2021 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro Review

Christian Wardlaw, Independent Expert | Apr 30, 2021

Introduction - Find the best Toyota deals!

Paradoxically, the best-selling midsize pickup truck in America is also the lowest-ranked model in its segment for overall appeal. The annual J.D. Power Automotive Performance, Execution, and Layout (APEAL) Study measures new-vehicle owner satisfaction with the design, driving dynamics, features and controls, and other aspects of a vehicle unrelated to quality or dependability.

In 2020, the Tacoma ranked last in its segment, though you should note that the positively ancient Nissan Frontier was not a part of the study. The highest-ranked model was the Honda Ridgeline. Among traditional body-on-frame pickups, the Ford Ranger and GMC Canyon tied in second-place behind the Honda.

This situation is even more surprising considering that the people who buy a Toyota Tacoma rate emotional factors as their favorite things about the truck. Styling, design, and how the Tacoma makes them feel are high on owners’ lists of qualities that make them happiest with their purchase.

Indeed, aside from its reputation for long-term durability, the Toyota Tacoma relies on its tough-truck image to move the metal. Furthermore, it offers two different off-road models that supply significant capability when the pavement ends and the dirt begins. But even here, the Tacoma is no longer the only game in town, as most competitors offer similar off-road-ready trucks.

For the 2021 model year, the Tacoma receives the following changes:

  • Standard Toyota Safety Sense-P advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS)
  • New Trail Special Edition based on the Tacoma SR5
  • New Nightshade Special Edition based on the Tacoma Limited
  • Exclusive Lunar Rock paint color for the TRD Pro models

These updates do not address the issues cited by Tacoma owners as their least favorite things about the truck (as listed in the next section).

Previously, J.D. Power reviewed the 2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road. This review focuses on the Tacoma TRD Pro and how its differences impact the Tacoma’s overall appeal to consumers.

What Owners Say About the Toyota Tacoma - Find the best Toyota deals!

2021 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro Lunar Rock Front Quarter ViewPhoto: Christian Wardlaw

According to data collected from verified owners for the J.D Power 2020 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, 86% of Toyota Tacoma owners are male (vs. 85% for the segment), and the median age of a Tacoma owner is 54 years (vs. 56).

Owners say their favorite things about the Tacoma are (in descending order) the:

  • Exterior styling
  • Driving feel
  • Feeling of safety
  • Setting up and starting
  • Interior design

Owners indicate their least favorite things about the Tacoma are (in descending order) the:

  • Infotainment system
  • Powertrain
  • Driving comfort
  • Getting in and out
  • Fuel economy

In the J.D. Power 2020 APEAL Study, the Tacoma ranked last out of six midsize pickup trucks.

What Our Independent Expert Says About the Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro - Find the best Toyota deals!

 In the sections that follow, our independent expert provides an analysis of a Tacoma TRD Pro equipped with the following options:

  • Automatic transmission
  • Door sill protectors
  • All-weather floor mats
  • Cargo bed step
  • Cargo bed mat
  • Cargo bed lighting kit
  • Cargo bed D-ring tie-downs
  • Black tailgate lettering
  • Protective paint film
  • TRD air filter

The price of the test vehicle came to $49,242, including the $1,095 destination charge.

Exclusive Paint, Grille, Wheels, and More

2021 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro Grille Design Skid Plate Suspension

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

You won’t mistake the Tacoma TRD Pro for any other version of the truck, especially if it’s painted in the exclusive Lunar Rock paint color seen on the test vehicle. From its scooped hood and special graphics to its heritage-inspired grille and aluminum front bash plate, the TRD Pro means business. Attractive black 16-inch TRD wheels add to the purpose-built look.

Inside the cab, the Tacoma TRD Pro isn’t much different from other trucks in the lineup. It has “TRD Pro” embroidered on the front head restraints and red stitching for its black leather seats. The test vehicle came with rubber all-weather floor mats, making clean up easier. The optional door sill protection strips also prevent scratches of the exposed paint.

Beyond the TRD Pro Cosmetics

A big part of what makes the Tacoma TRD Pro unique is its reworked suspension. Toyota equips the truck with FOX 2.5-inch internal bypass shock absorbers, revised front springs with a 1-inch lift, and progressive-rate rear off-road springs. Toyota Racing Development (TRD) tunes all components for this specific application.

Toyota builds the TRD Pro for hard-core off-roading enthusiasts, so it is equally capable on challenging trails at low speeds and on dirt or gravel at higher speeds. During a brief sampling of the test vehicle in both types of environments, the Tacoma TRD Pro turned in an impressive performance. It makes its driver feel as though the truck can go anywhere, at any time.

