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