty and gasoline.