French River, ON – The French River crosses the Canadian Shield, its path between Lake Nipissing and Georgian Bay punctuated by rapids, waterfalls, gorges and lakes. It enables a route through to Montreal, the St-Lawrence River and eventually the estuary that leads to the sea. The explorers Jean Nicolet, Pierre Radisson, des Groseillers and La Vérendrye traveled these waters between 1629 and 1649.
The community of French River welcomed our group of automotive journalists in search of adventure in the region of Sudbury. The area’s tranquil lakes bordered by boreal forests constitute an ideal playground to accomplish the goal guiding our visit: to romp around off-road with the family of 2019 TRD Pro products from Toyota.
Nearly 40 years
The TRD (Toyota Racing Development) division was created in 1979. It specializes in the conception and construction of performance-oriented chassis parts and engines. First introduced in Canada in 2015, the TRD Pro range is inspired by Toyota’s successes in off-road car rallies over the years, particularly in endurance races like the Baja 1000 on Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula.
Voodoo Blue, and specialized equipment
In addition to distinguishing themselves visually through exclusive exterior colours – this year’s flagship colour being Voodoo Blue – the TRD Pro versions of the 4Runner, Tacoma and Tundra models are fitted with high-performance equipment designed for off-roading. For 2019, Toyota has updated its Tacoma TRD Pro mid-size truck and 4Runner TRD Pro SUV, and brought back the Tundra TRD Pro after a sabbatical in 2018. The three models were first showcased at the Chicago auto show earlier this year.
An itinerary for getting dirty… very dirty
After traveling the 115 km from Sudbury’s airport to French River, we attacked a 15-minute off-road course that had been properly doused by heavy rain in the previous 48 hours. Each in turn, we took the vehicle of one vehicle after the other to test it out in challenging conditions.
Designed to handle hostile terrain, the TRD Pro versions come with a raised suspension, 2.5-inch Fox internal shock absorbers, larger all-terrain tires and skid plates.
Toyota’s unique SUV was the first to show off its abilities. Sitting on a truck chassis and deservedly renowned for its ruggedness, the 4Runner was completely in its element. Even when covered in mud, the tires were able to provide traction. The 4.0L V6 engine is certainly aging, as is its 5-speed transmission, but it is pretty much indestructible.
The 4Runner is the only TRD Pro with rear coil springs. Compared to the leaf springs found on the other two models, they supplied a suspension that bent but did not break, all while providing notable comfort when riding. The approach and departure angles of the 4Runner are the best of the trio of TRD Pro models.
Otherwise, the 4Runner is the only one of the three not to comes with either the Safety Sense P or TSS-P suite of advanced safety systems, which includes functions like automatic braking, lane departure warning and blind spot monitor.
One of the notable functions the 4runner does have is Crawl Control. The system uses traction control to help the vehicle over difficult terrain, leaving the driver free to focus solely on steering. To activate the system, stick the vehicle in neutral, push the button on the roof panel, and release the brakes. In our test, the 4Runner made its way through a row of logs and up a rocky climb. This vehicle constitutes a perfect melding of on-road and off-road driving.
The Tacoma TRD Pro proved to be the swiss knife of the Toyota trio. Its narrow dimensions, lighter weight and new, stiffer chassis make it naturally dynamic, clearly ahead of the others in this respect.
The Tacoma TRD Pro also features the best shocks. Equipped in the front with a 46-mm pistons and eight bypass zones (five compression and three rebound), it is directly inspired by off-road models used for racing. In the front, there’s also an anti-roll bar that enable precise steering and a comfortable ride when on the road.
As well, the Tacoma includes 2.5-inch rear shocks that use 11 bypass zones (seven compression and four rebound) and are equipped with 2-inch external reservoirs. For 2019, the TRD Pro version comes with a larger skid plate and black chromed exhaust tips.
The most visible change, however, the addition of a desert air intake – Toyota doesn’t want to call it a snorkel because it’s not made for driving through water. This “vacuum” is mounted up high to allow it to take in air above the dusty air around the vehicle on off-road trails, sending cleaner air to the engine.
Unchanged since 2018 is its 6-speed transmission and 3.5L V6 engine generating 278 hp and 265 lb-ft of torque.
The 2019 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro merits consideration right alongside the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon and Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 as the best production trucks for off-roading.
The last chapter of our Canadian Shield adventure took place aboard the Tundra TRD Pro. It might have the finesse of the other two, but the Tundra makes up for that in brute power. No problem for the TRD Pro edition to climb solid rock or cross a river of mud. This version uses the same 5.7L V8 engine (381 hp, 401 lb-ft of torque) as the regular Tundra.
Even on narrower trails where the branches were slapping its sides, leaving traces of dust and dirt on the wide body, the Tundra didn’t even notice. Though it only features a one-speed transfer case, the new shocks, gripping all-terrain tires and chassis that sits higher by two inches make up for any shortcomings.
The Tundra is mission the Multi-Terrain Select system of the other two TRD Pro entrants. There a few other irritants we couldn’t help but note, like the dual chrome exhaust tips that hang a little too low under the rear bumpers and thus reduce the angle of departure of the truck. Impossible to avoid knocking on rocks at some points.
The Tundra is also the only one of the Toyota trio without a locking rear differential. Its limited-slip differential works well, but really a TRD Pro deserves a locking one.
It should be noted that the price exacted for owning a TRD Pro is a steep one. The 4Runner sells for $56,680, the Tacoma (the base version of which retails for between $32,000 and $33,000) goes for $52,870, and the Tundra tops them both with a $61,530 price tag.
If you’re a true blue fan of driving in difficult terrain, the Tacoma is better-equipped to get you through whatever challenge you put to it. Our favourite was in fact the 4Runner, which offers a nice balance between on-road comfort and off-road chops. The Tundra is not only a bit on the big side, it’s also getting long in the tooth. Without advertising it too much, Toyota is working on a new model for next year – good news on that front.
Three vehicles dressed for success in the off-road environment, showing what they can do on the Canadian Shield. Hard for us to not to appreciate this special day spent in a special part of the country!