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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Buying guide

How to buy a modified car: Three tips

This is a clean modified truck, but they don't all end up this way.

Bring a Trailer

Modified cars are a mixed bag. Sometimes, they're incredibly well built and better than the original, but too many times they're only partially finished or end up being rushed as their owners get late-project anxiety. Whatever the case, buying a modified car can be a stressful process if you haven't done your homework ahead of time. The good news is that you can get a good deal on a reasonably well sorted project or modified car, but you'll need to be careful. Looking at used Lexus LXs earlier today, it became clear that there are as many modified vehicles for sale as there are clean examples.

This LX got me thinking about the breakdown between buying a rig and building one. The modifications made by this Lexus' seller are almost exactly what I would do if I were building a light overlanding rig. What could go wrong? I'm still on the fence about the Lexus, but the three topics below will help you make the right decision on buying a modified car.

2004 Lexus LX 470 Even if the mods are well done, you'll want to have the vehicle inspected before you buy.Bring a Trailer

Understand your personal taste

I mentioned the LX470 and how the owner's updates were pretty close to what I'd do with the truck. That's an exception to the rule, because 90 percent of the time I walking away from a sales listing because of modifications, rather than the other way around. If you're hoping to find a tastefully modified car that matches your exact tastes, you could be waiting a while. If you're hoping to sell a modified car, the same is true in reverse. Finding a buyer for your extremely personalized project car may not be the easiest thing you've ever done.

2004 Lexus LX 470 It's a good idea to seek out vehicles in solid shape, regardless of mods.Bring a Trailer

Be aware of condition and quality

This Lexus looks to be well maintained and in good shape. It also doesn't hurt that the LX is one of the most reliable vehicles built by one of the world's most quality-conscious automakers. Even so, it's hard to know what you're getting with this, or any other, modified vehicle. There's a little rust in this image, but the lift kit, wheels, and bumper mods all look good. However, even if the truck looked brand-new, you'd want to get a pre-purchase inspection. An independent mechanic can tell you if there are potential issues that are unrelated to mods, and you'll want to be sure that any modifications are installed properly.

2004 Lexus LX 470 Some mods are more useful than others.Bring a Trailer

Keep an eye on the price

Most people are reasonable when it comes to selling their modified cars, but there are hundreds of "I know what I got" memes on the internet for a reason. Some sellers want to recover every penny of the money they spent customizing their cars. They're convinced that the mods drastically increased the car's value and can't understand why the customized car isn't as attractive to you as it is to them. Tread lightly and be careful not to insult the owner, but it's your job to work toward a reasonable, fair price.

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Honda notified dealers of upcoming supply cuts.

Photo courtesy of American Honda Motor Co., Inc

Honda, like all major automakers today, is truly a global operation. Though it produces plenty of vehicles here in the United States, many of the components it relies on for manufacturing come from elsewhere in the world. That means Honda, like the other auto giants, needs its global supply chain operating smoothly in order to prevent disruption. Unfortunately for Honda dealers and potential customers, disruption is what's about to happen. The automaker recently sent a letter to its dealers, forecasting reduced vehicle supply in the coming weeks.


2021 Honda Ridgeline No. 19 - Honda Photo courtesy of American Honda Motor Co., Inc


The dealer letter, posted to the Civic XI forum and fan site, was dated August 25 and confirmed by a dealer upset with the development, according to Automotive News. In the letter, Honda cites the ongoing pandemic and microchip shortages as major factors impacting its production efforts. Total shipments to dealers could be cut by up to 40 percent, but not all models will be affected to the same degree.

The letter noted that supplies of the Pilot and Passport SUVs will hold steady, and shared that production of the Civic hatchback is on schedule. However, the situation is fluid and could change at any time, so there's a chance that timelines could speed up or slack off as necessary.


2022 Honda Pilot Some models will see more cuts than others.Photo courtesy of American Honda Motor Co., Inc


Honda is just the latest in a long line of automakers struggling to keep pace with demand in the face of several converging global crises. In an effort to keep vehicles rolling out of factories, General Motors has implemented selective feature cuts in some of its new vehicles, such as the removal of engine start/stop tech from some trucks and SUVs. Earlier this month, Ford Motor Company told Mustang Mach-E buyers to expect delays of at least six weeks as it grapples with the chip shortage, and will temporarily reduce production capacity at a few of its plants.

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