Goodsprings, Nev., is about 20 miles southwest of Las Vegas, the sort of place with historical plaques that are nearly as old as the places they describe. The desert trails winding past the "historic" Pioneer Saloon -- where Clark Gable drowned his sorrows -- are littered with jagged rocks and a dust that fills your lungs. Wild burros that won't flinch at oncoming machinery roam, along with endangered desert tortoises that we are never to hit, even accidentally, lest we have to fill out the paperwork. It is 99 degrees outside -- never a shortage of sunlight, never a place to hide from it.
It's the perfect place to run Toyota's latest in off-road badassery: the TRD Pro Series of trucks, previously announced at the Chicago Auto Show, now crashing and banging and occasionally jumping over the Nevada rocks until they sound like they're going to break. They didn't. If they had, we'd still be in the desert.
For the Tundra, the Tacoma and the 4Runner, Toyota Racing Development has supplied beefy 2.5-inch Bilstein shocks with remote reservoirs, paired with TRD-tuned Eibach springs that increase lift around 2 inches upfront and an inch in back; their rates are decreased, from stock, for a less jarring ride both on-road and off. Wheel travel increases 1-2 inches. The TRD exhaust on the two pickups add around 10 hp, according to Toyota's preliminary (and unpublished) testing. Front aluminum skid plates, a quarter-inch thick, are necessities. The rest of the package amounts to appearance: TRD floor mats, shift knobs, and blacked-out wheels, while the black grilles on all three feature retro TOYOTA badging, just in time for Marty McFly's arrival to the future -- next year.
Each vehicle receives something unique. Only the Tacoma receives beadlock-style wheels, for instance. (Its TRD package is nearly identical to the Baja Series Tacoma, except for reduced spring rates.) The Tundra gets red-stitched cloth seats and TRD Pro stamped on the bed panels. The 4Runner gets an additional inch of wheel travel but for some reason is the only one without a TRD exhaust. All three trucks have different wheels and tires: 18-inch Michelin on Tundra, 17-inch Nitto for 4Runner, 16-inch BF Goodrich with the Tacoma. All three trucks get paint options consisting of black, super white and a color Toyota calls "inferno," which resembles an overripe tomato.
Of course, Toyota is quick to champion its off-road heritage. It dragged off-road legend Ivan "Ironman" Stewart away from retirement in balmy San Diego just for this purpose, bringing him back to the same trails he used to race early in his career. "I remember chasing a guy right down here," he said as we bombed down a three-wide trail of scattered rocks that curved down past the edge of a small cliff. "'Course, we'd be going three times the speed, trying to pass each other through the dust."
After driving the three TRD Pro trucks, we hoped somebody would name a video game after us.
What's it like to drive?
All three vehicles have their own personalities. The 4Runner is light on its feet and slides willingly in the dirt with a lightness belying its size. The Tacoma delivers a visceral experience, filled with noise and roughness, yet it feels slightly more lethargic than the heavier 4Runner. The Tundra feels like it can take any amount of abuse you can throw at it, every time: careening loudly over dips and scraggly inclines, we hit hard but never reach the bump stops. The unique three-stage valving, designed to ease the transition into bottoming out, does its job. By the end of the day, the Tundra's skid plate resembled a piece of armor from a sunken battleship. "When you hit the skid plate," said Ironman Stewart, after inspecting our bump stops, "you've reached your limit."
What's good for off-road is apparently good for the asphalt, and the TRD suspension on all three vehicles feels like magic: delivering unflappable smoothness and stability on Interstate 15, one's inclined to believe that every truck and car should ride like this. We drove a Tundra Platinum recently, which creaked and bounced on the asphalt: this here TRD Tundra felt more comfortable off-road than the Platinum did on pavement.
Do I want one?
If you can justify the flimsiest of excuses to buy a sweet truck ("now that I have a motorcycle, I'm gonna need something to haul it with" always works), the Toyota TRD Pro trucks will enable further excuses to spend time in the great outdoors, even if that outdoors happens to be the edge of the Mojave desert.
Pricing is key to utilitarian trucks like these: the trick suspensions aren't cheap, but Toyota trucks are supposed to be. The current Baja Series Tacoma will cost $33,800 including shipping. On that truck, the total cost of the TRD gear comes in at $5,015. Expect similar pricing throughout midrange trims of the Tundra and 4Runner.
In fact, the 4Runner would be our pick for the best balance in agility, solidity, and comfort -- yes, there's even some semblance of it while bouncing around on the dirt. The Tundra's steering was too vague and light even for a truck; Raptor it isn't, though the addition of the 504-hp supercharger would have made for an even more beastlike truck. The Tacoma, rough-and-tumble as it is, would be our second pick, and we'd gladly put up with the harshness if we had to haul dirtbikes. Like those who already own a Baja Series Tacoma, we'd have to don a flat-brim cap with our choice of energy drink on it.
But you can get a Tacoma TRD Pro with the 4.0-liter V6 engine and a manual transmission. That sounds like good, clean fun to us.
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