This sensation comes at a cost, though. Most of the time, the Tacoma TRD Pro is unrewarding to drive on pavement. It feels heavy, slow, and unresponsive in most situations. And, despite its 10-way power-adjustable driver seat, taller people sit in an uncomfortable, splay-legged position behind the oversized and under-assisted steering wheel, which constantly thrums in the driver’s hands.

Worse, though, is the fuel economy. Tacoma owners rate this factor as their least favorite thing about the truck, and by a significant margin. We averaged just 16 mpg in combined driving, coming up short against the EPA’s official rating of 18 mpg.

For weekend adventuring, the Tacoma TRD Pro excels. For daily driving, it does not.

Maximum Visibility, Even When You Can’t See

2021 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro Panoramic View MonitorPhoto: Christian Wardlaw

Toyota equips the Tacoma TRD Pro with two useful technologies. The first is shown here, the standard Panoramic View Monitor. Using front, rear, and side cameras, drivers can see all around the Tacoma by simply pushing a button or shifting into reverse gear.

This technology proves helpful when negotiating narrow trails, especially since the Tacoma’s turning radius is larger than you might expect. We used it to execute 3-point turns on challenging terrain, avoiding rocks and keeping hot mechanical components out of the surrounding brush.

A Multi-terrain Monitor is also standard for the Tacoma. Helpful when the going gets really rough, this camera-based system shows the driver what is immediately in front of and directly to each side of the truck. It also indicates the degree of vehicle tilt.

Both of these features are also available on the Tacoma TRD Off-Road model.

Traction Enhancing Features and Technologies

More than its design, suspension, and technology features, the Tacoma TRD Pro’s off-road traction systems give this truck purpose. But, it’s worth noting that most of these features are also available for the Tacoma TRD Off-Road model.

Starting with its wheels and tires, the TRD Pro has exclusive 16-inch lightweight but high-strength TRD alloy wheels. They’re black, feature a 1-inch wider track than what you’ll find on the TRD Off-Road, and wrapped in Goodyear Wrangler all-terrain tires reinforced with Kevlar for maximum durability.

For maximum traction, the TRD Pro has a standard electronic locking rear differential, Multi-terrain Select, and Crawl Control.

Crawl Control is an off-road cruise control system that works at five different low-speed settings to automatically ensure maximum traction while the driver focuses on steering the best path across the terrain. As demonstrated by Toyota, this feature is also useful for extracting a Tacoma from sand (and likely mud).

That brings us to the Multi-terrain Select technology. This feature allows the driver to choose powertrain calibrations specifically for travel in mud, through sand, and across rocks. These modes limit wheelspin to maximize traction, helping ensure forward progress.

Multi-terrain Select and Crawl Control require the Tacoma’s 6-speed automatic transmission, as does the truck’s hill-start assist technology. If you choose the 6-speed manual gearbox, you get a clutch-start cancel switch and Toyota’s Active Traction Control (A-Trac) technology.

Clutch-start cancel allows you to start the Tacoma in first gear without depressing the clutch. Essentially, it serves as a hill-start assist system and saves excessive wear-and-tear on the clutch when trying to get the Tacoma moving on a hill.

A-Trac is exclusive to Tacoma TRD Off-Road and TRD Pro models with a manual transmission. It is a brake-based traction control designed to limit wheel spin and force engine power to the tire(s) with grip.

We used the Tacoma’s Rock setting on a challenging section of trail, and the Kevlar-reinforced Goodyear tires provided peace of mind while traveling across rugged terrain. These features, and the others described above, offer a confidence-inspiring safety net. But it’s important to remember that this technology doesn’t make the Tacoma infallible. While off-roading, you must always exercise caution and good judgment.

Independent Expert Opinion  - Find the best Toyota deals!

2021 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro Lunar Rock Rear Quarter ViewPhoto: Christian Wardlaw

The Tacoma TRD Pro magnifies the paradox of the Toyota Tacoma’s success despite its shortcomings. It looks rugged, drives like the truck that it is, and provides impressive off-roading capabilities. Like all Tacomas, it possesses plenty of personality, exudes simplicity and conveys a sense of durability, like it might just be the last truck you’ll ever need to own.

At the same time, as satisfying as such qualities might be, the overall lack of refinement, comfort, efficiency, and daily driving satisfaction is a constant reminder of what you’ve sacrificed by choosing a Tacoma. Alternatives in the segment offer more in one or all of these areas. Plus, the Tacoma does not offer class-leading towing, payload, or cargo bed volume measurements.

Overall, it’s easy to understand the Tacoma’s popularity. Just know what you’re signing up for before you drive one home, and you’ll probably be much happier with your purchase.

Christian Wardlaw is a veteran digital automotive journalist with over 25 years of experience in test-driving vehicles. In addition to JDPower.com, his work has appeared in numerous new- and used-car buying guides, newspapers, and automotive industry trade journals. 

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2022 J.D. Power

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