I recently took a Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro on an off-road adventure in Moab, Utah, where I put it through its paces on the sandy, rolling trails of the Behind the Rocks area. It was insanely fun, mostly thanks to the TRD Pro’s bevy of off-road features. Here’s a quick rundown of everything I took advantage of to maximize the excitement as we climbed over rocks and barreled along trails at 40 miles per hour, laughing maniacally the whole time.
Not so much a feature as it is a fun maximizer, but I did the majority of my driving with only the rear axle engaged.
Traction Control — Press vs. Press and Hold
To take things one step further in 2-wheel drive, turning off traction control with a button on the overhead console meant sideways fun. Only after my time with the TRD Pro was over did I learn that this is a two-step system on the Tacoma. A quick press-and-release of the button only restricts traction control. Press and hold the button for a few seconds turns it off completely.
4-Wheel Drive – High-Range
I used 4-high when I was anticipating rough stuff ahead, as it offers a little more stability and sure-footedness when rocks and uneven surfaces start to emerge on the trail. On the Tacoma, it can be engaged on the fly, meaning there’s no need to stop and shift to neutral. This enabled me to flip it on and off quickly.
4-Wheel Drive – Low-Range
Whenever the need for a bit of rock-crawling presented itself, it was time for 4-low. Think of driving over a bunch of picnic tables or up a staircase. Engaging 4-low requires the vehicle to be stopped and the transmission to be in neutral. Once engaged, the vehicle crawls along at a much slower pace, due to the low gearing of the transfer case — and it allows the vehicle to grind and wind up and over rocks and boulders. 4-low is for the rough stuff.
Locking Rear Differential
Vehicles utilize "open" differentials, which are designed to send power to whichever wheel has the least traction. The need for each wheel to turn at a different speed is rooted in basic geometry: when the car is turning, the wheel on the outside travels slightly further than the wheel on the inside. Therefore, leaving the differential "open" allows each wheel to cover a different distance, which in turn makes for better handling. With the differential "locked," the wheels travel at the exact same speed — not great for handling, but awesome for churning along over uneven terrain with the wheels pointed straight ahead.
In the Tacoma, I’d lock the rear diff anytime I was in 4-low and facing an especially tricky obstacle. Once I got over it, I’d disengage the rear locker in order to regain maneuverability and minimize stress on the components.
Crawl Control can be viewed as an off-road cruise control system. It’s operated with a button and dial mounted in the overhead console, and it utilizes the brakes, ABS and throttle to guide the Tacoma up hills, down hills and along rocks and uneven terrain in the calmest manner possible. It doesn’t sound gentle, though, as all of these components creak and rattle from underneath the vehicle as the system is at work. Where Crawl Control especially shines is in getting the vehicle unstuck from deep mud or sand dunes — and there are some great video of this in action online.
And in case you were wondering — Crawl Control also works in reverse.
Multi-Terrain Select is similar to Crawl Control, but it relies primarily on the Tacoma’s Active Traction Control system (A-TRAC) to optimize traction over various surfaces. It has four different modes: mud/sand/dirt, loose rock, moguls and rock. In Moab, I found myself slipping as I tried to climb up an uneven slickrock incline. I engaged rock mode on the multi-terrain select dial, and I was surprised at how, after searching for traction for a moment, the Tacoma climbed up the rock embankment with ease.
TRD-Fox Internal Bypass Suspension
This heavy-duty off-road suspension is unique to the TRD-Pro, and is by far its best-selling point. The system is jointly developed with Fox, an industry leader when it comes to off-road suspension, and it provides optimal dampening over washboard terrain, rocks and even your average pothole. The rear shock absorbers’ remote oil reservoirs mean that the shock oil is stored away from the heat-generating movement of the shock itself. Therefore, the oil won’t heat up as quickly, which cuts down on performance fade — and that means that the shock absorber should perform just as well on mile 30 as it does on mile one. This can’t be said for traditional suspension setups, and it’s part of what makes the Tacoma TRD Pro’s suspension so great. Combined with the system’s excellent dampening capabilities, this means you can go fast over the rough stuff, plain and simple, and that you and your passengers won’t be as fatigued after a long day on the trails.
TRD Cat-Back Exhaust
The TRD cat-back exhaust system offers a marginal performance gain, if any, but, boy, does it sound cool, adding to the experience of barreling down a trail at 50 mph.
Front Skid Plate
The quarter-inch-thick aluminum front skid plate protects the TRD Pro’s front differential and suspension components from obstacles like rocks and stumps that you might encounter on the trail.
Altogether, these features and components combine to make the Tacoma TRD Pro one of the most enjoyable off-road vehicles on the market today. The fact that it isn’t huge on power means that it can be driven almost at its limit without getting you into trouble, something that can’t be said for burlier off-road trucks that many buyers seem to gravitate toward. Along with the vehicle’s excellent reliability and resale value, all of these features add up to make the Tacoma TRD Pro an excellent all-around package.
Chris O’Neill grew up in the rust belt and now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. He worked in the auto industry for a while, helping Germans design cars for Americans. On Instagram, he is the @MountainWestCarSpotter.