Behind the Wheel

2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road Review: Off-roading prowess for less but it’s still pricey

Toyota offers a value-focused version of the Tacoma that leverages its off-road prowess , the Tacoma TRD Off-Road.

Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

The Toyota Tacoma is the best-selling midsize truck in the country. Why? Besides the Toyota badge up front, there's not many compelling reasons to pick the Tacoma over another midsize truck - until you get into the top tier trim levels. Then, the Tacoma proudly wears its prowess. But, it's at a steep price.

Toyota sent over the 2020 Tacoma TRD Off-Road for testing. It's a mid-grade model that has slightly more equipment to make it more off-road worthy than the Tacoma base model including a terrain mode selector and crawl control. It's a good balance of equipment and value when you look at the Tacoma lineup as a whole.

2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road The model offers a good balance of capability and value.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

None of the trucks in this segment are particularly plush with the exception of the Honda Ridgeline and the Tacoma fits in right alongside them. There's plenty of hard plastic in the cabin, which adds to the feeling of ruggedness, but there's also a lot about it that's dated. Still, there's evidence that Toyota has taken steps to bring it more up to date.

The infotainment system got a size upgrade for 2020 and now Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and Amazon Alexa are standard. But, the steering wheel and digital clock are from another design era.

So is the powertrain. The thirsty 3.5-liter V6 is paired with a six-speed automatic transmission to deliver less than satisfying performance despite the truck's listed 278 horsepower and 265 pound-feet of torque. This model's powertrain suffers from the same hit-or-miss shifting that the 2020 Toyota 4Runner's does.

2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road While the screen is new, some of the controls are dated.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

All-in, the 4x4 version of the tester comes out to near $40,000. Which is where the biggest problem with the midsize truck segment lies. Have you seen what you can get for $40,000 in the Ram, Chevrolet, and Ford full-size truck lineups?

The best bang for your buck may be the 2020 Ram 1500 Big Horn, with an upgraded mild-hybrid 5.7-liter HEMI V8, and package add-on to include heated and power front seats, remote start, and an 8.4-inch infotainment screen. Add the Sport Appearance package and 20-inch wheels and you're still below $40,000.

But then the argument is that the Ram isn't small enough for trails or maneuverable quite like the Tacoma. Sure, the Tacoma wins there. But, have you heard about a little thing called the Bronco? The 2021 Ford Bronco Two-Door Outer Banks comes in at $38,955 and the 2021 Ford Bronco Four-Door Black Diamond starts at $38,545. They don't have a bed like the Tacoma, I'll grant you that.

If you want a plusher interior and a bed, why not consider the Ridgeline instead? Yes, it doesn't look like the typical truck, but it's a really good option. Seriously. Don't like that? Wait for the Hyundai Santa Cruz, which looks like it's being designed to be a proficient daily driver with weekend warrior capabilities.

Where Tacoma makes its best argument for ownership isn't with the daily driver crowd. It's with the enthusiast bunch who like their Tacoma tricked out and tuned, and don't mind shelling out well over $50,000 to do so. They take it off-road and through mud pits, up trails, and keep it for 10 years or more, despite the scratches and dents. And there's nothing wrong with that.

In the mid-grade, the Tacoma makes a compelling argument for buyers to cross-shop other trucks and perhaps take a chance on a new SUV.

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Nuts & Bolts

 
 

Pininfarina is set to begin delivers of its Battista hypercard soon.

Photo courtesy of Pininfarina

The Pininfarina Residenza at-home electric vehicle charging point may be the most exclusive wall box charger in the world. The exclusive home charger is available to buyers of its 1,900-horsepower Pininfarina Battista.

The box was designed in partnership with Green Motion and is badged with the Automobili Pininfarina name. It has up to 7.2 kilowatts of energy flow in North America.

The design of the wall box was inspired by the lines of the Battista. It features a painted cover finished in the same color the owner has selected for their pure electric, Italian luxury hyper GT. The box is constructed of recycled and organic materials.

Pininfarina Battista Pininfarina promises 1,900-horsepower Battista electric hypercar deliveries will begin soon. Photo courtesy of Pininfarina

For North American customers, the Residenza wall box features a tethered Type 1 cable (Mode 3) which includes an integrated cable management system which automatically gathers and rolls the lead into the box.

Each Battista is powered by a 120-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack. The pack can be charged by the wall charger in six hours. The top-up provides 310 miles of range (WLTP).

Pininfarina has announced a partnership with ChargePoint for charging outside the home. ChargePoint's network has approximately 115,000 places to charge in North American and Europe, as well as 133,000 charging spots through roaming integrations with other charging network providers.

Using a 180kW DC-charging system, owners will be able to charge their Battista from 20 percent to 80 percent in just 25 minutes.

Battista owners receive five years of unlimited public charging at no extra cost with their purchase.

"Our clients will love the thrill of Battista's extreme electrified performance, yet they also need to enjoy living with this advanced technology," said Automobili Pininfarina Chief Product and Engineering Officer Paolo Dellacha. "For that reason we have ensured there are a comprehensive number of public charging points available to them, made possible through our collaboration with ChargePoint.

