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Toyota Tacoma TRD V6 2023 review

Curt Dupriez
Deputy editor

A petrol V6-powered 4×4 dual-cab ‘Hilux’ with TRD Off-Road kit for under $40K? Is Toyota Tacoma forbidden fruit as good as it sounds?  

Good points

  • Hilux beating refinement
  • Hilux beating ride comfort
  • Priced nicely
  • OE off-road enhancements
  • Sport truck appeal
  • A choice of bed sizes in some variants

Needs work

  • Asthmatic V6
  • Grumpy six-speed automatic
  • Aging interior design
  • Low-tech multimedia
  • Few frills and cheap plastics
  • Lacks workhorse credentials

Like the Toyota Hilux 4×4 dual-cab? As the hottest guise of Australia’s biggest-selling vehicle bar none, the answer for many of you will be: yes indeed.

So imagine if Toyota offered the midsize 4×4 dual-cab ute format with big 3.5-litre petrol power that was quieter than Australia’s 2.8-litre diesel.

Toyota Tacoma 2023 rear mountains

Sound good? Then add TRD off-road enhancements, including Bilstein suspension that vastly improved ride comfort. And in a package that offered a choice of two body-and-tub lengths to buyer tastes, while lobbing it into Toyota showrooms at under $40K.

Where do you sign, right?

That’s what’s offered with the Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road 4×4 Double Cab V6. And you need to sign, mostly, in the Americas.

Cool your jets, Aussie friends, because the US- and Mexican-built cousin to our beloved Hilux remains forbidden fruit, as it has been for three generations.

Toyota Tacoma 2023 badge

Long history short, the Tacoma, named after the towering Mount Rainier in the US Pacific North-West, arrived as gen-one in 1995 and replaced the Toyota Pickup – aka, gen-five Hilux – in North America.

The current and third-generation ‘N300’ model lobbed in 2015, was facelifted in 2020, and like Hilux comes in a variety of variant trims and configurations, as well as offering a wagon twin in the 4Runner, much like Hilux does with its related Fortuner.

Throughout nearly two decades and three generations, the Tacoma has stuck to a formula that offers (primarily) US and Canadian buyers a comfier, nicer, more livable Hilux alternative without shortchanging on off-roading, towing and load-lugging expectations of the regions the Tacoma is targeted towards.

Toyota Tacoma 2023 front highway

Y’know, the regions where monstrous pickup trucks – that start with plus-sized Tundra and F-150 before upsizing larger – are favoured for lugging huge boats and caravans, and where grand touring getaways are the domain of massive motorhomes.

Of course, what Chasing Cars really wants to know is how well the Tacoma might fare as an all-terrain tourer for the great Aussie road trip. The problem is that it’s forbidden fruit, having never been sold Down Under.

A US road trip in Tacoma? Why not? One week, circa 2400 kilometres – roughly 1400 miles by local measure – from Southern California beaches to the red rocks of Boulder, Utah, and the famed All-American Scenic Byway 12, one of the most famous US touring routes.

Toyota Tacoma 2023 sunset 2

We’d add in Las Vegas, the wondrous Bryce Canyon, the mind-blowing Zion National Park and Death Valley, the hottest place on Earth, en route, a trip that ought to shed ample light on the Tacoma TRD’s capacity for adventure.

It would prove a solid enough snapshot to assess how similar, or perhaps how different, this so-labelled “compact” American-ised Toyota pickup compares with the midsize Hilux dual-cab 4×4 Aussies have become so very acquainted with over recent years back home.

What are the Toyota Tacoma TRD 4×4 Off-Road’s features and options for the price?

The Tacoma TRD 4×4 Off-Road kicks off at USD$35,940 list. The direct conversion works out at around (an academic) AU$52K-ish.

Our specific Celestial Silver-finished test vehicle clocks in from USD$38,405 list (ex-dealer charges and on roads) though pricing does vary depending on US state-based on-costs.

