Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro review
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Tacoma TRD Pro upholds the the nameplate's reputation for tough-duty capability in the ninth generation of Toyota's midsize pickup. (Toyota)

What we're driving: Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro

It’s hardly a secret that Toyota’s Tacoma owns the midsize pickup market—both in raw sales and in perception. After a kinda-sorta redesign of the Tacoma for 2016, the TRD Pro model followed for 2017 to establish the new-generation Tacoma wasn’t yielding one millimetre of the off-road credibility that’s made it the go-to choice for the influential desert-runner crowd.

With its de rigeur Fox dampers, 1-in. lifted ride height and special suspension tuning and a mess of off-road cosmetic totems, the Tacoma TRD Pro looks and feels ready enough. Problem is, I don’t have a nearby desert, so like most other Tacoma owners, my drive time was spent exclusively on pavement. For that duty, the Tacoma TRD Pro seems fabulously over-equipped and feels rather uncomfortable.

The Pro’s foundation is the Tacoma 4x4 Double Cab short-bed configuration, so you get a lot of cab and 5.5 feet of bed. The general ride-quality and cabin characteristics of this ninth-generation Tacoma don’t seem to have changed much: you bump along a little too stiffly with your legs extended a little too horizontally in line with the seat bottom. That’s tolerable for short trips, but a couple hours or more leaves you begging for a more chair-like driving position.

The 3.5-L V6 has all of Toyota’s latest tricks, including both port- and direct injection and advanced valving control for Atkinson cycle and what the company calls VVT-iW (“wide”) intake-valve timing. The 278 hp doesn’t seem overly anxious to move the TRD Pro, which weighs something on the order of 4,500 lb (2,041 kg). And considering all the engine tech, 18 mpg city/23 mpg highway isn’t impressive—Ford’s fullsize, 4-wheel-drive F150 with its spunky 2.7-L turbocharged V6 is rated 1 mpg better.

I’ll admit to only vaguely understanding the pickup market’s increasing infatuation with projecting extreme off-road capability. It reminds me of the early days of SUVs, when everybody buying one thought it had to look like a Range Rover Defender. After a few vehicle-generations of that nonsense, we’ve settled on the car-like crossovers that now ably roam the strip-mall wilds. I’ll admit the Tacoma TRD Pro looks cool, but I hope the pickup-buying public comes to its senses and realizes the off-road posturing isn’t worth it—either at the gas pump or the chiropractor’s.

Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro

Base price:       $42,780
As tested:         $44,814
Highs:                Rugged; Toyota quality and rep; handle-able size
Lows:                 Stiff ride; legs-out driving position; mediocre fuel economy 
Takeaway:        An aquired-taste variant of the market's best-selling midsize pickup                     
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