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Price Range: $12,698 - $25,588 | MPG: 22 City / 27 Hwy
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The $1,590 TRD off-road package on this truck was developed by Toyota Racing Development, the company's racing and aftermarket products division. TRD works from a separate California facility so corporate types can't hang over their shoulder asking too many questions. The TRD Off-Road package includes specially valved Bilstein shock absorbers, the locking rear differential, a modified suspension with progressive-rate springs and a larger front anti-roll bar, and big 31x10.5R15 Goodyear tires on 15x7-inch alloy wheels. TRD PreRunners get the more substantial brake system that comes on 4x4 models. Black overfenders and graphics let the world know there's something special underneath. (The TRD package is also available for Tacoma 4x4s.)
We expected all this stuff to come with a jouncy ride. Engineers haven't quite figured out how to design a suspension that offers a luxurious ride and the ability to handle a basketball-sized rock at 50 mph without damage. Every bump, every pebble is felt in the PreRunner, though harshness is damped out by the progressive-rate suspension. And the big tires set up an audible whine. Like almost any pickup, a load in the bed improves the ride quality and handling balance considerably.
But what we didn't expect was the handling. We weren't prepared for so much grip on the on-ramps. The tall PreRunner leans in the corners, but offers surprisingly sporty cornering capability. Again, the progressive rate suspension provides the right amount of damping for the conditions. Handling response is heightened by the Tacoma's rigid chassis structure, which allowed the suspension to be designed with closer tolerances and superior dynamics.
The V6 engine provides lots of torque. Throttle response is excellent. Stab the gas and the engine and transmission respond instantly. The PreRunner takes off from a standing start with gusto. Jump on the gas at highway speeds and the transmission downshifts one or two gears and you're rocketing past the offending vehicle.
Big brakes use drums in the rear, but do a good job of slowing the Tacoma down. Off-road suspensions and tires are not noted for short braking distances, however, so it's a good idea to maintain respectable following distances, particularly when it's raining.