(Image Credits: Andrew Collins)

With five windows wide open and ocean breeze flowing through the cab, our 2017 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro bounded over Pismo Beach’s dunes like a golden retriever in hot pursuit of a tennis ball. No special “sand mode.” No fancy forced induction. Just a snarling V8 and an overstuffed driver’s seat. And it felt so right.

(Full Disclosure: I begged Toyota to let me play with its off-road spec half-ton truck before the thing was axe’d for the 2018 model year. The company had one delivered to my office with a full tank of fuel, and I put it through a triathlon of truckliness: this Tundra helped a friend move, went off-roading, and towed a project car more than 200 miles.)

The Tundra is one of those vehicles that’s become so old it also qualifies as old-school. But that’s clearly part of its charm.

In those last ten years, the Ford F-150 has moved to a lightweight aluminum body and gained advanced off-road traction management systems. General Motors has introduced fuel-saving cylinder deactivation and pushed its hauling capacities way beyond where they were in 2007. Nissan made the Titan XD an all new size. Ram has cultivated a huge gallery of configurations so it can offer some of the cheapest and fanciest half-ton trucks on the road.

Toyota’s still making the same old Tundra. Forget drive modes or advanced connectivity—the Tundra doesn’t even have two-zone climate control. But this truck’s got it where it counts: the engine’s solid, every piece feels overbuilt and the interface is completely idiot-proof.

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Anyway, Toyota must be doing something right with this thing, because Tundras still command some of the highest resale values of any gas-powered pickup in America. Between that and this truck’s short three-year production run, I think the TRD Pro version will be some kind of classic someday.

What Is It?

The Toyota Tundra’s a standard-sized half-ton pickup truck that’s been around since the year 2000, yet somehow is only in its second design generation. The current body style has been with us for about a decade.

The TRD Pro trim level landed on the scene for the 2015 model year as sort of a half-step between a sticker-and-tire package and a full-blown extreme variant like a Ford Raptor.

Other than some small decorative bits, the Tundra TRD Pro pretty much boils down to bigger tires, a stainless cat-back exhaust system, a rear sway bar and fat-diameter external-reservoir shocks that add nice cushion off-road and give your abrupt lane changes a little dramatic flare on the asphalt.

Why Does It Matter?

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One of the most commonly recurring complaints I see in Jalopnik’s comments, forums and everywhere else people talk about trucks is some variation of: “why can’t I buy an honest truck anymore?”

People are spending serious money on ultra-modern F-150s and Silverados, but a whole lot of you seem to wish you could bypass the bling and refinement those offer for something that just masters the basics of being a truck.

From where I’m sitting, the Tundra TRD Pro feels like the ultimate execution of that. It’s simple to use and aesthetically low-key, but it sounds great and rides beautifully on everything from tarmac to as much off-road terrain as most people would subject their late-model daily driver to.

The Tundra TRD Pro matters because it seems like a great compromise between basic truck integrity and daily drivability with a reasonable sprinkling of personality. Too bad it’s so freaking expensive.

Standout Features

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The 381 horsepower 5.7-liter V8 at the heart of the TRD Pro is the same mill under the hood of every other Tundra. That two-exit’d exhaust is actually an option you can spec on any Tundra too, and it might be the best $1,100 you can spend at a Toyota dealership.

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This video doesn’t really do it justice, but it might help you get a taste. This thing burns a lot of fuel but it least it goes to a good cause.

The truck’s rear window, which rolls down in its entirety into the body of the truck, is another sweet feature that’s also available in the rest of the Toyota truck lineup. With that thing and every other window rolled all the way down, you can almost feel like you’re in a convertible with shade- optimal beach cruising conditions.

Besides some unique colors and stamping on the bedsides, the TRD Pro’s main distinguishing feature is the suspension. It’s built around dual internal piston external reservoir shocks that Bilstein makes specially for Toyota.

Everything’s beefy under here. The steering rack, ball joints and sway bar are all nice and thick.

The brochure says those shocks provide an extra two inches of wheel travel up front and 1.25 in the rear. Practically speaking, they feel very soft on hard ground. Not unsafe, but vague steering is definitely a noticeable side-effect of the setup that makes the truck feel like an off-roader all the time.

32-inch tires, which still manage to look small under the Tundra’s behemoth of a cab, give the truck a solid 10.6 inches of ground clearance.

Disappointments

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Like everybody who didn’t buy this thing, I pretty much hate it for all the same reasons I love it.

“Old-school simplicity” sucks when it means no heated seats in my $47,000 adventure vehicle. This truck’s enormous snout also begs for a 360-degree camera system to help park it. Or, at least, some sort of proximity alert on the front bumper.

Fuel economy is bad, even for a truck this size. I averaged in the low teens after about 500 miles of varied use. And towing doesn’t feel all that comfortable even well below the truck’s 9,000-plus pound rated capacity.

