The Toyota Tacoma has been produced since 1995, with the first generation (1995-2004) classified as a compact pickup and the second (2005-2015) and third generation (2016-present) classified as a mid sized pickup. The Tacoma has long been a favorite for offroading and overlanding due to its small size, capability, and reliability.
In this article, we’ll review the features of the latest Tacoma as well as hear some pros, cons, and overall feedback from three Tacoma owners.
The Toyota Tacoma’s Features and Specs are Ideal for Overlanding
The 2020 Tacoma comes in five models, with the most basic SR model starting at $26,050 and the most luxurious TRD Pro starting at $43,960. For comparison’s sake, the 2020 Chevy Colorado starts at $25,795 and the 2019 (latest available model) Nissan Frontier starts at $19,290.
Obviously, each of these trucks has available options which increase the price significantly, especially if you are gearing one up for offroading. For the sake of this article, we’ll take a look at the 2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro to get an idea of all the available features for this vehicle.
- An Atkinson-cycle 3.5L V6 engine with direct injection provides power and efficiency, allowing you to tow up to 1,440 pounds. With the optional Tow Package, you can take advantage of Trailer-Sway Control, which applies the brakes to individual wheels as needed and adjusts the engine torque for maximum control of the trailer.
- Crawl Control is an advanced system that automatically applies the brakes and adjusts the throttle in five different low-speed settings to help you crush your overlanding adventures. An electronically locking rear differential distributes power so that your rear wheels move at the same speed, regardless of whether one is off the ground, in order to give you better grip.
- Multi-terrain Select allows you to choose from five different terrain modes in order to help regulate your wheelspin and increase your traction. Hill Start Assist helps prevent your Tacoma from rolling backward on hills while you move your foot from the brake to the gas, so you don’t lose your upward progress.
- A Multi-terrain Monitor lets you check your immediate surroundings to the front, back, and both sides for obstacles like large rocks, ruts, and holes.
- The TRD Pro comes with a desert air intake that draws air from above the windshield, which helps prevent dirt and dust from getting into the engine.
- It also comes standard with a ¼-inch thick aluminum skid plate to protect all of your front end mechanical components.
- The truck features Rigid Industries LED fog lights in aluminum housings.
- FOX Internal Bypass shocks come standard, featuring 2.5-inch aluminum housings, oversized shock shafts, and rear remote reservoirs. Although many Tacoma owners choose to upgrade their suspension, these stock shocks provide good ground clearance, maximum damping, and performance that won’t fade.
- 16-inch black alloy wheels are wrapped in Goodyear Wrangler All-Terrain tires in a combination that is designed to provide an optimal balance of strength and low weight.
- The Tacoma also features upgraded technology, like Apple CarPlay compatibility, a panoramic view monitor, integrated backup camera with rear sonar, Smart Key System, push button start, customizable multi-information display, and two USB charging ports. You can even enable Wi-Fi Connect, which turns your truck into a hotspot that can connect up to five devices.
- The safety systems on the Tacoma have also been improved, and now include Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, which uses millimeter-wave radar and shape recognition cameras. The system provides an audio and visual alert, and if you do not react, the system employs automatic braking support to help you avoid a crash.
- Dynamic Radar Cruise Control allows you to maintain a consistent distance between you and the vehicle in front of you while driving at a preset speed range. If the system determines that you need to slow down more than what your preset range allows, it will provide an audio and visual alert, and the brakes will be automatically applied. When the slower vehicle is no longer in front of you, the system will automatically accelerate until you are back in the preset speed range.
Related article: Toyota 4Runner for Overlanding: Pros/Cons and Owner QnA
- Lane Departure Alert helps detect if you have left a clearly marked lane when traveling faster than 32 mph and alerts you until you have re-centered your vehicle in the lane. Automatic High Beams detects the headlights of oncoming vehicles and either turns your high beams on or off as necessary to give you the best visibility while being respectful of other drivers.
- A blind spot monitor alerts you when a vehicle is in your blind spot, helping you know when it is safe to change lanes. Rear Cross-Traffic Alert helps as you back out of a parking space or driveway onto a busy road by alerting you when hard-to-see vehicles are approaching.
- Other safety features include Vehicle Stability Control. Traction Control, Anti-lock Brake System, Electronic Brake-force Distribution, Brake Assist, and Smart Stop Technology. The combination of all of Toyota’s safety technology means that Tacomas are both incredibly capable offroad and safe on city streets and highways.
- The Tacoma is also designed for ultimate utility. It features locking storage areas and a composite bed with a 120V outlet. The super durable fiber-reinforced sheet-molded composite is incredibly rugged and will keep your truck bed dent-free and looking sharp for years. The bed also has standard deck rails. Four tie-down cleats allow you to securely strap in cargo.
I spoke with three Tacoma owners about their personal pros and cons for the vehicle: Robert (@406_overland), Nick (@the_adventure_squad__), and Ryan (@the.shark.taco – featured image top of post). Here is what they shared:
Robert: “Small, light, incredibly capable stock from the factory, tons of aftermarket gear for anything you could imagine, Toyota reliability really is hard to beat. A great platform that you can build any way you like.”
Nick: “Some major pros are the size, the functionality of the vehicle, and the large range of aftermarket support.”
