Review: 2020 Toyota Tundra TRD Off Road
Hardworking hardhat of a truck
THE PROS & CONS
- What's Good: Enormous interior, bulletproof build quality, styling has aged well
- What's Bad: Sluggish transmission, sluggish infotainment, not much in the way of tech whizz-bangery
Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat: this is not the TRD Pro Tundra. It is the TRD Off Road and while they have their similarities, this version remains more of a “you could take this off-road if you really wanted to” truck as opposed to the TRD Pro’s “oh you aren’t going to a rutted jobsite every day? Then why bother?” mantra. The Pro gets high-riding FOX dampers, blacked-out grille, hood scoop and dark 18” alloy wheels while the TRD Off Road version you see here makes do with less hardcore Bilstein dampers and two-tone 18” wheels.
Still, though; with this truck, you still get proper 4 x 4 with mechanical locking differentials, heavy-duty tow package and transmission cooler. In short: you’d been fine taking this up forestry roads to remote campsites and so on. Heck, judging by the colour of my particular tester, you could be venturing into much more hardcore situations than that – it’s called “Quicksand”, but it looks somewhat desert-storm spec. Works for me, as I’m a fan of these paintjobs and aside from the “Cement” shade of grey you can also get on one of these, it’s one of the more hardcore-looking colours you can get in the light pickup world.
Inside, though, it’s a little more old-school feeling; the dash is big, broad and square with hardly a curved surface in sight – even the areas that are angled somehow look like a curve on a video game would when seen up close – just a bunch of straight lines stuck together at slightly different angles in quick succession. The gauge cluster is a standard, monochromatic affair and the center stack features a basic button set in a basic up/down alignment. The shift lever is a huge, oblong plasticky thing and the steering wheel spokes follow suit; indeed, when Toyota’s infotainment system – hardly the bleeding edge when it comes to such tech – looks modern compared to its surroundings, well, let’s just say that’s a pretty good indication that function over form is the word of the day when it comes to interior design.
Heck, you even need to start up the traditional way, by inserting a key into the ignition; no push-button start here. That’s one thing I would like to see, as it also paves the way for remote start which is nice to have in colder climes. Which, as we know all too well are a fairly frequent occurrence in our fair country.
And you know what? I love it. Well, most of it; while the infotainment does have support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (and includes nine speakers), it pales in the face of the competition with boring graphics and sluggish operating speeds. It points to this being a business-first affair, though, and in the pickup world, that’s often a very good thing. I would have a problem if there were unsightly panel gaps and squeaks and rattles all over the place, but you won’t get enough of that here to make it worth talking about. All you get is an interior full of handles, knobs, and buttons that can be operated without looking, with work gloves on, and so on.
Not to mention the size – the Tundra looks massive from the outside; the grille, ride height, headlights, taillights – the only exterior styling bit that looks out of place are the wheels, whose 18” diameter seem out of place surrounded by so much metal. My tester’s Crewmax cab is the biggest Toyota offers and while it necessitates a shorter bed (5.5 feet is the only available length in this configuration; smaller cabs are available with 6.5- or 8.1-foot beds), it is huge inside with about as much head- and legroom as the Sequoia SUV with which the Tundra shares a platform. Those back doors are absolutely enormous as a result, and they open quite wide so rear seat passengers are going to want to take care that they don’t swing those barn doors into the unsuspecting Prius beside them in the parkade.
While the interior room is great for passengers (as are the cupholders, which number 10), the fact that the floor isn’t completely flat in the rear means its usefulness is reduced a little. There’s also no additional storage bins often seen in other trucks below the rear seats, or in the floor. Toyota could get a little more creative with the Tundra when it comes to in-cabin storage.
The Tundra’s big dimensions suggest some big power is needed to get things up and running, and that comes courtesy of a single engine choice: a 5.7L V8 with variable valve timing, good for 381 hp and 401 lb-ft of torque, fed through a six-speed auto and mechanical-locking differential.
That power roughly equals a Ford F-150 with the 2.7L EcoBoost engine; trouble is, an F-150 with the more powerful 3.5-L EcoBoost and similar equipment to my tester can be had for about the same money. You won’t have quite as much room inside the Ford, though, even with that truck’s four-door SuperCrew cabin.
The thing about a V8 versus a turbo-six, though, is that the power is just so effortless and the engine so much less stressed that it can make for even smoother progress. Not to mention you can use regular petrol in the Tundra and not miss a beat, whereas with a turbocharged motor, you may want to consider at least mid-grade.
So it goes with the Tundra, then, that your acceleration from launch is without delay, the power being sent to the wheels quickly and smoothly. There’s even a nice growl befitting of a big V8 emitted through the big single tailpipe as you delve deeper and deeper into the throttle. It makes no bones about its motive force, that’s for sure. Not to mention it helps the Tundra tow almost 10,000 lbs (remember that whole Space Shuttle stunt?) and haul over 1,500 lbs – numbers that can grow even higher if you select the smaller cabins or – as unlikely as this would be in Canada – opt for the 4 x 2 version. Yes, believe it or not, this exists.
Things go a little sideways when it comes to the transmission, however. You see, the Aisin six-speed unit found on the Tundra is not the most modern (especially when compared against the 10-speed unit found in the F-150 and the 8-speeder found in the Ram 1500); it’s not especially quick to shift – no big deal as this isn’t as sports car – but its penchant for shuffling through gears a little too often is tougher to forgive. It’s a similar experience with the smaller Tacoma (though as popular as that truck is, it’s almost the Tundra that lives in the Tacoma’s shadow), and I thought with the extra power the Tundra’s V8 provides over the Tacoma’s V6 would rectify things, but it doesn’t. Not entirely. It’s better, but I believe this very good engine is crying for a better transmission partner.
Less of a concern is the ride and handling. Indeed; the front end isn’t going to respond as quickly to steering inputs as it does in said Tacoma, but I wouldn’t say the Tundra drives as big as it looks. Steering is pleasantly linear, and has just enough boost to not overwhelm your forearms yet enough play to make traversing rougher roads a little easier.
The Bilstein dampers help the ride follow suit; even when unladen, you don’t get a huge amount of rear-end hop over repeated undulations and while it maybe a little too firm for some, I think the chassis tuning does well to inspire confidence in the driver.
Actually, the Tundra in general does well to inspire confidence. It feels rough and rugged in all the right ways, and you just know, you just get that feeling that it’s a truck that will pull you through thick and thin, no matter what you throw at it. It feels properly bulletproof and while it won’t knock your socks off with tech, exotic materials for body panels or ultra-luxurious interior environs, it remains a good, honest, hardworking hardhat of a truck that makes it both somewhat lovable and industrious at the same time.