Adventure: 2017, 4-door, Tacoma TRD Off Road Review

Well, as I approach my 32,000th mile I thought it time to give you a little feedback on my 2017 Tacoma TRD Off Road, 4-door pickup. Not my first dance with Toyota or the pickup for that matter. Our family’s history with Toyota goes back to the mid-1970s when my father had someone from Toyota come to show us the FJ40 bobtail Landcruiser. Where my father found the guy in rural Indiana is a total mystery to me, but I not only distinctly remember the man coming, but I also remember the guy driving us through a white-knuckle test of the machine up and down the steep hills of the meadow near our house. My father did not end up buying that particular FJ, a major mistake on his part, but we did end up with various Toyotas over the years, including an FJ40 we used for bird hunting in South Texas. We also ended up with an FJ60, a more modern Landcruiser and at least three pickups. Not to mention the various Toyota sedans. Supra, Camry, Avalon, Prius, etc. By my guess, we’ve had fifteen or so Toyotas.

I’m going to keep this simple because there are so many reviews out there. So many. And most are well beyond what I’m going to do here. I think my review is valid for the simple reason that I am NOT a gear head, nor am I attempting to build following in any way, shape or form. I’m not sponsored, have no interest in sponsorship and won’t ask you to follow me, buy my shit or engage with me in any way. I’m just a guy, and I’m certainly NOT known for truck reviews. My sole purpose of the vehicle was getting me to more remote places so I can hike, cycle, climb, fish, paddle and get away from the rest of you.

1. Interior. Grade A The most common comment I receive is “Oh, this is smaller than I thought.” The Tacoma, like all things American, has grown considerably over the years. The outside dimensions of the vehicle are larger than any prior Tacoma generation but the interior still feels small. If you are over 6 feet then I would think long and hard about buying this truck. I had five people in it this past week. It was tight but doable. As for the design and functionality of the interior. It’s fine. I don’t ask for much but it delivers. As for the entertainment system, screens, etc. I could care less and don’t use ANY of it. I barely use the stereo. The AC works, there are plenty of plugs and the gauges are easy to read. The seat is okay for me, but I’m small and light. I can do the 13 hours between Newport and Santa Fe with no issues.

2. Exterior. Grade A+ This truck looks so damn good. I have the Quicksand color and people comment on it all the time. The edges are big, bold and I do love the styling. No complaints here at all.

3. Capacity. Grade B I have the long bed version which was critical for two things. Sleeping in the bed, and holding bikes. I normally have three bikes inside the bed, and I can still sleep inside without taking any of the bikes out. The standard, 5-foot bed just doesn’t work. Long beds are harder to find, and you sacrifice a little off-road ability, but that is expected and the tradeoff isn’t anything to me.

4. Engine. Grade C These trucks have ALWAYS been underpowered. My brother’s 1980 short bed Toyota was indestructible but had zero power. My 1992 Toyota pickup lasted for 270,000 miles but had zero power and this 2017 Tacoma is lacking at least 100hp in my opinion. Until recently you could purchase a supercharger from the factory, which would be INCREDIBLE, but going aftermarket will set you back at least $5000, and that buys a lot of gas, another bike, airfare, bail, etc. If power is a need, or if you tow anything I wouldn’t buy this truck. I would go full-size American. F150 or RAM. Bigger, far more powerful. And you get more bang for the buck. Ford just put a diesel in the F150, but like a typical greedy American automaker you can’t get a base model with the diesel, so unless you are willing to spend north of $50,000 you aren’t going to get one.