"At the same time, a large proportion of the Battista's charging will be done at home and our exclusive wall box design provides owners with a bespoke solution, finished to their exact taste."

The Residenza wall box may be activated through a dedicated app, which allows owners to remotely schedule the charging of their Battista and monitor its charging status. The app also enables owners to view the charging history and is integrated with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant for enhanced convenience.

Owners use their Battista keyfob or app to link to ChargePoint network chargers. Each fob contains a secure RFID chip that can be used to complete a charge purchase without any additional charging cards required.

The Pininfarina Battista is priced at over $2 million.

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Chevrolet completely redesigned the Suburban for the 2021 model year.

Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

At over 18-feet long, the 2021 Chevrolet Suburban is massive in stature. The redesigned-for-2021 Suburban is also one of the most technologically advanced SUVs to roll off any General Motors assembly line. The question is, is it any good?

Yes. There is no point in burying the lede on this. The Suburban is the Chevrolet to have if you consistently need to carry six or more people and all of the gear associated with it. Need to take the kids to soccer practice? No problem. Need to bring grandma and grandpa on the family road trip? No problem. Need to carry an entire high school marching band and their instruments? Easy peasy. A colleague even suggested that the rear seats are in a different ZIP code than the front seats.

2021 Chevrolet Suburban Premier The Suburban has grown for the 2021 model year.Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

But unlike Doctor Who's Tardis, the Suburban is just as big on the outside as it is on the inside. The Suburban's boxy shape highlights how functional the design is – maximizing interior space is key. A new front grille and headlight setup comes straight from the Chevy Silverado pickup truck. Massive wheels are needed just to fill out the wheel arches.

Around back, a power liftgate (standard as hands-free in LT and up trim levels) is flanked by new taillights and there's a real dual exhaust for the 5.3-liter V8 that comes standard on Suburban. A 6.2-liter V8 and a 3.0-liter Duramax diesel are also available. All the engine options are paired with GM's 10-speed automatic transmission.

While the Suburban never feels smaller than it is, it is nice to drive. The automatic's shifts are flawless in execution, and the 5.3-liter V8 sounds great on throttle. At nearly three tons, the Suburban isn't light, and the upgraded 6.2-liter V8 is worth the extra money if you're planning on towing or filling the Suburban with people consistently. There just doesn't feel like enough oomph with the lower-spec engine to really get the Suburban moving. The sweet spot might end up being the diesel, like it is with the Silverado, but that's not available for a few months.

2021 Chevrolet Suburban Premier The Suburban is appropriately appointed for its price point.Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

Magnetic Ride Control is standard on the Premier trim, and while it doesn't also include the air suspension of higher-spec models, it does a good job at smoothing out the bumps and imperfections of the road. Though the Suburban does feature a sport driving mode, at no point did I feel compelled to use it to get a leg up on the traffic around me during testing. Leave it to its natural devices the Suburban drives pretty well.

The Expedition drives a bit smaller than it actually is, and the available Pro Trailer Backup Assist is a godsend for someone inexperienced with towing. Depending on spec, you can tow up to 8,300 pounds with the Suburban. That's enough for a small boat or camper, making the SUV a solid rig for weekend getaways.

There's plenty of room in the second row for passengers or pups during a weekend getaway, or longer. The Suburban Premier test unit had captain's chairs in the middle row, so gaining access to the third row is easy. There is also a lever on the side of the second-row chairs that, if you press it down twice, fold ups the seats up and away. While most three-row SUVs skimp in the back, this thing is big enough to seat adults and still have room for lots of cargo (up 19 percent over the 2020 model). In the front, the tester had leather seats that were heated and ventilated that sufficiently performed their functions.

2021 Chevrolet Suburban Premier The Suburban Premier comes standard with a 10.2-inch infotainment touch screen.Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

In front of the driver, an 8.0-inch digital instrument display is flanked by two analog gauges. A 15-inch wide head-up display (the largest in its class) has full-color, high-res graphics that are easy to read. General Motors makes their digital rearview mirror available on the Suburban, which makes it easy to see what's behind you because without it, you see just your passengers or the rows of empty seats directly behind you.

Chevrolet's latest infotainment system runs the Premier model's 10.2-inch touch screen and is updated to include wireless connectivity for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. That means you can just toss your phone on the wireless phone charger and you're off. A surround view camera does help in parking, though you're still going to want to avoid tight spots in city centers due to the overall size of the Suburban.

The test vehicle was black, making it look like a Secret Service transport for the President of the United States. And after a week in the new Suburban, it's easy to see why they prefer this SUV. The way that the Suburban uses its space is impressive. It maximizes interior cargo and passenger capacity. It's more practical in every row than a comparable Ford Expedition Max, and the V8 delivers better power than the Ford's twin-turbo V6.

2021 Chevrolet Suburban Premier The 2021 Suburban has 19 percent more cargo room than the previous edition.Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

You know if you need a vehicle this size, and if you do, the Suburban is the way to go. Just opt for the larger V-8 engine and you'll have yourself a beast of a vehicle. The Premier trim is a nice sweet spot, too, with luxury features but without the opulence and price tag that comes with the High Country trim. The test model wasn't cheap at $74,080, but for big SUVs this is the one to get.

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