With a 1984 Nissan 300ZX (about 3,000 pounds) and a rented U-Haul two-axle car trailer (about 2,000 pounds) on this Tundra’s hitch, acceleration was crippled and braking response felt significantly weakened. Our test truck had a tow package with a trailer brake controller, and made it 200-odd miles home with the load without incident, but this is not a truck you can drive and “forget there’s a trailer behind you.”

Casual Driving

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The Tundra’s seats are almost oddly enormous. I wouldn’t be surprised if another adult as scrawny as me could share the driver’s seat without being too much of an inconvenience.

In fact, everything seems oversized. The center console is vast, even the door handles make me wonder if I’ve shrunk to doll size when my hand gets near them. I know, all half-ton pickup trucks are big, but the pieces of the Tundra’s cabin seemed dramatically large.

All this creates quite an air of kinglyness, though. Rolling through beach towns, V8 burbling, body making big sways around slow corners on soft shocks... the Tundra has a kind of swagger that makes it oddly fun to drive gently.

That same sensation of enormity is a little annoying when you’re fighting your way through a city though, obviously. And I’d really feel better about driving this every day with at least another 2 or 3 mpg on top of the 14 average I saw.

Aggressive Driving

With a claimed 0 to 60 time of a little under seven seconds, the Tundra’s no slouch, but it’s not neck-snappingly quick, either. It feels fast, at least, thanks to that bold exhaust I keep talking about and the snap-up sensation courtesy of the soft shocks.

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I’ve noticed the same phenomenon on the current 3.5-liter Toyota Tacoma: mash the gas and the hood soars into the air, tricking you with a surprisingly exciting sensation of speed even if the speedometer needle’s moving modestly.

In reality, the truck’s more than fast enough to get out of its own way. So what else do you need?

Charging off-pavement and into the sand dunes is fun, and the truck has plenty of power to chew through soft stuff as long as you can carry some momentum. Four-wheel drive does the trick when you can’t.

The truck feels pretty solid from the driver’s seat, at speed in open dunes, but it’s an unsettling sight to behold from the outside. The bed quivers and creaks at a disturbingly spastic pace that makes me fear for the fidelity of the mounts holding that thing to the frame. That said, I bet a little weight back there would balance it out.

Who’s It For?

If you had a new truck in the ’90s, and miss it, the Tundra TRD Pro feels like that but with way more power and nice suspension. It’s what you wish your truck had been twenty years ago.

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People who miss the simplicity of old trucks but want something like modern performance, or just outright want to reject luxuries in a 4x4, and also are unabashed Toyota fans, will really dig this truck.

I really enjoyed driving this thing and got a lot of satisfaction out of its purity. But, of course, the $50,000 question is: Why spend all that money on a new truck that can’t match its competition for features?

Value

Our test truck, with a spray-in bedliner and optional black “TUNDRA” lettering on the tailgate, rang up at $47,883 after a delivery processing and handling fee. That’s about a $9,000 premium over the smaller but arguably sexier Tacoma, and $15,000 shy of a Ford Raptor.

The Raptor easily justifies the premium it commands over this with cheat-mode settings, speed and capability. But it’s also a much more focused vehicle with a unique engine, interior and an advanced terrain response system. As we discussed earlier, the Tundra TRD Pro is pretty much just a nice set of shocks and tires.

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But there are ways to line things up more evenly. Let’s say we took our $48,000 to a Ford dealer. You’d get a four-door 4WD F-150 XLT with a V8 and a 10-speed automatic. You’d have Ford’s SYNC 3 infotainment, heated front seats, slightly softer FX4 off-road shocks, parking sensors and blind-spot warnings. But no bedliner, no leather, and no center console. You’d also have a much rougher ride over bad terrain than you do in the Tundra. Way better gas mileage, though. A new F-150’s V8 rates at 22 mpg on the highway while the Toyota pulls an abysmal 17.

The Tundra TRD Pro is definitely not the most cost-effective path to owning an off-road capable pickup truck. And there’s not really enough setting it apart from other options that are newer and easier to live with, which makes it tough to justify for anyone who’s not hardcore about being team Toyota.

Verdict

Every time I think about reviewing a Tundra, the same thing always comes to my head first: “this is just a solid-ass truck,” bed-shakes over bumps notwithstanding.

I loved how strong the TRD Pro felt and sounded around town, and it did just fine galloping through the dunes, too. I felt like I could get in this truck and throw it at anything, and better yet, I could even take it through town and enjoy myself without feeling too self-conscious.

What I’m saying is, despite its technological shortcomings, this vehicle was a lot of fun to drive.

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RIP Bruce Brown.

But as much as I enjoyed this thing, and as much as I dig a factory off-road spec for anything, I can see why the Tundra TRD Pro is riding off into the sunset this year.

When most people spend $50,000 on a truck, they’re going to want heated seats and other toys we all kind of expect at that price.

I still think this truck will be a low-key collector’s item some day, but its appeal is a little too niche hang out in Toyota’s lineup forever.