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Review: 2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro

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2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro

Toyota brought back the TRD Pro package for the 2017 Tacoma pickup truck. We were stoked about that as the TRD Pro is the Tacoma trim level to get for serious off-road fun. The 2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro is available only as a crew cab (“Double Cab”) in four-by-four with a short bed. The towing package is standard, as are better shock absorbers, improved suspension and body clearance heights, skid plates, and a lot more.

The 2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro is made for off-pavement fun. It comes standard with the Tacoma’s V6, which is rated at 278HP and 265 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission or a six-speed manual transmission are offered with that. A special starting mode allows the manual transmission-equipped Tacoma TRD Pro to be started without the clutch being depressed, which eliminates slippage when starting on a steep incline. It’s super useful for those high-incline stall points.

2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro

The engine in the Tacoma TRD Pro is a good one, but it still feels sluggish on the road and underpowered when pushing up to speed for a freeway entrance. The TRD Pro model is definitely made for bounding around off the pavement and that’s more than obvious during highway driving. The optimistic EPA estimates of 18 mpg (manual) and 20 mpg combined (automatic) for fuel economy are also not likely to be reality for Tacoma TRD Pro drivers.

Why? Because of the insane amount of equipment that’s mounted to the Tacoma TRD Pro. It’s basically a juiced up TRD Off-Road model, like the one we reviewed last year. It has its own 16-inch alloy wheels, which are unique to this trim, and comes standard with the towing package as well. The Bilstein shock absorbers and the heavier suspension system from the TRD Off-Road are also on the TRD Pro, but the model replaces the lower-end dampers in favor of Fox units. The revised springs on the 2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro lift the body of the truck a bit higher than its model brethren (roughly half an inch) and highlight the big skid plate that’s added to the undercarriage up front. This eliminates the chin spoiler on the Tacoma for an improved approach angle. The TRD Off-Road’s electronic locking rear differential and crawl control (the latter with the automatic only) are also standard on the TRD Pro model. Unique exterior badges, stickers, and other items also denote the TRD Pro, as do the power-sliding rear window glass and LED foglights.

2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro

Inside, the 2017 Tacoma TRD Pro showcases why it’s the top-most model trim for the truck. Leather seating is standard as are many of the items found in the lower trims’ Premium and Technology packages such as automatic headlights, dual-zone climate, rear parking sensors with blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, and more. Useful items like a 120-volt power outlet in the bed of the truck (controlled by a switch in the cab), wireless Qi phone charging, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror are also standard in the TRD Pro.

These things and a good basic interior design are reasons to love the Toyota Tacoma overall, from a user’s perspective. We’re still not fond of the sometimes ungainly driver’s position thanks to the weird sports car-like seat setup for the driver, which extends the legs more than what’s normally found in a truck or SUV. This can make stretching to grip the wheel a little fatiguing, especially for taller drivers. The limited tilt-telescope of the steering only makes this worse. The Tacoma is otherwise excellent in its interior fit and no-nonsense finish. We’re also more fond of Toyota’s new infotainment interface than we have been with previous renditions.

2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro

Entune has received some updates and the Tacoma benefits from that, with the upgraded 7-inch touchscreen (6.1-inch is standard) having a nicely straightforward interface that seems fitting for the Tacoma itself, in terms of function creating form as its basic design. Some things that technophiles might want to see, such as CarPlay or Auto, aren’t there and the integration of apps is pretty sparse. Still, it’s a nicely-done setup that is far better than what we’ve seen in Toyota vehicles in previous model years.

Other pickups in the small truck classes, such as the Chevrolet Colorado and its GMC Canyon twin, have a better exterior look. We’re not fond of the Tacoma TRD Pro’s fat lipped front grille or ungainly front overhang. But neither of the GM models can outdo the Tacoma TRD Pro off the road or in the muck. Neither can the more road-friendly Honda Ridgeline, which is a better people-hauler and occasional-use pickup than is the Tacoma in any of its forms.