Toyota Tacoma 2023 badge 2

What might it hypothetically cost in Oz? Well, as a general barometer, a US-spec Ford Ranger XLT dual-cab 4×4 – albeit 2.3T petrol powered – wants for a grand more (USD$36,905) before US customers add FX4 Off-Road pack (USD$1295) addenda to roughly mirror the Tacoma’s TRD Off-Road accoutrement.

As a comparison, a broadly comparable if diesel-powered Oz-spec Ford Ranger 3.2 diesel FX4, of the old generation still sold Stateside, listed in 2022 for $62,190.

What might we possibly glean from this? If landed in Oz and positioned against Ranger as it is in the US, a Tacoma TRD 4×4 Off-Road dual-cab would look like a high-$50K prospect in Aussie showrooms. Hypothetically, of course.

In the US, the TRD Off-Road ostensibly sits in the middle of its seven-variant range, kicking off at USD$27,750 for the SR and topping out with the flagship dual-cab-only TRD Pro at USD$47,185.

Toyota Tacoma 2023 tray

The range also includes an on-road centric TRD Sport twin to the Off-Road as well as a Trail Special Edition at USD$40,970, a sort of cut-priced TRD Pro-alike. Got to love choice.

Our tester is the dual-cab ‘five foot’ (or 1524mm) short-bed version. The Tacoma range also comes in ‘access’ (crew) cab with a ‘six foot’ (1828mm) bed, or stretched-wheelbase version blending the dual-cab with the six-foot bed. The TRD Off-Road, though, is available as a five-footer only.

Outside, the MY23 spec gets specific 16-inch alloys with 265mm 70-series Goodyear Wrangler mud-kickers, an electronic rear diff lock, projector beam headlights (LEDs are optional), black overfenders, a sheet-moulded composite tub liner, a 120V/400W deck-mounted AC outlet and underbody protection.

Toyota Tacoma 2023 wheel

The double-wishbone front and live axle rear suspension features TRD-exclusive ‘off-road-tuned’ Bilstein dampers. It fits a full-sized spare wheel.

Inside, the TRD Off-Road gets keyless entry and go, cloth trim, driver’s seat 10-way power adjustment (leather trim is optional), a leather-trimmed wheel (take that Hilux!), analogue driver instrumentation, dual-zone climate control, an auto-dimming mirror and a power-sliding rear window.

Multimedia is quite basic: an 8.0-inch touchscreen system with US domestic Sirius XM satellite radio and (4G) wifi capability, as well as wired Apple, Android and Amazon Alexa mirroring, but there’s no proprietary sat-nav.

The mid-spec Tacoma does feature a reversing camera and three USB outlets that mix A and C types.

Toyota Tacoma 2023 interior

Payload is a modest 524kg while braked towing is rated at a reasonable 2903kg. Again, American culture is that midsize pickups tend more towards sporting and recreation, leaving the heavy lifting to large-segment pickups and truck-based vehicles. Different strokes for different, erm, blokes and ladies…

While the TRD Off-Road is certainly specified for purpose and its mid-tier price point is quite attractive, it’s hardly what you’d call compelling when it comes to luxuries and frills.

How does the Tacoma TRD 4×4 Off-Road drive?

On road, I expected the Tacoma to feel like a Hilux wrapped in a longer, slimmed body style. But it’s quite different, for both better and worse. What’s instantly apparent is how quieter, smoother and comfier the American pickup is, and this positive spin is a good place to start.

While the Tacoma range offers a choice of engines, the TRD Off-Road exclusively fits a 2GR-FKS 3.5-litre petrol V6, an engine that’s seen service in Camrys and Klugers, rather than the powerful I-Force Max hybrid system used in the Tundra.

Toyota Tacoma 2023 rear highway

It’s a dual (port and direct) injected unit good for 207kW at 6000rpm and 359Nm, the latter way up at 4600rpm. It’s backed by a six-speed auto and dual-range, on-demand 4×4 drive, though you can option a manual cogswapper if that’s your preference.

