The impenetrable morning rush in Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi is a fusion of the frenetic and the absolute. Bikes of all kinds and pedestrians flood the streets. Traffic is teeming in all directions, all the time. To navigate your way through Hanoi, you need a sharp sense of size and space.
If you’re riding on something with two wheels, you blend in. With four wheels, you stand out like an utter giant. And if your four-wheeled conveyance is a full-size pickup truck, you’re an octopus among a pool full of pilot fish.
We traveled to Vietnam to get our hands on two of Toyota’s latest permutations on the off-road-ready truck theme, the Tacoma TRD Pro and Tundra TRD Pro. (We’ll have to wait to bring you a review of the 4Runner TRD Pro, the third member of the family.) Toyota Racing Development is Toyota’s in-house team that enhances its trucks’ off road capabilities, and TRD Pro takes the concept to a new level, given the rise in talented homegrown off-roaders like the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 and Ford F-150 Raptor. The Tacoma TRD Pro arrives on the heels of several successful years of sales of the larger Tundra TRD Pro, and the package is designed to offer off-roading enthusiasts a factory-modified truck that also comes with a warranty: the best of both worlds.
Prior to arriving to pick them up in Hanoi, these trucks had traveled (mostly on dirt and mud trails) north from Ho Chi Minh City, aka Saigon, where some pro motorcyclists and their buddies had given them a proper thrashing. Our journey would stretch south from Hanoi back to Ho Chi Minh City over a period of about 10 days. Getting to spend hundreds of miles with the two trucks in an entirely unfamiliar environment would provide a full picture of their everyday livability.
What you need to know about the TRD Pro treatment to the Tacoma and Tundra is immediately obvious. Subtlety was not on the brief that led to their creation. You’ll know a TRD Pro model from the moment you see “TOYOTA” written across the grille, instead of a less prominent logo. Blacked-out elements are all over the Tacoma TRD Pro, from the headlights to the 16-inch wheels to the leather seats inside. Off-road crawl control and a locking rear differential are also part of the package. The changes to the larger Tundra are subtler, comprising stainless-steel exhaust pipes, an aluminum front skid plate, and blacked-out 18-inch alloy wheels (which look much smaller than they actually are).
Performance-wise, the TRD Pro models aren’t upgraded in any way, but the Tacoma and Tundra use their respective 278-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 and 381-hp, 5.7-liter V-8. Let’s just say they possess enough grunt to make any getaway quick.
Once we escaped the urban chaos and the road turned into an expressway not unlike New York City's FDR Drive — full of potholes and narrow lanes but, in general, a modern highway — the TRD Pro trucks began to shine. The duo of hardly looked out of place in Vietnam, a country littered with trucks and utility vehicles, just like the United States. Speed limits are rarely posted and seldom enforced, but opportunities for wide-open throttle are sporadic. Locals gawked at the dressed-up trucks, as beefy off-road pickups are still scarce in Vietnam, and we got a number of thumbs-up from Vietnamese Toyota loyalists.
Were these the two best adventure vehicles for a north-to-south drive through unfamiliar territory? The Tundra was a great choice, with plenty of room in both the front and rear, and limo-like levels of insulation. (Luckily, Toyota picked up the tab for fuel.) The Tacoma, on the other hand, would have been better suited to a mix of highway and trail driving; we mostly stayed on the pavement. The Tacoma’s brittle ride quality and lack of refinement made the Tundra feel like a Rolls-Royce.
By the time we reached Ho Chih Minh City, we had learned enough about the way the trucks behave to drive them right into the thick of traffic. It was still daunting to negotiate the city streets hardly holding a map, but after 10 days, helming the TRD Pro trucks was like proudly waving a flag. Anywhere we went, we calmed the waters. These trucks are alright.
Tacoma TRD Pro: 278 HP, $41,920; toyota.com/trdpro
Tundra TRD Pro: 381 HP, $44,690; toyota.com/trdpro