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We don't get many pickups here at CNET Car Tech, so there's always a driving-style adjustment that has to happen every time I'm tossed the keys to one. The 2012 Tacoma TRD T|X Baja Series that was no exception.
The Tacoma is a small truck, but with the additions of the Baja Series accessories, it's a towering monster, sitting eye to eye with its larger sibling, the Tundra. The high ride height, bright red paint, and crazy Baja Series graphics were attention grabbers everywhere I took the Tacoma around the San Francisco Bay Area. But this isn't just a styling and graphics upgrade. As it turns out, Toyota has crammed quite a bit of tried and true off-roading tech under that bright-red body.
TRD T|X Baja Series
The Baja Series starts with a 2012 Tacoma Crew Cab 4x4 with its 4.0-liter, 236-hp V-6 engine. This is a simple, stupid engine with no direct injection and no forced induction, just Toyota's variable valve-timing technology augmenting its 24 valves. 59 horsepower per liter and 266 pound-feet of torque aren't particularly impressive in 2012, but like most truck engines, the Tacoma's heart is designed to be bulletproof and rugged, not clever. Still, I can't help but think that the addition of DI would boost power and efficiency without adversely affecting reliability.
Speaking of efficiency, the EPA rates the 2012 Tacoma V-6 at 16 mpg in the city and 21 mpg on the highway.
It's possible that those fuel efficiency estimates could be improved with an extra forward gear. As is, the Tacoma sends its power through a five-speed automatic transmission and onward to the rear axle in its default setting. The 4x4 designation indicates that the Tacoma can also put power to the front axle, but this switch doesn't happen automatically. The driver is able to manually select between 2WD and 4WD HI with the twist of a knob located near the steering wheel. You can make that change with the transmission in D, but only at low speeds or when the vehicle is stopped. Additionally, there's a third 4WD LO mode that can only be used at very low speeds (5 to 10 mph) for controlled application of high torque in, for example, rock-climbing situations.
Also present on our Tacoma was the Towing package, which adds a towing receiver hitch (Class-IV) with seven-pin connector, transmission coolers, an engine oil cooler, a 130-amp alternator and heavy-duty battery, and Trailer-Sway Control (TSC). With the Towing package, the Tacoma's towing capacity jumps from 3,500 pounds to 6,400, and its tongue load grows from 350 pounds to 640.
The standard V-6 4x4 drivetrain seems fairly capable for most light dirt trail off-roading, but our Tacoma is loaded up with even more equipment. The optional TRD Off-Road package adds a user-selectable locking rear differential that can be used to further control the traction shift between the rear wheels in slick situations such as scrambling out of mud. Toyota recommends that you don't use the locking rear differential above 5 mph and only in low-traction conditions to avoid damage to the drivetrain. This package also bumps the Traction Control system up to Active Traction Control and adds Hill Start Assist Control and Downhill Assist Control to aid in stability when ascending or descending steep grades. You also get an engine skid plate to protect the V-6 from rock and log damage from below, a front tow hook in case you want to help a fellow off-roader get unstuck with a pull (or need help getting yourself unstuck), and a 115V/400W deck-mounted AC power outlet to juice any electronic equipment, tools, or toys that you may need on the trail.
The TRD Off-Road package also adds a number of convenience features unrelated to off-roading, including remote keyless entry, sunglasses holders, illuminated vanity mirrors, a rearview mirror with integrated thermometer, compass, and HomeLink, steering-wheel audio controls, and upgraded body and interior trim. A rearview camera is also available on the Tacoma, oddly as part of the TRD Off-Road package, which helps the driver avoid trees when reversing around a camp site and other cars when parallel-parking the tall TRD T|X Baja Series model while in town.
Interestingly, the rubber all-season floor mats are not part of this package and are a separate $165 option.
On top of even the Off-Road package, our TRD T|X Baja Series model finally adds its Baja Series accessories. The suspension is upgraded with TRD Bilstein Race Shocks on both the front and rear axles. The rear dampers use external reservoirs to increase travel and lower operating temperatures thanks to increased fluid capacity. Furthermore, the red 60mm coils of the front suspension and additional plumbing of the rear dampers look pretty cool when parked, if you're into showing off your gear. The Tacoma's 16-inch wheels are replaced with 16-inch TRD beadlock wheels, which clamp down on the BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO tires, allowing low tire pressures to be run when off-roading without fear of the rubber separating from the wheel. The stock exhaust system is replaced with a TRD Cat-Back Exhaust that's, at the very least, louder and the exterior of the Tacoma is slathered in red paint with black TRD T|X Baja Series graphic decals.
Toyota Entune + JBL audio
The basic stereo for the Crew Cab Tacoma is a six-speaker rig with standard USB/iPod connectivity, Bluetooth hands-free calling with audio streaming, SiriusXM satellite radio, AM/FM terrestrial radio, analog auxiliary input, and a CD player with MP3/WMA playback capability. That's a pretty respectable setup to begin with, especially when compared with the entry-level Regular Cab's four-speaker rig with only an analog input.