The engine is buttery smooth and very quiet. Imagine Kluger’s whispy six supplanting the rattly 2.8-litre oiler in the Hilux’s engine bay and you’ll be very close to the mark. And it’s an enticing prospect, in theory…

However, the naturally aspirated, Atkinson cycle-on-demand 3.5’s narrow sweet spot arrives high in the rev range and demands a workout to return much action at all. Throttle response is also quite lazy.

The six-speed auto is paired with antiquated and indecisive in its shifts, at times hunting up and down and up and down a three-ratio stretch when the Tacoma’s nose is aimed up a gentle highway incline, as the transmission attempts to keep the V6 on the boil. This transmission is very much a Tacoma low point.

Toyota Tacoma 2023 tunnel

A short final drive ratio (3.9:1), to inject some acceleration pep, means that the V6 revs uncomfortably high in sixth as the Tacoma buzzes along, keeping flow with US interstate traffic that generally treats the sign-posted 80mph – or a touch under 130km/h – as merely advisory.

Result? The two-tonne (2016kg) pickup is thirsty, returning an average of 14.8L/100kms (15.8mpg indicated) against its advertised 11.8L (20mpg) combined claim. Thankfully, its large 80-litre tank provides an as-tested touring range of around 480 kilometres (or circa 300 miles indicated).

It’s the wrong powertrain for the wrong application. That the manic 312kW/597Nm twin-turbo petrol V6-powered Ford Bronco Raptor I drove during the same US trip returned quite similar circa-15L consumption is telling.

The Tacoma TRD Off-Road deserves a lustier turbo engine as compensation for its thirst, or perhaps a leaner unit of roughly similar outputs if more usable low-end torque.

Toyota Tacoma 2023 front on

Either power alternative would better suit an otherwise fairly strong multi-terrain-capable sports pickup given the rest of the underpinnings are solid.

The Off-Road variant’s wishbone front and leaf rear gets specific Bilstein dampers – though not the fancier Fox coil-overs and forged hardware offered on the TRD Pro – and its dirt-tuned compliance and wheel control mostly does wonders for on-road ride comfort. No Hilux variant I’ve ever driven rides as nicely as this – any of them.

It’s not perfect. With an unladen tray, the rear end can get caught with odd springy rebound bounce and at low speeds some corrugations can cause the ride to become a little chatty.

But, jeez, the Tacoma, at least with Bilstein mods, is a magnitude better in core on-road comfort than Hilux.

Toyota Tacoma 2023 rear 3/4 dirt

The broad and chubby 265/70 R16 Wrangler AT mud kickers certainly add some cushioning over bumps mild or sharp, though they do squirm a bit on hot-mix and you have to chase the steering a little to keep the Tacoma tracking true once you’re at cruising pace.

Despite the aggressive tread pattern, tyre noise – and road and ambient noise in general – is well suppressed in this particular breed of Toyota pickup.

It’s a reasonably relaxed, stress-free cruiser, with direct steering, adequate adaptive cruise control and a handy if rudimentary camera system. The Toyota’s only main on-road blight – powertrain aside – is the incessant chiming of its overactive lane departure warning system that’s easily switched off.

We head deep into Utah for some off-roading – nothing Moab intense, but typical trails used by motocross and mountain bike riders or weekend campers, the sort of recreational non-tradesperson buyers Tacoma is pitched at.

Toyota Tacoma 2023 front 3/4

In all, the Tacoma TRD Off-Road is a handy and useful all-rounder prospect. Between the tyres, suspension, generous terrain clearance and a gamut of 4×4 running gear it’s purposeful enough for its price. The switchable low range is a handy 2.57:1 reduction ratio.

Settings for the on-demand 4×4 system, with electronically controlled transfer case and auto-locking centre differential, are easy to access and function as expected, though Tacoma will plough over most rough stuff without the aid of much off-roading technical trickery at all.

Tyre grip, at least in dry Summer running, is such that there’s rarely much call for electronic activation of the locking rear diff.