2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro Interior

Probably the only rival for the Tacoma at all is in the Nissan Frontier, whose Pro-4X package can definitely give the TRD Off-Road a run for its money. None of these rivals can outdo the Tacoma with its TRD Pro package when off-pavement shenanigans are the game. That could change if the Jeep Wrangler pickup comes to fruition and has a Rubicon package option. But until then, the 2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro is definitely the king of the off-road.

The real meat of the Tacoma TRD Pro, though, is in its capability and focus. We realized that fact after hours of dirt clod throwing, hill climbing, mud-slinging, and back country running in the Tacoma TRD Pro. Not once did we worry about getting stuck nor did we have issue with any of the equipment seeming to be under-par for the terrain. The TRD Pro isn’t an out of the box rock climber or river forder, but it’s got the chops to get into places that other pickups dare not tread. For that, we love the 2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro.

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All-New 2019 Jeep Cherokee Is Still A Jeep But Way Prettier

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2019 Jeep Cherokee

Jeep decided to completely revamp the Cherokee for the 2019 model year. They’ve kept most of the things that made the previous-generation Cherokee a winner, but gave it a serious makeover to get rid of the ugly. We spent a week with the rig and thoroughly enjoyed its new design.

Surprisingly enough, the Cherokee is Jeep’s best-seller. So much so that Fiat Chrysler decided to drop the Chrysler 200 and Dodge Dart from their lineup in order to free up production lines to make more Jeeps. This despite the beating the car took from the automotive press over the 2015-2018 Cherokee’s beak-nosed design. Buyers were won over by the Cherokee’s excellent dynamics, Jeep-worthy off-road credibility, and smoothly upscale interior.

The 2019 Jeep Cherokee keeps those high points for the crossover, but ditches the beak nose for a more Jeep-contemporary flat face to house the vertical slotted grille. This puts the Cherokee more clearly into the lineup of Jeep crossover-SUVs, where it rides beneath the larger Grand Cherokee and above the smaller Compass. It’s no longer the odd man out in the Jeep family.

2019 Jeep Cherokee

Also added for the new 2019 Cherokee are new powertrain choices. A new turbocharged four-cylinder engine is now offered, as is the venerable and well-vetted, basic 2.4-liter four and the smooth 3.2-liter V6 upgrade. The turbo-four is meant to split the difference between the 2.4 and the 3.2 and does a very good job of it. So much so that we’d say it’s our preferred engine for the Cherokee.

The base model’s 2.4-liter four-cylinder “Tigershark” engine has been with the Jeep (and Chrysler) lineup for years as a steady puller in a lot of vehicles. It offers up to 30 mpg on the highway, per the EPA. The V6, on the other hand, has been the go-to for Cherokee buyers who want more oomph and better towing capability. It’s rated at 271 horsepower and 239 pound-feet of torque and receives an EPA fuel economy estimate of up to 24 mpg on the highway.

Enter the new 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, which outputs an impressive 270 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. The EPA rates this engine at up to 31 mpg on the highway. That beats the base model’s highway rating and adds more torque than the V6. Power outputs in the 2.0L are quicker on the draw, coming at lower RPM, and the towing capability between the turbocharged four and the V6 is a mere 500 pounds. All for an upgrade price that is only about $500 over the six. The punchier responses, better fuel economy, and strong torque output while off-road are all good reasons to think of the 2.0L turbo-four as the best engine option for the 2019 Cherokee. Until Jeep decides to make a Trackhawk or diesel version, that is. Then bets are off.

2019 Jeep Cherokee

Going inside the new 2019 Jeep Cherokee, we assumed that with all of this opportunity for Jeep to screw things up with the Cherokee’s upgrade, this is where they’d do it. We were disappointed. Jeep kept the upscale interior and smart design of the previous-generation Cherokee largely intact with this new one. They even made it better. The center stack has been redesigned to be less bulky and the cargo area has been tweaked to add more usable space. Our greatest complaint from the previous-gen Cherokee (and all Jeep models) was the continual use of monotone (usually black) colors in the cabin. That’s also changed, with Jeep adding more trim items to give offsets and contrasts for a more interesting look.

