Archives for August 2017
Following the muddy launch of the TRD Pro models of Toyota’s Tundra and Tacoma, we headed to the Northern reaches of the Ottawa Valley for a week of work with a sweet Cement Grey Taco, with the DCS Appliances event trailer in tow. That combined rig stirred up attention everywhere we went, so when a similar trip came onto the horizon recently, it only made sense to see how the big brother Tundra would fare.
The event would see us head from Whitby to Mont Tremblant, a ski town in rural Quebec which also is the home of Le Circuit Mont Tremblant, where we would spend a the better part of the week feeding our friends from Driveteq, who would be spending a couple of days lapping the historic race track.
Once again, we would be grilling on the trailer mounted DCS grill, but we would also be roasting a pig in our La Caja China roaster, which meant we needed a capable hauler with lots of space. We knew the Tundra is big and that the TRD Pro version is tough off road, but would it do the tasks we were presenting it with? We also knew that the Tundra can be a tad on the thirsty side so we were curious to know how it performed when fully loaded.
The traditional domestics have worked hard to surpass the traditional import truck makers when it comes to interior feel and some of them (specifically Ram’s attention to detail) have risen above the rest, including the Tundra. While the interior of the Tundra is both sporty and tough looking, our thoughts were more to the comfort side of things for a long week of driving. How would the seats fare under the weight of my 3XL sized frame and how would my back feel at the end?
Off road packages offered by some manufacturers tend to be of the mild, stickers and fluff variety while others go to the extreme in offering full desert racing spec for those wannabe Baja racers. The TRD-Pro version of the built-in-Texas Tundra falls somewhere to the right of that pendulum arc, offering subtle design cues along with carefully chosen performance upgrades. Beyond the visual branding cues, the most immediately noticeable is the addition of a high flowing performance exhaust, which gives the 381 horsepower 5.7L V8 some serious bark to go with its bite.
When knowledgeable off road enthusiasts start a new build, one of the first changes they often make is to install Bilstein dampers on all four corners, as much for their ability to smooth out a vehicle’s on road presence as for their excellence in the rough stuff. It is heartening that Toyota’s engineering team chose to go the same route when outfitting the TRD-Pro Tundra, as the highway ride is firm yet delightfully smooth for such a big truck.
Naturally, our trip began with the obligatory McMuffin stop!
Our route would take us from Durham region, east of Toronto, through cottage country and skirting the nation’s capital before crossing over into Quebec and heading to ski country. For years, when heading to Ottawa, we would travel the route along Highway 401 like most drivers, until we learned that the trip following the two lane Highway 7 is just as quick. The driving is much more laid back, with great views and lots of little towns to explore and grab a coffee along the way.
We know the route well now, so our exploration began after our usual visit to Costco in Gatineau to pick up beer for the week. For Ontario residents visiting the Ottawa area, it is worth mentioning that beer in Quebec is seriously cheap. At Costco, which is less than 10 minutes from Parliament Hill, a 24 bottle case of Stella Artois is $46.95 plus deposit at The Beer Store. The same package at Costco is just $27.95 plus deposit.
Having allowed ourselves an extra day before we had to feed the masses, we decided to take a fairly direct route to Mont Tremblant, so we could make the most of our time away. Our drive took us north east on the scenic Highway 50 headed towards the Laurentians, before turning north on the more interesting 323 at Montebello.
As the countryside switched from riverlands to mountains, we began to encounter long, steep climbs. These ascents were of little concern to the heavily loaded rig, but there was one really cool side effect: the six speed transmission dropped to fourth for long stretches, the big V8 spun up to 3,500 rpm at 100 km/h, with a bellow worthy of a Trans-Am car bouncing through the neighbouring forest.
It is worth noting that during our first two days with the TRD-Pro, just booting around town with an empty truck, we averaged about 16.8 L/100 km. As I said before, we knew that the Tundra was a bit thirsty. We were pleasantly surprised to find that even with a very full load, the Tundra’s fuel economy improved to an impressive 16.2 L/100 km at highway speeds.
If you talk to any car racers from the golden age of the late Sixties about Le Circuit Mont Tremblant, inevitably the call it St. Jovite. This is largely because the largest neighbouring town, the one which actually has stores etc. is called St. Jovite. The actual town of Mont Tremblant is a tiny hamlet in between the racing circuit and the gigantic pedestrian village at the base of the historic mountain.
We spent our first night in a wonderful, independent resort called Château Beauvallon, just a few minutes from the pedestrian village. This was the last week in May and we learned that while visiting ski country in the off season can mean that some features, like restaurants, are not available, there are also some perks. We were one of only three rooms occupied in the 70 room hotel and staff had nicely located us directly next to the outdoor hot tub, while the other guests were on the opposite side of the hotel. Even though the on site restaurant was closed, dinner was no problem, as the hotel offered a free shuttle to and from the village.
Several of the restaurants in the village were also closed given the time off year, so we settled on dinner at the chain restaurant Casey’s. To say we were unimpressed would be charitable.
I was determined to have a bit of fun so I decided that a visit to Le Diable, a micro brewery right in the pedestrian village, was in order. I have been to the joint on a bunch of press trips, and every single time had a great time. Named after the river which winds its way though the region, Le Diable is night time hub where locals and visitors congregate to consume adult beverages in a setting that is part ski chalet, part sugar shack. On this trip, we spent our evening chatting with a lady who works for the company which owns the resort, watching the shenanigans of a gaggle of off shift employees who were treating the bar like their own playground. It really was quite entertaining!
Our next few days were spent trackside at the iconic racing track, which hosted the Canadian Grand Prix in 1968 and 1970. We were providing catering for the guests of Driveteq, a company which provides multiple levels of service to driving enthusiasts, from track days and instruction to race car rentals. They have recently included travel in their repertoire, shepherding participants to “bucket list” tracks such as Mosport, Tremblant and The Glen. That meant that we spent our week surrounded by all sorts of sporting machinery, from Alfa Romeo and Porsche to McLaren and Ferrari.
For our final day in town, we took the opportunity to drive some of the spectacular roads around the area. Most are well groomed pavement, with literally hundreds of challenging curves and elevation changes. Mindful of the reality that ski country is usually also cycling country, we learned that the off road focused suspension tuning is remarkably adept at handling twisty roads. The Bilstein shocks do a great job of keeping the wheels planted on hard acceleration over uneven pavement.
The countryside is dotted with cool little hamlets, vintage resorts from days gone by and spectacular views, making a drive through the area almost as much fun as taking in a track day. Watch out for wildlife though, as deer are plentiful and closer in to the ski resort they are not shy.
For the drive home, we took a similar route home through the Laurentians on our way back to Gatineau, but didn’t think about stopping thanks to the torrential rain. Until of course we came across the home town of Canadian hockey legend Guy Lafleur. Ville de Thurso has a large sculpture of the famed Canadien, so we had to stop by for a quick pic.
The drive home through Ontario cottage country was uneventful as the sun finally broke through and the roads dried out.
It should actually be pointed out that Quebec is Toyota truck country as there seem to be more of them than any other brand on the roads. Local truck fans knew instantly what our truck was and parking lot compliments were made frequently. One guy event took a picture to send to a buddy.
Overall, the Tundra proved to be a more than willing work partner during the entire trip. We actually spent two full weeks with the truck and it averaged out to 16.3 L/100 KM which is more than acceptable given the tasks it was given. From a comfort level, both driver and passenger were in great shape at both ends of the trip, never feeling anything but comfort.
The Tundra TRD-Pro is one of those test vehicles that I was sad to see go. Very sad.