Part of the TRD Off-Road trick bag is the ability to switch between loose rock, mud and sand terrain modes, in addition to a crawl mode.

Toyota Tacoma 2023 rear 3/4

It’s a hoot on gravel, its two tonnes quite reasonably well balanced between its axles and, in rear drive only, it does at times behave like a bit of a rally car.

Again, the steering is direct, light and reasonably sweet and suits the dynamics well. If there’s a downmark, it’s that the disc-drum combination brakes are a bit touchy, something that becomes more exacerbated across loose surfaces.

Not crucial, if telling, is an overnight trip to Death Valley, considered the hottest place on Earth. And for what it’s worth, the Tacoma – and its underbaked naturally aspirated powertrain – makes for a fine and comfy-cool rolling oasis for the midday high-forties temperatures and evenings where the mercury still hovers well up in the thirties.

What is the Tacoma TRD 4×4 Off-Road’s interior and tech like?

With its 2015 roots, the eight-year-old Tacoma cabin fundamentals certainly look and feel their age in 2023.

Interior design clearly shares family DNA with its Hilux cousin. Everything from the general ambience to the execution of the details – switchgear, instrumentation, circular air vents, and others – seem somewhat familiar through Aussies eyes.

Toyota Tacoma 2023 interior 2

The whole shebang is minted in a blend of mid-grey and silver-grey tones, mostly in a variety of hardy and hardier plastics and urethane.

It’s typical low-to-mid-spec Toyota stuff, right down to the two-tone cloth trim that mightn’t be as easy to maintain as fake or real leather but, as a positive, won’t cause third degree burns if left sat under the scorching Death Valley sun.

That said, you can add leather as an optional package. And unlike the urethane rubbish on Hilux, the Tacoma’s steering wheel is leather trimmed.

Toyota Tacoma 2023 steering wheel

While it lacks richness and flashiness, the TRD Off-Road interior is, for this variant’s cost-conscious nature and weekend adventure focus, fitting enough.

Front seating is reasonably comfortable whether you’re spending long hours grand touring or roughing it off road, while it’s easy to see out of and the controls all fall neatly to hand and foot.

The blue-tinged analogue instrumentation with 4.2-inch central screen and the modest 8.0-inch multimedia system are passe compared with the newer-gen stuff migrating into Toyota’s Aussie lineup, though they’re useful enough.

Wired smartphone mirroring, inductive phone charging and both USB-A and -C ports are all catered for.

Toyota Tacoma 2023 touchscreen

It’s a seemingly longer and lower-slung cabin than the Hilux and, as a result, it feels less ‘commercial’ in nature because of it.

In particular, row two is a little more relaxed and offers a bit more legroom – or so it seems – and makes for a generous luggage compartment during Chasing Cars’ US road tripping. As dual-cabs go, it’s very four- or five-adult friendly.

However, there are no vents for the dual-zone climate control in back, nor any device power apart from feeding cables to the front console bin. But you do get a rather nifty electrically powered rear window slot between the cabin and the cargo tub.

Toyota Tacoma 2023 interior rear

The tub itself is, like its model name suggests, the shorter ‘five footer’ and Toyota doesn’t currently offer the TRD Off-Road variant with the six-foot tub in either regular or long-wheelbase. The five-foot tub measures 1537mm long, 485mm deep and offers 1055mm between the inner wheel housings.

It’s large enough for most adventure kit and swag if a bit short for dirt bikes, though it seems many US state regs allow pickup tailgates to drop to allow tub fitment of jet skis and motorbikes if they’re well enough secure.

Toyota offers bed-extender accessories specifically to allow Tacoma to haul a pair of dirt bikes.

Toyota Tacoma 2023 rear window

Payload capacity, at 524kg, is well down on the Hilux 4×4 median, but it seems decent enough for the sport pickup brief here.

On lugging chops, braked towing is, at around 2900kg braked, a little more robust. Though one imagines it’d be a sweaty, noisy and thirsty task given the wheezy powertrain Toyota chooses to fit.

