Taco Con Carnes: Adding More Meat to a 2017 Tacoma

Taco Con Carnes: Adding More Meat to a 2017 Tacoma

by: David Zipf


The midsize truck segment is incredibly hot right now.  The rebirth of this segment started in 2015 when GM brought out a new Colorado/Canyon twin pair.  This was quickly followed with the debut of the 3rd generation Toyota Tacoma (which has already been refreshed for the 2020 model year), the 2nd generation Honda Ridgeline, a new Ford Ranger, and the Jeep Gladiator.  Hell Nissan might even get off its ass and replace the Frontier. With full-size trunks having grown to utterly bonkers proportions, the people who want an affordable, easy to drive truck have lit a fire under the OEM masses to put out smaller trucks people can actually use on a daily basis.


I suppose that’s why when Toyota debuted the 3rd gen Tacoma they went conservative.  It’s the only truck on the market that still uses a C-channel frame (a necessity since the chassis is a modified 2nd gen chassis).  The rear axle and suspension are identical to the 2nd gen truck. The transmission is the same 6-speed automatic or manual you got in the 2nd gen truck but with different ratios.  The 3.5L Atkinson V6 is plucked straight out of the Camry hybrid with the Synergy drive removed (presumably because the planetary gear transmission was not up to the task of towing).  A lot of this is good news: after all the Tacoma pretty well carried the midsize truck market on its own when the American OEMs turned their backs on smaller trucks. And when the Tacoma stood head and shoulders above the crowd by just BEING there, it was OK to be a little behind the times.  But to win the 2020 truck wars, Toyota needs to bring something extra to the fight. For example, the TRD PRO looks pretty cool with its snorkel, locking rear diff, Crawl Control, and Fox bypass Shocks. But compare it to the Colorado ZR2 or the Jeep Gladiator Rubicon, and the Tacoma gets its ass whooped. 

Stock 2017 Tacoma TRD Off-Road
Our test mule is a 2017 Tacoma TRD Off-Road. This truck is configured with the 3.5L V6, the 6-speed automatic transmission, and a crew cab. The TRD Off-Road also adds an electronic rear locker, front skidplates, Blistein dampers, and a slight spring lift to the standard Tacoma package. Toyota also adds in their fancy Crawl Control and Terrain Select system to aid in traversing rough terrain. Overall, it’s a pretty good package with a nice, simple interior, lots of storage space, and handsome styling (ugly chrome grille notwithstanding).

With Toyota’s reputation for quality, it’s almost embarrassing how pathetic the TRD’s tires are.  The OEM tire is a Goodyear Wrangler A/T and how Toyota thought they could put it on a truck with “Off Road” in the name is incomprehensible.  For starters, the tread is a full street pattern with small lugs, oriented for quietness and comfort. The compound is very greasy with little traction in the dry and even less in the wet.  We went through a bit of mud and couldn’t go more than 10 feet before the tires were hopelessly clogged and we were stuck solid. This resulted in us having to dig and rock the truck out for a good 20 minutes to free it.

Stuck in the Mud
This was immediately after getting out of the mud. You can see how the tire has completely clogged with mud and looks like a slick. Pathetic.

On top of this, in 45,000 miles, we ended up with four punctures, three of which were in the same tire, and all of which we fixed ourselves.  After putting up with this for nearly two years, it was time to make a change.  So we sat down and figured out what to put onto our bright orange pickup.

Spare Tire is Best Tire
While we have a lot of confidence in my plugging abilities, three plugs in one tire was just a little too sketchy for us, so we drove on the full size spare for a few months while we chose new wheels and tires for the Taco. This is good for the spare since driving on it finalizes the vulcanizing process of the tire. We’ve already seen what happens when a new tire sits unused for 10 years and then gets driven on and it ain’t pretty!

We decided we wanted to fit some more tire under the truck while we were in the market for new tires.  We didn’t really want more diameter (since the automatic version of the Tacoma is WAY overgeared already), but more width would be welcome, partly to help fill out the fenders, but also to add more traction in all conditions and more floatation off-road.  The original Tacoma TRD Off-Road tire size is 265-70/16. A 285 width tire would easily fit under the factory fenders provided we didn’t try going too tall. Armed with a tape measure, we figured out a 285-70/16 tire would fit without any lifting. For the Tacoma, the front fenders are the limiting factor with some odd clearance bumps that limit the compression and steering lock of a bigger tire.  The rear fender has a lot more clearance so this is less of an issue. While we figured out a 285 tire would fit, we would need reduced offset wheels to clear the upper ball joint. The stock wheels have a +25mm offset and we would need to have an offset of +10mm or less to clear the upper ball joint. Using different wheels would also allow us to use a wider wheel better suited to the wider tire. After a bunch of internet sleuthing, we settled on our wheel/tire combo.

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