What does it take to turn a Toyota Tacoma into a dune-blasting desert runner?

That's the question I'm asking myself while climbing up the entrance to the Silver Lake Sand Dunes in Mears, Michigan. My friend Brad is leading me out here. A fellow off-roader, he happens to be in his own, highly modified 2012 Toyota Tacoma. The 2015 Toyota Tacoma I'm wielding may be stock but it's no base model.

The new Tacoma TRD Pro packs a mix of Bilstein and TRD suspension components, TRD wheels, BFGoodrich all-terrain tires, TRD exhaust, and naturally, some cosmetic touches, in this case blacked-out lettering and optional orange paint. Brad's truck might have an extra inch of lift, longer control arms, two more inches of tire, and the trail rash to prove his truck is no pavement pounder, but I have faith that this factory-fresh Tacoma has what it takes.

Tires aired down, traction control off, stability control off, RSCA (whatever all that is) off. I leave the truck and two-wheel high and put my foot down. The TRD exhaust spits out a throaty V-6 bark and the back end squats. Moment of truth -- I stay on the gas and feel the back end pop to the surface. Now I'm scooting across the sand, kicking up a healthy rooster tail in my rearview. Who needs a drift car? Just leave the TRD Pro in two-wheel and it's just as chuckable.

Enough impersonating Ryan Tuerck; it's time to get this Tacoma vertical. Leading the way I flip it into four-wheel high and set my sights on the biggest dune I can find.

With the Tacoma TRD Pro's long wheelbase and lack of a long-travel suspension, I have to ease up on my speed at the base of the dune. Once past the point of full compression, I feather the upper end of the throttle and feel the tires fighting and clawing their way forward.

Off-roaders can endlessly debate tire choice and suspension setups. But when it comes to out-of-the-box fun and performance, it really doesn't get much better than the Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro. At the end of the day, there wasn't a dune left unclimbed.

2015 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro Specifications

Base Price$37,415

Price as TestedN/A

Engine4.0-liter DOHC 24-valve V-6/236 hp @ 5,200 rpm, 266 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm

Transmission5-speed automatic

Layout4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, 4WD pickup

EPA MileageN/A

L x W x H208.1 x 74.6 x 72.1 in

Wheelbase127.4 in

WeightN/A

Towing Capacity6,400 lb

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