5. Transmission. Grade D- The only reason I don’t give the Toyota an F is that the transmission has yet to break and fall out on the ground, but if it did I would not be surprised. Toyota should be ashamed for selling a vehicle with this transmission/gearing/engine combination. If you live at sea level and drive on the highways around your home then fine, but if you live in the mountains, haul anything, use your truck to get to remote places or spend time driving in areas where you have hills, wind, etc. you will learn to LOATHE this transmission. 2016 was the first year of the six-speed Toyota transmission and Atkinson cycle engine. The six-speed is so closely geared it shifts ALL THE TIME. If you like to drive on flat roads with your transmission going 6, 5, 4, 5,4, 5, 4, 5, 4, 5, 6, 5, 4, 5, 4, 5, 4, 5, 6, 5, 4, 3, 4, 5, 4, 5, 4 then you will love this truck. Again, flat road, tailwind, no problem. Truck hums along with tachometer at 1500rpms and is almost entirely silent. The SECOND the road pitches up, or you get a headwind…forget it. Shift fest. The bottom line. I hate it. Every protagonist has a tragic flaw and this is the weak spot of the Tacoma. I’ve driven fifty miles with the truck in 4th gear and the tachometer running at 3000 rpm. Toyota claims this is normal, but I would be so surprised if this transmission lasts that long. There is an ECT mode, or power mode, which will hold the truck in gears a bit longer. I use this 100% of the time on the highway. You have to. When I buy a Toyota I always think “Ten years or 200,000 miles,” until this truck because I just can’t see the transmission lasting that long. Your option here is to go manual. You lose the crawl control feature, which is a totally legit, real-deal feature, but the percentage of time you will use crawl compared to highway driving is completely skewed to the highway side. My future involves a van, and the single reason I could sell this truck today and not look back is this transmission. Were this a five-speed or a better gear/trans/engine combo I would NEVER sell this truck. I’d keep it for family and friends until the planet ran out of gas. I had someone at Toyota say to me “I bought a Tacoma but sold it almost immediately because I just couldn’t stand the transmission.” The guy at the tire shop near my house has one as well and he complains every time I see him. “Man, I get such hard gear changes.” On a side note, I did drop my car off for service once and got a loaner Tacoma sport, which had an ENTIRELY different feel. In fact it was WAY smoother than my truck. As a result, I asked them to look at my transmission but got the normal “Nope, everything is fine, this is normal for this truck because it’s a smart transmission and learns your driving habits.” I might buy this line but I am the slowest, smoothest driver you will ever find, so my transmission and my habits don’t match. UPDATE: Okay, I wrote this post a while back and since that time Toyota has updated the transmission software and it makes a HUGE difference. Huge. Still not perfect but far better than before. I actually got my oil changed and the dealership never even mentioned the upgrade. I picked up the truck and immediately thought “Wait, something is different.” It drives far better, but I do think the mileage tapered off a bit.

6. Mileage. Grade C You don’t buy a Tacoma for good mileage. At least not now. They used to be great. Heck, my old 1992 could get 30mpg easy, but those days were lost when Toyota went big like everyone else. I have custom bumpers, lights, skids, sliders, shell, suspension upgrade, and a roof box, not to mention my truck is LOADED most of the time. So, I’ll get 22-24mpg in good conditions and 18ish in bad conditions. It’s a gas hog, but you don’t need me to tell you. This truck SCREAMS for diesel, but due to politics and the power of the Big Three, that won’t happen for some time. But it will happen. Chevy has the Colorado diesel and Nissan is rumored to be close with a Frontier diesel. If the Chevy didn’t have such a horrible mechanical record I would have considered it, and if Nissan had offered the Cummins in the Frontier I would have bought it over the Tacoma in a heartbeat.

7. Customizations. Grade A++ The Tacoma has more aftermarket parts and options than any vehicle I’ve ever seen outside of maybe the Jeep line. Endless. Awesome.

8. Features. Grade A I’m mainly speaking to things like locking rear dif and crawl control. Both insane off-road features. They work and they work better than you and I. A moment when technology shows what it can really do.

