READY TO LEAP TALL BUILDINGS: The 2015 Tundra pickup will be in dealers’ showrooms in the fall, but it is already turning heads as a winner in the off-road category.
READY TO LEAP TALL BUILDINGS: The 2015 Tundra pickup will be in dealers’ showrooms in the fall, but it is already turning heads as a winner in the off-road category.
TOYOTA

The first time we had the chance to see the new TRD Pro off-road package for the full-size Tundra was during its introduction at the 2014 Chicago Auto Show. Toyota really hyped the new package, available this fall, as providing new levels of desert-running, four-wheeling capability for the 2015 4Runner, Tacoma, and Tundra.

In fact, Toyota even created a huge off-road course inside Chicago’s McCormick Place to give hair-raising rides to showgoers through water crossings, over steep hill climbs, on a giant teeter-totter, and across a nasty set of broken logs.

The new TRD Pro off-road option will replace the previous Rock Warrior 4x4 option and offers a more comprehensive (and capable) four-wheel-drive package. Like the Tacoma TRD Pro, the Tundra TRD Pro includes a unique set of interior and exterior design features, vastly upgraded suspension components, and a TRD exhaust for a little extra grunt (we’re told that each of the vehicles we recently tested—the Tacoma, Tundra and 4Runner—will get a 5- to 10-horsepower bump from the new exhaust). The new Tundra package will be offered only in four-wheel-drive but can be had on both double-cab and CrewMax cabs equipped with the 5.7-liter V-8. To date, the package can only be offered with the SR5 trim level. TRD Pro trucks will only be offered in black, white, and Inferno (which is sort of a burnt red).

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With the exception of the new shocks and springs, our favorite details on the TRD Pro have to do with how they promote the package around the outside of the truck. Not only does the Tundra TRD Pro have a unique black center-bar grille spelling out “Toyota” across the front like the old FJ, but it also includes a special stamping in the bed sides (similar to the Tundra stamp in the tailgate) that identifies this as a TRD Pro pickup. All badging on TRD Pro vehicles is blacked out, along with door handles and mirrors. Unique 18-inch, aluminum, five-spoke wheels and Michelin 32-inch (actually 275/65R18) LTX tires round out the special dress code. The package is finished with extra aluminum in front and midsection skid plating for added protection.

The meat of this package is at the corners of the truck in the form of high-tech, specially designed, dual-reservoir Bilstein shocks, as well as a unique set of slightly longer Eibach front springs. The springs in front allow for a more balanced stance, raising the front end about two inches. Thankfully, TRD Pro Tundras will have adjustable headlights so when cargo or tongue weight is put on the rear of the truck, drivers will be able to limit any nighttime headlight issues with oncoming traffic. The Bilstein coil-over shocks are speed sensitive and have a massive 60 mm piston shaft diameter (stock sizes are 46 mm). This unique setup in front actually softens the factory ride and offers almost two inches of extra wheel travel. The extra reservoir (attached to the bottom rear of the shock) allows for better cooling.

Another favorite technology in this package is the TRD-tuned dual exhaust that emits a V-8 rumble that we’ve never heard from a factory-offered Toyota truck before. The tuning is especially fun to listen to when getting deep into the throttle with vast empty stretches of power-line road in front of you. The throaty exhaust note was accomplished by opening up the cats and reducing the back pressure, all the while making sure that it never exceeded the 95-decibel, federally mandated noise limit.

We recently took a Tundra TRD Pro into the Nevada desert where Toyota gave a group of auto writers a chance to test all three TRD Pro offerings. We took the Tundra on the most punishing of the three trail choices, which allowed us to push the front suspension up to and just beyond its performance limits. Our test road was a typical power-line road (a heavily rutted road used by maintenance crews when they have to make repairs), complete with washboard ruts like trenches, endless holes, and hidden, basketball-size rocks churned up by the trucks in front of us.

Upon first seeing the Tundra TRD Pro we weren’t impressed. We expected this off-road package to be like many of the offerings supposedly capable of conquering nasty terrain but basically amounting to slightly upgraded parts and stickers (that’s the way we felt about the Rock Warrior package). We’ve seen plenty of packages with extra skid plating, upgraded shocks, nice graphics, and bigger wheels and tires. And we’ve had to be careful with every one of them when pushing them in the backcountry—excluding the Raptor.

However, the first thing we noticed about the Tundra TRD Pro was that we had to completely recalibrate the way we looked at road obstacles and terrain. Where we thought we needed to brace for impact, nothing happened. Where we felt the instinct to slow down to save the front end, this new spring and shock pairing just swallowed the ruts right up. After a while, our speeds picked up to 10, 15, and 20 mph faster than when we started. We were increasingly impressed that the setup was able to absorb so much nastiness and at the same time keep all four tires on the ground. Clearly, a lot of tuning work has been done to the front shock/spring combination, and the speeds at which the rear shocks are able to quiet and slow rear axle motions is impressive.

Additionally surprising was how well the front and rear of the truck worked together. Normally, with so much extra weight in the front of a pickup (especially with a V-8 motor), problems with nosing into mounds or launching the front end and scraping the front air dam or bumper is typical for basic off-road packages. But this package wasn’t doing any of that, nor was it banging into bump stops. The new springs do a remarkable job of progressively controlling the big inputs, while the shocks seem equally capable of keeping all the smaller tire motions smoothed out.

As those who drive off-road in pickup trucks know, an empty bed can chatter and dance around when the roads get rough or are covered with gravel. Thankfully, with only a small modification to the rear springs, the softness of the springs helped prevent the horrible bucking motions a pickup can make on bad roads. We felt little discomfort from the back of the pickup when running at dust-throwing speeds down battered dirt roads. And the faster we drove, the smoother the truck’s chassis responded. It almost seemed like it was giving us feedback about how much faster we could safely take the truck over washboard roads.

Although pricing has not been released yet, and we don’t expect that to happen until closer to the fall, we wouldn’t be surprised if the TRD Pro option carried a $3,500 or $4,000 premium. And as difficult as it might be to believe, it would be worth every dollar.