As some readers know, BBQ has become a big part of my business over the past couple of years, with most of the events I host being somehow connected to the automotive world. We’ve had a few adventures along the way and when Canadian rally ace turned driver training advocate, Leo “Crazy Leo” Urlichich was looking for someone to conduct a week long food experiment in the woods of Northern Ontario, I jumped at the chance to challenge myself.
The challenge was to head to the wilds of the Ottawa Valley and feed the crew and participants of the first week long edition of Urlichich’s Race Lab advanced driving school, but there was a bit of a twist. Not only did the task involve feeding lunch to seven students for a week, but also offering up all day snacking options and dinner for the Race Lab crew. Each day would begin and end with a half hour drive into the middle of nowhere and I would have to bring my kitchen with me, as the locations would change during the course of the week.
The kitchen side of things was a natural decision, as I have spent the past few months towing around this incredible event trailer created by the folks at DCS Appliances. It was built to showcase some of the company’s outdoor kitchen products, specifically a keg fridge, under counter dishwasher and a 48″ built in grill. The marketing materials for this grill say that it was “designed with flexibility in mind” and we planned on putting the unit to the test.
To tow the event trailer, I would need something equally flexible. The folks at Toyota Canada offered up a Cement Grey 2017 Tacoma TRD Pro, complete with Bridgestone Blizzak Winter tires.
The newly introduced TRD Pro variety of the Tacoma is Toyota’s hardest core sporting version of the popular mid-sized pickup, this one being an off road machine. A full complement of off road goodies include skid plates, tuned stainless steel TRD exhaust, taller springs and Fox Racing external reservoir shocks. This truck was up for anything we might throw at it.
Around town, the event trailer typically attracts a lot of attention, I mean how can any guy ignore a trailer made out of diamond plate that is hauling a beer fridge and a 48″ grill? When hooked to the TRD Pro Taco, the attention is ramped up a few notches. Between the tough styling cues and the serious looking grey paint, the descendant of the the original mini truck looks wicked with or without the rolling BBQ. One might assume that the locals knew what this truck was, as I think the Pembroke area must be the Toyota truck capital of Canada. Tacomas and Tundras are everywhere!
When the new Tacoma platform was introduced a couple of years ago in Detroit (or was it New York? They are all a bit of a blur these days) I heard some rumblings around the hall from those who don’t like the model’s traditional seating position. Unlike other trucks, Tacoma passengers sit more like car owners, seemingly on the floor, with legs stretched out. During my time with this truck, I spent close to 20 hours on the road and I gotta tell you that my time behind the wheel was the happiest and most comfortable part of my week.
Fuel economy is never a fun topic with pickup trucks, but I honestly can’t report any quality findings. Just about every day found the Taco idling for 8-10 hours, with doors open and XM radio blasting. I will say that at idle for an entire day, the fuel gauge does not move, despite the “fuel economy for this trip” meter reading 48 L/100. The continual switch from 1st Wave to Lithium was only part of the reason however, as there was a far more practical use of fuel.
The impact resistant bed liner offers a few storage cubbies and a collection of movable tie down bollards, but the highlight for my use was the 400 watt, 110 volt electrical socket. Given that an on-board power inverter was just a pipe-dream even a decade ago, finding a properly weather sealed outlet in the bed of the Taco was the answer to dreams I didn’t know I had. From a heating blanket to keep the propane regulator from freezing, to crock pots and warming trays, the consistent power source saved my bacon more times than I can count.
At the Canadian press launch last month, I sampled the 6-speed manual version on wet, windy gravel roads and found it to be an absolute hoot to drive in a, ummm, sporting manner. This test unit was fitted with the optional 6-speed automatic transmission and still managed to be fun without the trailer attached. If there were any complaints I had with this layout, it is that the sweet sounding stainless steel TRD exhaust becomes a bit oppressive as the tranny drops to 4th gear and the engine spins at 4,000 rpm to haul the rig up a long, steep climb like the hills I encountered on highway 41.
The driving portion of my week saw the Tacoma drag the wee trailer across surfaces that ranged from smooth pavement and equally smooth hard pack snow and ice to mucky gravel roads pocked with VW Beetle sized potholes. On one steep, icy section, I needed to engage the shift on the fly 4wd system, if only to curb a bit of wheel spin from the rear axle. Through all of it, the Tacoma pressed on unfazed.
As far as the food end of my week went, the cast and crew of Race Lab were surprised by fare that ranged from grilled chicken burritos and bacon wrapped jalapeno poppers to pizzas and grilled doughnuts. Naturally, there were burgers and steaks on the menu too.
Upon returning home, I discovered the source of a noise that I had heard while exploring the rather twisty Highway 29, aka Flinton Road. I heard a sproinging noise and assumed that I had run over a piece of something on the road. Further inspection showed that a tie down strap on the trailer had rubbed through and snapped. It just goes to show that when towing a trailer on gravel roads, extra care has to be taken to prevent failures brought on by the extra friction that gravel dust causes.
In a world full of beige Camrys and Corollas, it can be a challenge to remember that at its core, Toyota is a company that really wants to have a bit of fun. While the Toyota 86 and Lexus F-models are perhaps the most obvious nods to the fun, the TRD Pro edition of the Tacoma is the spiritual successor to the machines that Ivan “Iron Man” Stewart made famous in desert races like the Baja 1000. The 2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro is undeniably worthy of that heritage!