The interior of the new 2019 Cherokee isn’t roomier on paper, but it feels more open and spacious thanks to the changes made. New details like the padded slot under the infotainment screen and above USB plugs for a phone or MP3 player and the larger door slots are upgrades in ergonomics too. Remaining are the well-done seating up front and the truly three-across rear seat for the Cherokee.

Infotainment is still the best-in-the-business Uconnect system, of course, which now features Android Auto and Apple CarPlay as standard. The crisp graphics, text-to-speech capability, and available Wi-Fi hotspot option are all great things that go along with the easily-understood menus and crisp graphics.

2019 Jeep Cherokee interior

Cargo space in the 2019 Cherokee is measured at 25.8 cubic feet behind the second row, expanding to 54.9 cubes with the second row folded. Which it does in a split-fold as standard. Tie-down points in the cargo area are standard in the Cherokee and side pockets behind the wheel wells are now deeper and more accommodating for milk jugs and the like.

During our week with the 2019 Jeep Cherokee, we drove it on the road, off the road, and off the map. Because #JeepThing. We had kids in it, ran it solo, took it as a couple’s drive, and more. In every way it was a good drive. Ours was equipped with four-wheel drive and the Freedom Drive II transmission option, which has deeper low gears and more off-road capability. Other options would include front-wheel drive and the lighter-duty, more mainstream all-wheel-drive-like Freedom Drive I. For most buyers, FD1 is more likely to fit needs and leaves plenty of off-pavement capability intact in the Cherokee.

The 2019 Jeep Cherokee starts at $23,995 and we drove it at a near range-topping $39,799. Most buyers will be getting one just below the $30,000 mark, well-equipped.

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Learning About Towing Fundamentals With The GMC Sierra Denali

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2018 GMC Sierra Denali

The first time I had a chance to drive the 2018 GMC Sierra Denali, I enjoyed the experience, but it felt like something was missing – a trailer loaded with toys. What I didn’t know at the time was that GMC is only major manufacturer that has towing as part of it’s DNA from their smallest SUV (Terrain) to their largest truck (Sierra HD).

We recently spent some time with GMC learning more about towing fundamentals and why the GMC Sierra makes a great choice for anyone who’s weekend plans might involve heading out into the wild to go boating, biking, or exploring with a UTV. While this wasn’t my first time towing, I learned quite a bit here, which I’m here to share with you guys.

Our journey began at the Red Mountain Resort in Saint George, Utah where we learned more about proper towing, before heading off on a road trip that included dune riding at Coral Pink Sands State Park and a road trip through Zion National Park. Throughout the experience it was clear that the Sierra was made for the job at hand!

According to GMC, 75% of all Light Duty truck owners tow – but 30% of those owners don’t know how much weight their trucks can haul. Similarly, outside of professional customers, very few consumers have a solid understanding for what features make one truck a better towing platform compared to another.

2018 GMC Sierra Denali

It’s Not Just How Much You Tow, It’s How Well You Tow

It’s easy to get lost in the number of max towing ability and think that’s the only thing that’s important. Frankly the 2018 GMC Sierra Denali holds its own there compared to peers, with a max trailer rating of 12,500 pounds (23,300 for the Sierra HD). However, there’s more to getting to the cabin or camp site than simply how much load you can pull. That’s a LOT of weight! Far more than most people will ever need to haul.

Max load limits today are absolutely enormous, and most people won’t even come close. For instance, our trailer contained two Polaris RZRs and it was still only 7,000 pounds.

The important factor is to make sure you can town that weight safely, quickly, and easily. That’s where having the right truck comes into play.

