2016 Toyota Tacoma: Rock On
by Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing on December 29, 2016
There's nothing that compares to our 2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road when it comes to price versus trail-busting performance. The TRD Pro should do as well or better, but it costs over $8,000 more than this truck. Chevy Colorado ZR2 pricing has not yet been announced, but it's likely to compete with the TRD Pro. And its wide-fendered, Raptor-esque bodywork might not be well-suited to the narrow trails that a TRD Off-Road can master.
But that test will have to wait. In this case, my wife and I simply hopped in the Tacoma for a weekend in Big Bear, a mountaintop resort town that sits just below 7,000 feet. Once we settled into our B&B, I persuaded her to join me in tackling Gold Hill Road, a Jeep trail that's fairly difficult and intended for modified Wranglers.
I didn't expect to get the Tacoma all the way through without a second vehicle for support and another pair of trained eyes for spotting, but I wanted to see if I could crawl up and over one of the gateway obstacles that's meant to keep stock vehicles out. About 2 miles in we came to it. The solidly planted rocks became quite jagged and menacing, and here and there they sported deep gouges where they weren't stained black by spinning tires or shining with the luster of rubbed-off aluminum.
My plan was to tiptoe up, continue on until I reached something I couldn't get past, then turn around and crawl back down. That's the trick to off-roading on unfamiliar roads or in unfamiliar vehicles — you have to imagine coming back through an obstacle the other way in case you reach a no-go point later on.
The path was tricky, and the Tacoma's sheetmetal flanks were in danger of getting crunched if I slid sideways from a rock or came off one too quickly. Our stock bodywork hasn't been "clearanced" by either intentional means with metalworking snips or unintentional previous rock encounters. I took the time to scout a line and get lined up properly, then engaged crawl control. But I'm not used to that system, and I found myself dragging the brakes to meter my speed, which had the effect of negating what the system was trying to do for me. That said, any system that can control each of the four tires independently has got to be better than a single all-encompassing throttle or brake input. I need to play with it some more and learn to trust it.
A few skidplate taps later, the truck sat perched up on the shelf with no damage. I let a couple of lifted JK Wranglers on 37-inch tires go by, their drivers meeting my gaze with raised eyebrows. A hundred yards later, we all came to a steep rock face that I knew I couldn't climb without removing my bumpers for clearance, but my wife and I stayed to watch them give it a go before reversing course. It wasn't easy for them. They spun their tires and locked their diffs and still got high-centered and banged hard against the rocks. At times they were on the gas so hard I was sure they were going to snap an axle.
One of them might have, for all I know. We turned back before the last of them cleared it. Part of me thinks I could have made it with a better-disciplined line and a steadier approach to the throttle, but that's ego talking. The TRD Off-Road Tacoma is mighty capable, but clearance is clearance. A pickup bed and trailer hitch hanging off the back are limitations. And 31-inch tires are nice for most situations, but a trail like this demands the clearance offered by 33-inch tires — or more.
Now it was time to go down what we had climbed up. My wife guided me onto the right line, and this time I went full manual and eased to truck down among and through the rocks. Piece of cake, if the cake went "bang" one or twice while you ate it.
Next day we stuck to fire roads and explored the wider area. The highlight was a visit to the Butler Peak fire lookout, which is manned by volunteers on an ad-hoc basis. We happened to walk into a wedding that was going on up on the lofty balcony of the place. The party consisted of a bride, groom, officiant, photographer, the lookout staffer ... and us! My foot clanged onto the topmost step just as I heard the words "I now pronounce you husband and wife," and "you may kiss the bride." We were having a good day, but they were having a better one.
Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing