When it comes to off-road vehicles, few automakers have nearly the same level of clout that Toyota has.
While Jeep has Rubicon, Ford Raptor, and Chevrolet ZR2, Toyota is the only automaker to offer a full lineup of off-road vehicles under the TRD Pro moniker. While the Tacoma and 4-Runner TRD Pro variants are often seen as the de-facto ambassadors of the brand, there are other TRD Pro models behind the scenes that do their best to bring a distinctive driving experience to buyers.
One of these is the vehicle featured here, the 2019 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro. With its brash lines, off-road hardware, and a unique identity, the Tundra aims to go to the same rugged places that some of its domestic rivals can only dream about going to. But can the Tundra TRD Pro achieve all these things without alienating some of the values that pickup truck buyers are looking for?
Brash and Eager To Please:
When one first looks at the Toyota Tundra TRD Pro, it still retains a very strong visual presence that amplifies its purposeful nature. At first glance, it’s tough to tell the 2019 version from the older 2015 to 2017 version that preceded it, with the two sharing basic details such as the “TOYOTA” scripted front grille, stamped rear fender mounted TRD Pro logos, and even the black hued wheels. However, our tester stands out when it comes to the finer side of things, with a big hood scoop, LED foglights from Rigid Industries, LED headlights, as well as its beefy front skid plate. Other touches include black chrome dual exhaust tips, and even all new BBS forged aluminum alloy wheels. This is despite the aging canvas, which has seen little change since the Tundra was refreshed for the 2014 model year.
While all this helped give our tester a distinct back woods busting appearance, it was missing one crucial detail, a set of running boards. While these were sacrificed for the sake of giving the truck maximum ground clearance, shorter occupants will have quite an experience climbing in and out of the truck after a day out in the town. While my fiancé (and guest stereo system tester) Emily was able to climb in and out with the help of the interior grab handle, the climb was too much for my mother, who was struggling with a knee injury during our tester’s stay with us, and her inability to formally get in the truck caused a last minute transportation change for our trek to church. We are hoping that the next generation model will at least have power operated running boards to help remedy this, and allow the truck to appeal to a wider range of drivers and passengers.
Also, the TRD Pro model is only available with a 5.5 foot bed which is a relatively short box when compared with rivals, and this short box means that hauling extremely long items will not be this particular Tundra’s forte. As a bonus buyers will also only have a choice of three exterior hues Voodoo Blue, Midnight Black Metallic, and our test rig’s Summit White application. The end result of all this is a very functional package, but we wish Toyota designers would have baked in a bit more exclusivity into the model, perhaps with trim exclusive items such as all-steel bumpers, a few more colors, or even a slightly wider body kit to pump up its aggression level more.
Compromises and Massive Amounts of Room Define Interior:
With pricing similar to both the range topping Platinum model as well as the 1794 variant, the interior of the TRD Pro is bursting at the seams with equipment. Standard features include heated leather seats, a power rear window, as well as integrated navigation software. TRD Pro models like our tester feature a copious amount of TRD Pro logos (including a big one on the center console) as well as a TRD exclusive shifter. The first thing that you will notice when spending time in the cabin is just how roomy of a place it is to spend time in. 2019 TRD Pro models are only available in CrewMax spec (Toyota speak for Crew Cab) and like others of its type, head and legroom are very ample, with rear seat passengers enjoying two more inches of legroom than the futuristic Ram 1500. Storage is also at the fore-front here with the massive center bin being able to swallow an impressive amount of stuff. Fold the rear seats down, and the Tundra has enough space for all kinds of cargo including big flat screen TVs.
However, there are a number of compromises that can be found when you look at some of the inner workings. For instance, while our tester came equipped with heated seats and navigation, we found it a bit strange to see that push button start was not added into the mix, and Toyota instead prefers you formally start the truck with an old-school key blade. With the Ford Raptor and the Silverado Trailboss offering push button start, we wish that Toyota would follow suit to help the TRD Pro be more on par with interior technology. Another area that can be improved is the functionality of some items in the Entune infotainment system. Screen quality is a step behind what is currently offered in some of its rivals, and some icons are placed too close together, which caused us to occasionally miss a menu. Lastly, while Android Auto and Apple CarPlay functionality are coming to the TRD Pro lineup for 2020, our tester missed the boat by one model year which caused it to not quite nearly have the same amount of mobile flexibility that its domestic counterparts possess. Thankfully, our tester makes up for this flaw by offering buyers a healthy amount of charging areas to keep their devices charged on long journeys.
Visibility in our tester was good all around, with the windshield offering drivers a commanding view of the road in front of them. Rear visibility is actually pretty good, but being a big truck, our tester proved to be a tricky beast to park in some driving situations which required careful spot placement, especially in smaller lots.
Trail Ready Performance Despite Aging Hardware:
When it comes to performance, the Toyota Tundra is about as politically incorrect as a truck can possibly be. Wheras many of its rivals have added either V6, diesel or even four cylinder power to their pickup offerings, the Tundra is the only one remaining that offers a V8 engine as its sole engine choice. That said, the 5.7 liter V8 won’t be mistaken for a slouch, with the beefy eight cylinder producing a healthy 381 horsepower and a stout 401 lb-ft of torque. TRD Pro models like our rig have a bit more bite in their soundtrack thanks to the fore-mentioned TRD dual exhaust system. A six speed automatic gives up two gears to the bulk of the eight speeds in domestic pickups these days, but shift quality was still very smooth, and the gearbox did a reasonable job of allowing us to access the engine’s sweet spots. The missing gears make themselves apparent in fuel economy however, with our tester averaging a rather dismal 13 mpg in city driving, and an equally dubious 17 mpg on the freeway.
The main reason to upgrade to the TRD Pro is not because of the exhaust system, nor its ability to disregard Greenpeace with its fuel economy numbers. Rather, it’s because of the upgraded suspension which lives up to the hype and then some. Unlike the old model which used TRD tuned Bilstein shocks, 2019 models feature all new Fox Racing units with 2.5 inch shocks and 46 mm pistons up front, and 2.5 inch external reservoirs on the rear shocks. To find out just how rugged these shocks were, we took our tester to our off-road handling course.
Nestled in the middle of Bruce Township, MI, the third world-esque dirt roads that line our circuit are a worthy test for any suspension, and are certainly not for vehicles that prefer to spend their time in mall parking lots. In this daunting environment, the TRD Pro Tundra shined, with the suspension doing a good job delivering smooth ride quality, as well as absorbing all but the sharpest of bumps and divots. The off-road tires also do a good job delivering good amounts of grip on the muddier sections of road, but unlike the dune loving Raptor, the Tundra prefers to take on backwoods trails, so look for this one to be slogging it out with entries like the Silverado Trailboss, as well as the Ram 1500 Rebel lineup in forested sections of the country.
Pricing for the 2019 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro occupies the higher end of the broader model pricing ladder. While its $49,795 base MSRP is $800 below the $50,000 plus price tag wielded by both the Platinum and 1795 trims, it is still in the upper reaches of the off-road truck segment. For comparison, the slightly pricier Silverado Trailboss has longer bed options, has a fresher canvas, and has more exclusivity baked in than the Toyota. Meanwhile, the 2019 Ram 1500 Rebel has a fresh look of its own, an eight speed automatic, and unlike the one engine or bust Toyota, offers buyers more flexibility with the availability of the 3.6 liter Pentastar V6 to coincide with the existing V8 offerings. Our tester had a final sticker of just over $52,000 which is a bit of a tough sell, considering some of the modern convivence equipment and technology that is clearly missing from the truck.
Thankfully, Toyota engineers still retained the high levels of safety that buyers come to expect, with the Tundra being the latest recipient of the company’s Safety Sense P suite. This package bundles together items such as Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Warning with accompanying Sway warning tech, as well as Automatic High Beams.
But despite some of the ground its aging platform gives up in terms of equipment, the Tundra TRD Pro still offers buyers a unique identity, and perhaps the best balance between on and off-road usability we have seen in a truck of its type. It’s a beast in many off-road situations, yet when tasked with more mundane driving on pavement, our test rig still managed to have the same refined on-road demeanor as a normal Tundra, and that should please buyers looking to stand out from the sea of shiny new Raptors when making their way to the trail, or the mall for a weekend outing. It doesn’t hurt either to have more of the standard essentials than both the fore-mentioned Trailboss, as well as the Nissan Titan Pro-4X.
Overall, there is certainly plenty to like with the 2019 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro, and it is good to see that after a year long absence, it has returned to challenge the best that the off-road pickup truck segment has to offer. We hope that the 2020 model will help bring more polish, refinement, and technological sophistication to what is already a very functionally sound package, but in the meantime look for this special model to still be a top choice when it comes time to bust the trails, or take on the more mundane tasks that often accompany the grueling daily commute.
Carl Malek has been an automotive journalist for over 10 years. First starting out as a freelance photographer before making the transition to writing during college, his work has appeared on numerous automotive forums as well as websites such as Autoshopper.com.
Carl is also a big fan of British vehicles with the bulk of his devotion going to the Morgan Motor Company as well as offerings from Lotus, MG, and Caterham. When he is not writing about automobiles, Carl enjoys spending time with his family and friends in the Metro Detroit area, as well as spending time with his adorable pets.