Sampling the Taco Supreme: First Drive of the 2017 Toyota Tacoma

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Toyota

New Tacoma TRD Pro rolls into Texas Auto Writers Association meet-up.

The Texas Auto Writers Association (TAWA) recently held its 2016 Texas Truck Rodeo. Various crossover, SUV and truck manufacturers brought metal and manpower to the Longhorn River Ranch in the city of Dripping Springs in hopes of bringing home trophies in more than a dozen categories. Their eyes were most sharply focused on the two biggest prizes of the event: “SUV of Texas” and “Truck of Texas.” It was up to me and my 70+ fellow journalists to determine which vehicles and companies would go home victorious.

Toyota threw its hat into the ring with several vehicles, including the 2017 Tacoma TRD Pro. After driving it for a few minutes both on- and off-road, I climbed out of its cabin thinking:

Cement Shouldn’t Only Come in Bags

Grey. It’s the color of dreary days and 19th-century prison gruel. Not particularly exciting is it? No, not really. But it works on certain things. You want a hardcore off-road truck to be solid and robust. Nothing says that quite like “Cement,” one of the Tacoma TRD Pro’s three available colors. It certainly built a following of TAWA members.

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It’s Similar to Its Big Brother in More than One Way

Like the Tundra TRD Pro, the Taco Supreme comes with a Toyota heritage-inspired grille, black badges, a protective skid plate, off-road wheels and tires, a sonically tweaked exhaust, and specially tuned shocks. The Tundra uses Bilsteins; the Tacoma is equipped with FOX Internal Bypass shocks. Despite that difference, the two trucks are similar in terms of ride quality. For off-road-focused pickups, they’re both surprisingly good at keeping you away from the violence that big bumps in the pavement and packed dirt commit against the tires and suspension.

Pro is not Just a Fitting Name, It’s a Fitting Description

I took the Tacoma on the most difficult trail available on the property. It performed like the pro its badges said it was. Rocks, mud ruts, loose gravel, whoops – none of them phased the Tacoma. Power from the 3.5-liter V6 was plentiful (278 hp and 265 lb-ft, to be exact). Multi-terrain Select and Crawl Control made the natural (and engineered) chaos I forced the truck to encounter into a neat series of non-events.

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It’ll take me more time behind the wheel of the 2017 Tacoma TRD Pro to discover the full range of its strengths and weaknesses. But it only took me and my fellow auto writers the two days of the 2016 Texas Truck Rodeo to decide it was the top midsize pickup there.

Derek Shiekhi's father raised him on cars. As a boy, Derek accompanied his dad as he bought classics such as post-WWII GM trucks and early Ford Mustang convertibles.

After loving cars for years and getting a bachelor's degree in Business Management, Derek decided to get an associate degree in journalism. His networking put him in contact with the editor of the Austin-American Statesman newspaper, who hired him to write freelance about automotive culture and events in Austin, Texas in 2013. One particular story led to him getting a certificate for learning the foundations of road racing.

While watching TV with his parents one fateful evening, he saw a commercial that changed his life. In it, Jeep touted the Wrangler as the Texas Auto Writers Association's "SUV of Texas." Derek knew he had to join the organization if he was going to advance as an automotive writer. He joined the Texas Auto Writers Association (TAWA) in 2014 and was fortunate to meet several nice people who connected him to the representatives of several automakers and the people who could give him access to press vehicles (the first one he ever got the keys to was a Lexus LX 570). He's now a regular at TAWA's two main events: the Texas Auto Roundup in the spring and the Texas Truck Rodeo in the fall.

Over the past several years, Derek has learned how to drive off-road in various four-wheel-drive SUVs (he even camped out for two nights in a Land Rover), and driven around various tracks in hot hatches, muscle cars, and exotics. Several of his pieces, including his article about the 2015 Ford F-150 being crowned TAWA's 2014 "Truck of Texas" and his review of the Alfa Romeo 4C Spider, have won awards in TAWA's annual Excellence in Craft Competition. Last year, his JK Forum profile of Wagonmaster, a business that restores Jeep Wagoneers, won prizes in TAWA’s signature writing contest and its pickup- and SUV-focused Texas Truck Invitational.

In addition to writing for a variety of Internet Brands sites, including JK Forum and Ford Truck Enthusiasts, Derek also contributes to other outlets. He started There Will Be Cars on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube to get even more automotive content out to fellow enthusiasts.

He can be reached at [email protected]

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