Is the Tacoma TRD 4×4 Off-Road a safe car?

Unsurprisingly, the native North American pickup has no ANCAP or Euro NCAP ratings.

However, the 2023 model has been through its region’s IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) and NHTSA (National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration) auspices, yielding a ‘mostly good’ and four-star-out-of-five results, respectively.

Given the US has very differing test criteria compared with Euro NCAP and its aligned ANCAP, Tacoma’s assessed safety credentials are perhaps suggestive at best if viewed through an Aussie lens.

Toyota Tacoma 2023 rear mountains 2

Standard safety features are minimally acceptable, with forward AEB with pedestrian detection, radar cruise, a (hyperactive) lane departure alert and automatic high-beam the extent of active assistance.

However, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and rear parking sensors are available in the US as part of a cost-optional package.

Airbag coverage includes front, side, driver and front passenger knee bags, and dual-row curtain coverage.

What are the Tacoma TRD 4×4 Off-Road’s ownership costs?

In the US, the Tacoma is covered by three years and 36,000 miles (almost 58,000kms) of basic warranty coverage. Slim pickings, then. However, the powertrain has a longer five-year and 60,000-mile (circa 96,500km) surety.

Toyota Tacoma 2023 front 3/4 dirt

Servicing costs vary depending on mileage though Toyota does offer a no-cost maintenance plan for purchased or leased vehicles good for 24 months and 25,000 miles (38,600km-ish). Independent online sources put the suggestive annual servicing outlay at around $US300.

It runs on the cheap US 87-octane (AKI) fuel, which is of a similar grade as our 91 RON.

The honest verdict on the Tacoma TRD 4×4 Off-Road

I’ve long been curious about how different – for better or worse – the Tacoma experience is an oh-so-familiar Hilux.

That’s partly because, on paper and in sympathy of Australia ute-buying dogma, the American pickup doesn’t appear to measure up promisingly against the traditional hard-lugging work ethics of its Thai-built cousins. Even if, as I’ve long believed, 4×4 pickups don’t necessarily need to for some owners.

Tacoma is a sport truck, not a work truck. I, for one, most certainly get it. I’m drawn to nice ride comfort and refinement, and a bit of all-terrain fun on a whim. And I’m not ever likely to need to lug around a tonne of bricks or concrete.

Toyota Tacoma 2023 side

To use a pickup/ute how I would regularly and typically use one, the Tacoma concept is a better fit than an Aussie-spec Hilux is. I just wish the Tacoma was just better executed in some areas and downright fixed in others. There’s huge room for improvement.

And yet, I like the Tacoma TRD Off-Road. I bloody well do. (Though I like the related 4Runner wagon much more, purely on the ‘badass’ mud-kicking looks alone).

With its strong off-road vibe and key underpinnings to back it up, the Tacoma Off-Road in its current guise is a good starting point with definite pluses.

It’s also priced nicely, with a fair chunk of your investment in good areas (multi-terrain features) and not much excess where it’s not needed (in-cabin frills, exterior dress-up accoutrement).

However, the Tacoma really needs a good petrol heartbeat and a decent auto to back it. Mirroring the Aussie Kluger by ditching the asthmatic 3.5L six for a torquier 2.4L turbocharged four (198kW/420Nm) would kick the American pickup off in a better direction.

Toyota Tacoma 2023 sunset

But, for your reviewer’s money, the Tacoma TRD Off-Road comes up short on being genuinely desirable. And ditching the asthmatic 3.5 V6 and sludgy six-speeder for a much fitter combination would amend many objections.

The Kluger’s new 198kW/420Nm 2.4-litre turbocharged petrol four, the torquier replacement for the now defunct V6, is a logical improvement.

Who knows? Maybe there is some Ford Raptor-rivaling turbo six, or Tundra-like hybrid system, planned for the eight-year-old third-gen Tacoma’s eventual replacement.

But if there’s a model mostly likely to drag the chain on Toyota’s global electrification push, you’d bet it’d likely be an affordable and “compact” American pickup.

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