Ryan: “Customization is the name of the game. With the Tacoma being the most popular midsize truck on the market, it also means that there are a million companies that make different things to do to the truck’s performance and look.
The Tacoma is very customizable which gives you the option to make it your own. Due to its smaller size, the Tacoma is very capable off road, and able to reach most places bigger vehicles aren’t.”
So, the bottom line is that Tacomas are small which makes for easy driving and increased capability over larger trucks, and since they are so popular, the options for customizing these trucks are endless.
Robert: “MPGs aren’t any better than the Tundra, transition/gearing is just wrong and needs to be addressed; I will be regearing soon. It’s pretty small for any more than two people for extended trips.”
Nick: “The biggest con for me would be that I don’t have power seats, first world problems but it would be nice to have.”
Ryan: “I have added a lot of accessories to my truck such as a lift, bigger tires, and extra weight, which means my gas mileage is pretty low. The Tacoma’s power is something that is lacking in my opinion. When loading up for camping trips, you realize that having a smaller truck means less room for gear and people.”
While these cons are largely personal preference, the consensus seems to be that due to the wide variety of customizable elements available for Tacomas, it’s easy to accessorize so much that the truck’s power and fuel efficiency is compromised.
I asked Robert, Nick, and Ryan to share some more details about how they chose their Tacomas and how their vehicles stack up against other ones they’ve owned:
1. What year is your Tacoma?
Robert: “It is a 2018 TRD Pro in the best color, Cavalry Blue!”
Nick: “I have a 2017 TRD Off-road.”
Ryan: “It is a 2019 TRD Off-road Premium.”
2. How did you decide on a Tacoma over all other vehicles?
Robert: “I wanted something small but very capable that could go just about anywhere. I also wanted something that was comfortable on the highway/interstate as well as offroad.”
Nick: “I actually just like the way they looked and didn’t have a need for a full size truck. Originally I had no intentions of off-roading.”
Ryan: “Initially, the appearance of the Tacoma caught my attention and as I was researching I was more and more drawn to its capabilities. I previously owned a Chevy Colorado but wanted something better and more reliable. After realizing the Colorado wasn’t for me, that made the decision easy as to what I wanted next.”
3. Have you had any other offroad/overland vehicles and if so, how did they compare?
Robert: “I’ve had a few:
- 2014 Tundra with a Hawk Four Wheel Camper. This was a great setup and very versatile. But it was a little cramped in the camper and MPGs were awful.
- Next we got bit by the #vanlife craze and sold the Tundra/Hawk for a 2018 4×4 Sprinter. After 1 year and too many issues to count, we sold the Sprinter and began building out the Tacoma.”
Nick: “I had a 2013 Tacoma before this, I like this newer version more though because of the interior.”
Ryan: “I have owned a Ford F-150 and a Chevy Colorado. The F-150 was a great truck but due to me being at college, I didn’t need the extra size and space that came with it.
The Colorado is known as the Tacoma’s biggest competitor as far as size and popularity goes, but since buying the Colorado new off the lot, I had mechanical issues. As time went on and continuing to find my truck getting serviced, I knew I wanted to make a change.”
4. Can you tell me about any mods and upgrades you’ve made to your Tacoma?
- “Custom Southern Style Offroad Low Profile front bumper with a 20” BajaDesigns light bar and Warn VR-10S winch
- Old Man Emu BP-51 full suspension kit and leaf springs
- BDF KO2 tires – 265/75 R16
- Century Ultra Sport topper
- Front Runner Slimline II racks front and rear
- GFC roof top tent
- Goal Zero Yeti 1400 Lithium and Boulder 200 solar panels
- Dometic CFX75DZ and slide out”
Nick: “I have a 6 inch King lift, 35 inch KM3s, 20 inch XD grenade wheels, 5.29 Nitro gears, Southern Style Off-road Slimline & Stage 2 high clearance, a Rigid light bar and Prinsu rack. And I’ve also done a rear seat delete for my dogs since they ride back there mostly.”
- “3” lift kit
- 33” Nitto Tires with KMC wheels
- Roof rack – storage boxes on rack
- Bed rack – Freespirit
- Recreation tent
- Maxtrax (green tractions boards on my bed rack to put under tires if you get stuck)
- HAM radio
5. Any other important information, pro tips, or advice you’d like to share?
Robert: “Don’t go overboard and just start building your rig out. Take it out a few times. See what is working and what isn’t. Every single mod I’ve made was for a very specific reason. Keep as much stock as you can until it needs to be changed and it will help the vehicle perform at its best.”
Nick: “I would say for anyone in the market, definitely do it. And don’t be scared to build it to your liking, every build is different so build it to your own needs and you’ll enjoy it way more.”
Ryan: “When it comes to vehicles, and the Tacoma in this case, remember to make it your own. Don’t get caught up in everyone’s opinion or preference. I have built my truck based on my needs and interests. It probably isn’t a favorite for a lot of people but for me it works and most importantly, I like it.”
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that Toyota Tacomas are excellent options for overlanding. While they come very well-equipped from the manufacturer, there are endless ways to customize, modify, and upgrade a Tacoma so that it works perfectly for you.
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Cat is originally from Seattle, WA but has traveled around the US and Canada full-time in a self-converted school bus with her boyfriend Aaron since April of 2018. She enjoys rock climbing, paddleboarding, hiking, and generally being outdoors!