Toyota keeps on truckin’
Toyota has considerable experience making tough trucks, as well as supporting off road racing endeavors. Such savvy is evident in the new line of TRD Pro models, comprised of the (outgoing) Tacoma and the 4Runner and Tundra, which I’ve recently spent time evaluating.
I’ve made no secret of my feelings that the current generation of 4Runner isn’t as well done as the prior, N210 series (2002-2009), but the TRD Pro version is so well wrought that it has given me new appreciation for the inherent qualities of the current series.
TRD Pro 4Runner
For a start, it looks great; seeing “TOYOTA” spelled out across the bluff, blackened nose makes me wonder if the company shouldn’t stop using their corporate logo on all of their trucks. The TRD Pro sits about an inch higher in the front, thanks to new Eibach springs. Clearly visible is the ¼-inch think, welded skid plate and the amazing, remote reservoir Bilstein dampers (also known as shocks). Unique black wheels, terrific Nitto Terra Grappler tires and smoked light lenses complete the makeover. Inside there are minor trim changes that enhance the very mechanical ambiance; otherwise the 4Runner’s cockpit is much like the Trail model that sits just below it in the lineup.
TRD Pro Tundra
The Tundra’s looks are also enhanced by the TRD Pro regalia, but not as successfully, since it uses the same tires as other models, which look a bit lost in the otherwise pleasingly chamfered bodywork. Inside the Tundra is basically a lower-level SR5 with unique seat fabric. Sadly, the cheap-feeling plastic steering wheel, shifter, cheap moldings and other cost-cutting measures that undermine other basic Tundras are still present.
At least the Tundra Pro is a pleasing drive. The TRD exhaust bellows a soulful basso soundtrack from the great 381hp 5.7-liter quad cam V8, and the six-speed tranny is smooth in operation and well-geared for normal use. The manual shifting quadrant in both vehicles is a real boon in off-road use too, and a much more intuitive system than used in the American fullsize trucks. The Tundra’s as quick as it sounds too, with 60mph available in 6.5 seconds and fuel economy that is average for this type of rig—mid-teens in town and about 18mpg on the highway.
The biggest difference in the feel of both vehicles over lower trim models is due to their dampers; these sophisticated Bilstein units really demonstrate how much improvement is available to most any vehicle, just by choosing the right compression and rebound characteristics via pistons, valving and other parameters.
TRD Pro 4Runner
Where other 4Runners and Tundras exhibit a bouncy, poorly controlled ride, the TRD Pro machines are much more fluid in their movements and progressive in body motions—if softer in roll, pitch and squat. Off pavement they are really amazing, as the remote reservoirs allow the dampers to take rapid, big hits and soak up compressions yet retain their incredible suppleness.
The otherwise pleasing TRD Pro 4Runner’s biggest weakness remains its heft and the lack of low-end grunt from its unrefined 4-liter V6; its 278lb-ft of peak torque doesn’t arrive until 4400rpm and peak power of 270 horses is only 1200rpm higher, meaning there is only a narrow powerband to work within. This is exacerbated by the transmission only having five speeds. The platform mate Lexus GX460’s V8 and six-speed wouldn’t go amiss as an option, especially as they both return very similar real world mileage, namely about 15mpg in the city and 20mpg on the highway.
TRD Pro Tundra
Of course, this really doesn’t matter, as the limited run of 4Runner TRD Pros has just about sold out, and it really is a compelling companion, with direct steering, a comfortable ride (for something so capable off road) and a terrific looking shell. The Tundra has also sold very well as a TRD Pro, and if the transformation isn’t so complete, it is a nice alternative to a Ford Raptor, as its towing and load-lugging abilities remain intact, and the price premium isn’t unreasonable for the improvements over a “normal” TRD model.
EPA ratings: 4Runner 17/21mpg; 18mpg combined; Tundra 13/17mpg; 15mpg combined
0-60mph: 4Runner: 7.7 seconds (est); Tundra 6.5 seconds (est)
Price as tested: 4Runner: $43,224; Tundra $43,658
Here is what Toyota has to say about the TRD Pro versions.