Still Truckin’: Driving Impressions of the 2021 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road

    The Toyota Tacoma has proven itself to be the best-selling mid-size truck in America, and it’s not hard to see why. It combines style, capability, and affordability, making it a solid choice in this segment. While other trucks like the Honda Ridgeline, Ford Ranger, and GMC Canyon have undergone more noticeable updates for the 2021 model year, the Tacoma remains a reliable option.

    During our test drive of the 2021 Tacoma TRD Off-Road, we found it to be the sweet spot in terms of available trims. This model comes equipped with an electronic locking rear differential, optional four-wheel drive, and a more robust suspension and tire setup. While the range-topping TRD Pro model may be tougher, it also comes with a higher price tag of $44,175, compared to our truck’s more affordable asking price of $37,890.

    One of the things we appreciated about the Tacoma is its simplicity. In a market where luxury pickups are becoming the norm, with high starting prices and excessive features, the Tacoma stands out with its straightforward approach. Its rubbery steering and firm suspension give it a slightly uncouth feel on the road, but we believe that’s part of its appeal. It never tries to be anything more than a capable pickup truck.

    Under the hood, the Tacoma is powered by a stout V6 engine paired with a mostly innocuous six-speed automatic transmission. While it may lack the excitement of a modern, turbocharged engine, it provides sufficient low-end torque and capable performance throughout the rev range. The transmission engages quickly off the line and responds promptly when downshifting. Some shifts may be a bit too obvious, and the engine doesn’t sound particularly pleasant, but it’s all part of experiencing the truck as a true truck.

    However, there are a few oddities that we noticed during our time with the Tacoma. One of the strangest is the seating position. The seatback is short and sits upright, while the low bottom cushion forces the driver’s legs out. This can be awkward and uncomfortable, especially for taller individuals who may brush their knees against the limited tilt function of the steering wheel. Despite these quirks, they eventually faded into the background after a few days of driving.

    Another editor’s favorite thing about the Tacoma is its bold color options. The optional Voodoo Blue paint adds a cool and eye-catching look to the already stylish truck. The TRD Off-Road model’s two-tone 16-inch wheels further enhance its appearance. In addition to Voodoo Blue, the Tacoma offers a range of attractive colors, including Barcelona Red Metallic and Army Green. These color options contribute to the Tacoma’s overall appeal in the segment.

    On the downside, the Tacoma still lags behind in terms of on-road refinement. The powertrain, featuring a naturally aspirated 3.5-liter V6 with 278 horsepower and 265 pound-feet of torque, feels lethargic compared to some competitors. The six-speed automatic transmission also lacks the crispness and responsiveness found in other trucks. Furthermore, the Tacoma’s suspension and off-road tires, while excelling in off-road situations, make for a loud and harsh ride during normal driving conditions. This means it may not be the most comfortable truck for long hours on the road.

    Despite its shortcomings, the Tacoma remains a standout favorite among mid-size trucks. Its generous space in both the bed and cabin, along with a maneuverable driving experience, make it a practical choice for everyday use. However, the powertrain’s uninspiring performance, especially compared to competitors with turbocharged engines, is a notable weakness. Toyota’s aversion to turbocharging may need to be reconsidered in the future to keep up with evolving industry trends.

    In conclusion, the Toyota Tacoma retains its position as the best-selling mid-size truck in America for good reason. Its combination of style, capability, and affordability makes it a solid choice in its segment. While it may not have received as many updates compared to its competitors for the 2021 model year, the Tacoma’s reliability and simplicity make it appealing to those seeking a capable pickup truck.

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