9. Durability. Grade B (Outside of transmission.) I’ve driven this in deep mud, across miles and miles of rocky, slow going terrain. I’ve done hundreds of miles of washboard and come winter will be in the snow. I’ve put it through good paces. Nothing crazy. I don’t purposely go out to go 4-wheeling. I just use the truck to get where I need to be. It’s been great. My truck has a VIN number that begins with 3, which I believe means the truck was assembled in Mexico. I’ve heard horror stories about vin 3 trucks, but so far I’ve only had to replace a front dif seal after taking a rock in Wyoming. However, I’ll be monitoring closely. Had I known this I would have requested another truck that was ideally assembled in Japan. I’ve done this with other Toyotas. (not sure if ANY Tacomas are still made in Japan. Might be US/Mex only.) UPDATE: Just got a recall notice for a bad blower fan for the AC. Turns out my truck is part of the recall. Again, these modern trucks have so many working parts, computers, etc. we just can’t expect them trouble-free as the older models.

10. Overall. Grade B- I hate to say it, but the transmission almost moved this to a C, but the rest of the truck is fine, so I salvaged the grade to B-. My path to this truck was recalled VW diesel to lemon Subaru then on to Tacoma. Had I needed to sell my bikes, save my pennies and put every single thing I had into this vehicle I would be PISSED over that transmission and the highway driving experience. I know at some point I’ll be driving a van, maybe a 4×4, so I know this truck could be with me for ten years or it could be gone in a year, so I’m enjoying it, and using it as much as possible. By the end of winter, I’ll be closing in on 40,000 miles. I do A LOT of miles, so the trans issue for me is huge, while you might be more of a normal driver doing 10k or less a year and the issue might not be a big deal.

This truck is simply a tool. I want to live a life that is filled with “x” and the Tacoma helps me get there. Having said that, this truck is really important to me, and I tend to bond with my vehicle because I’m in it so much and so often. This current Tacoma reminds me of relationships past, those where you were in love but you knew there was something that was not quite right, something that might feel like a pebble one day and a boulder the next. The 2017 Tacoma is a blunt instrument that needs a total overhaul, a diesel option, and a new transmission. It’s time for Toyota to step up and take the lead in light trucks once again.

8 Comments on “Adventure: 2017, 4-door, Tacoma TRD Off Road Review”

  1. All fair. The engine/transmission was the biggest factor for me getting a 2015 Tacoma when they were rolling out the 2016’s. The second gen ran for so long I went with that over the new/unexpected. My truck doesnt have the crawl control features but it does have a rear locker and traction control. The traction control in combination to driving experience has lead me to never even need the rear locker.

    The rough gear changes happen to me too, but because I have a 5 speed it happens rarely. Only on down shifts sometimes. As for under powered, I had a Jeep with 35’s before so this has more get up and go. But yes it is under powered. However I would argue that helps you when you are out in the dirt. Less chance your engine will rip the drive shaft or axle to bits when you put your foot in it.

    As for the Mexico build. My truck was built in the Mexico plant as well and there are some issues I have because of it. Nothing big, but things that they should address instead of looking the other way.

    1. Justin,
      I tried to find a 2015 but they were the same price as the 2017. Tacoma has the highest resale value of any vehicle. So, I went with 2017 with zero miles as opposed to 2015 with high miles and huge price tag. I do like the interior of the 2017 better, and some of the later features, but I would have been perfectly happy with 5-speed. Not like the 6-speed gets better mileage. It’s a lame duck transmission. If I was buying truck again I’d go F150, FX4.

        1. My dad had one. I had FJ60. I would TOTALLY get one if they were less than the price of a small island.

    1. AM,
      Yes, for towing. I don’t have anything to tow however, except my own personal baggage.

  2. Great thread. Points out the EU-USA differences: I’m driving a 2.5ton totally underpowered 115hp diesel car towing a small caravan on EU’n rough and hilly motorways. Couldn’t be more happy with a 14km per litre consumption, equals 54km per us gallon or 33miles/us gallon. Couldn’t be happier. Shifting a manual 6 speed as hell to get it over the hills though.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *