2022 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro First Drive: An Aging Pro Ups Its Off-Road Game
Change comes to the Toyota Tacoma very slowly, but its fans don’t mind. They may quibble with its basic interior and on-pavement road manners, but they see a tough truck that can do 200,000 hassle-free miles and still have spectacular resale value in 10 years time. What they love most, however, is its adventurous image and off-road talent. For 2022, Toyota has made the top-dog Tacoma TRD Pro even more off-road capable, and trickled down some Pro elements to the less-costly Trail Edition.
The Tacoma has handily outsold its competitors for the last 16 years and the Tacoma’s value proposition and loyal following make it likely to repeat that title this year. Still, Toyota has to work a little harder to keep its off-roader cred in this era when overlanding and dune-busting are suddenly kitchen table subjects lots of new buyers are considering how far they can venture into the wilderness.
I got the chance to see how the updated TRD Pro stacked up at the Northwest Motor Press Association’s recent Mudfest event, running it on closed on- and off-road courses against 18 other trucks and SUVs, including the Jeep Wrangler and Ford Bronco along with a little on-road testing on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. The event came just days after spending a week navigating mountain trails and urban jungle in the TRD Pro’s latest challenger, the Ford Ranger Tremor.
The upgrades to the TRD Pro’s visuals and hardware, and increasingly lofty suspensions for both it and the Trail Edition, are aimed keeping trucks like the Ranger Tremor at bay. The revised Pro is a better and meaner-looking trail breaker and like previous Tacomas its lots of fun in the dirt, but are still plenty of tradeoffs even for the “Taco” faithful. In the cabin and on the pavement this off-road bruiser is always reminding you of its age.
What’s Truly New for 2022
Even eagle-eyed Taco fans will be hard pressed to tell most 2022 models from their immediate predecessors. Apart from the TRD Pro and Trail Edition, the workaday Tacomas are entirely the same as they were last year. This is normal in the Tacomaverse.
This generation of Tacoma was introduced for 2016, but even when it was new it retained some of the components of its circa-2006 predecessor. Toyota periodically updates the truck with new tech and new features, but like the rock formations in Pritchett Canyon, the view rarely changes.
The 2022 TRD Pro, however, is practically visible from space. Every year Toyota bestows a new exclusive color on the Pro, and this year’s Electric Lime Metallic is nothing if not extroverted. Last year’s more subdued color, “Lunar Rock,” trickles down to the Trail Edition. The Pro also gets new wheels and tires, its own LED head and fog lights, optional black graphics and “TRD Pro” lettering embossed into the bed.
These cosmetics telegraph updated hardware. The TRD Pro is now lifted 1.5 inches higher than a regular Tacoma in front and 0.5 inches out back. There are new forged upper control arms with a repositioned ball joint and additional suspension travel, specifically more rebound stroke, from the trucks’ Fox internal-bypass shocks.
This lift gives the TRD Pro a 36.4-degree approach, 24.7-degree departure and 26.6-degree breakover angles, serious gains in all areas and superior to most competitors. Only the Jeep Gladiator has a better approach angle, but its length means a 20.9-degree breakover angle and being more careful about cresting peaky objects.
The SR5-based Trail edition comes with a 1.1-inch lift in front and the same 0.5-inch lift out back. It doesn’t get the new suspension hardware, but an optional air dam delete raises its angles to 34, 26.4 and 23.6 degrees, respectively, which is still serious business. The lifts in both trucks are used to increase suspension travel rather than add ground clearance. That number hasn’t changed at 9.4 inches, halfway between the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 and Jeep Gladiator.
Driving the 2022 Tacoma TRD Pro
By the numbers, the skid-plated TRD Pro can out-angle most of its competitors and the revised suspension enables smoother progress through even rougher terrain than before. Driver and passenger will always get bounced around to some degree on severe off-road trails, but the less bumpy ride and more extreme angles add to the feeling of invincibility the TRD Pro has always tried to project.
It feels a little more sure-footed than the Ranger Tremor on serious terrain and definitely allows more wheel travel, articulating better and riding smoother. The TRD Pro’s trail cams make it more usable in tight places. The resolution isn’t great, but at least it’s there.
Both trucks have locking rear differentials but not locking front ones, and the Tacoma’s 36.2:1 crawl ratio falls short of the Tremor’s 47.6:1. Because the Ranger offers more gears, a ten-speed automatic to the six-speed manual or automatic in the Tacoma, there’s room for even lower gearing in low-range. The Colorado ZR2 and Gladiator offer locking front differentials and even greater crawl ratios (77:1 on the Jeep). The vast majority of drivers will never really notice this, but it might matter to the hard-core off-road enthusiasts the TRD Pro is aimed at.
There are five off-road drive modes including Rock, Rock and Dirt, Mud and Sand, Loose Rock and Moguls, but keeping the truck in low range is enough to tackle most terrain. The Tacoma encourages the driver to go for every dip and dune, even with the automated Crawl Control turned on. A low-speed cruise control for the trail, it controls throttle and brake inputs to hold a constant speed on the trail just like most hill descent control systems. Jeep and Ford offer similar setups.
The 2022 TRD Pro genuinely is the most off-road capable Tacoma yet, but these updates don’t do anything to improve its on-road behavior.
A few blasts around the track revisit old Tacoma traits. Push hard on the brakes and the nose dives like a low rider. The 3.5-liter V6’s 278 horsepower and 265 pound-feet of torque are more than adequate but the six-speed transmission, reasonably responsive on the trail, is slow on the uptake and hunts around for the right gear on the track. Open highway would yield more coordinated progress and nobody buys these for track days, but the Tacoma is as unhappy on a tight twisty road as it is joyful on the trail.
TRD Pro and Trail Edition Versus Other Trucks
Like the Truck’s on-road behavior, the cabin feels its age, with acres of black plastic and a tight rear seat in the Double (er, Crew) Cab even compared to the Ranger’s squeezed rear quarters. Both Ford and Toyota suffer in comparison to GM, Jeep and Nissan in the infotainment department, with dated-looking if functional systems. The Tacoma also lags in payload and towing capacity (1,155 and 6,400 pounds in the TRD Pro).
In the sales race, those issues haven’t held the Tacoma back, and it still boasts the widest array of standard active safety features even among the upper-echelons of its competitors. It also has those excellent resale values (some 2019 Tacomas are currently worth more than they cost new thanks to Covid-19 shortages and soaring interest in off-road trucks) and an enviable reputation for indestructability in its corner.
The 2022 TRD Pro will start at $47,150 with the six-speed manual including destination fees. Adding the automatic rings in at a cool $49,855, more than the Colorado ZR2, Ranger Tremor or Gladiator Rubicon. The Trail Edition will ring in at $40,625, undercutting even the least-expensive Tremor. Both come only as short-bed, double cab models.
The TRD Pro is legitimately the best off-road (factory-fresh) Tacoma yet, but it’d be nice if the Tacoma were a little easier to love when it isn’t on the dirt. Evaluating the Ranger, I drove 75 highway miles each way to get to my favorite mountain trail, and the vast majority of these trucks double as daily transportation.
For die-hard fans that unmistakable paint job and other TRD Pro exclusive bits are a siren song. Like a good halo model, however, the price tag will likely drive many buyers to the Trail Edition. The 2022 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro and Trail Edition will arrive at dealerships later this fall.