2018 GMC Sierra Denali

Key Features That Make The Sierra Denali A Great Truck For Towing:

Premium Trailering Mirrors – While I prefer the large compound mirrors on the larger Sierra HD Denali, I was pretty impressed with the smaller more compact ones found standard on the Sierra Denali. It allowed easy viewing of oncoming traffic as well as the end of the bed and I found it very easy to judge distances for passing vehicles. These mirrors are also heated to prevent icing in winter and contain LED rear guidance lamps when backing up.

Trailer Sway Control and Trailer Brake Controller – Sensors automatically detect a trailer that has begun to sway and applies both the trailer and vehicle brakes to restore proper towing control. You can also do this from within the cab to apply the trailer brakes manually.

Tow/Haul Mode – Provides more power to accelerate when hauling heavy loads by raising transmission upshift points.

Hill Start Assist – Sensors detect when your vehicle is at a 5% or more grade and holds the brakes until the accelerator is pressed so as to avoid rollback.

Auto Grade Braking – Senses when you want to slow the GMC Sierra and helps automatically maintain the desired speed.

2018 GMC Sierra Denali

Rear Vision Camera System – To help align the hitch with the trailer. GMC also offers a dealer-installed accessory produced by EchoMaster that provides multiple camera points to provide simultaneous views of your load all tied into the center console view screen. Unfortunately, that was not available on our model.

On the road, the Sierra performed great on the first leg out to the park. It hauled our load with ease while being nice and roomy for two “full sized” adult men. Inside, the Denali trim offered us the comfort of a Bose premium audio system, heated and ventilated leather seats, power step, and a driver alert package that included features such as Forward Collision Alert, Lane Keep Assist, and IntilliBeam Headlamps. The Sierra Denali is unapologetically a truck and it feels like it, however the ride is smoother in the Denali trim in part due to the Magnetic Ride Control which helps dampen bumps and rough road surfaces.

While the Sierra with trailer in tow isn’t going to win any speed competitions, it felt very stable with the “Max Trailering Package” that increases towing capacity and performance.

2018 GMC Sierra Denali

Specifically, the Max Trailering Package in our truck featured a 420hp 6.2L V-8, with a 9.76 ring gear, 3.42 8-speed axle ratio, trailer brake controller, enhanced cooling radiator, revised shock tuning, and heavier-duty rear springs to help support the load better.

Upon arrival at Coral Pink Sands State Park, it was time to unpack the RZRs and have some fun. The sand here was simply amazing, and photos don’t do it full justice. The dunes were created as wind blew through a notch between the Moquith and Moccasin mountains eroding the red Navajo sandstone over the past 15,000 years. As it eroded, sand was deposited on the valley floor and dunes formed.

While it is a state park, approximately 90% of the dunes are open for riding. Trails range from sandy paths through trees to wide open dunes where you can get pretty aggressive and even catch some air.

2018 GMC Sierra Denali

After a full day of racing around the dunes (and collecting sand in places sand should never collect) it was time to head home.

This time, we got to drive the Sierra Denali without a trailer to experience how it performed with out a load. Once again, I was very happy with the ride though it felt a bit stiff since it’s really most comfortable with a load pressing down on the suspension.

Despite that, it was a fun drive through the mountainous roads of Zion National Park as we headed back to Saint George. You certainly aren’t going to take tight turns at car speed but sitting above the action a bit and simply cruising down the road is where this truck excels.

All in all, it was a fun day in the desert learning more about the GMC Sierra Denali and the finer points of towing like a pro.

2018 GMC Sierra Denali

Photo credit: Isaac Brekken for GMC

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The 2019 Ford F-150 Raptor Raises The Bar In Ultimate Off-Road Performance

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2019 Ford F-150 Raptor

There’s no doubt about it, the Ford F-150 Raptor is the ultimate high-performance off-road pickup, and there’s absolutely nothing else like it on the road today. Truth be told, Ford could leave well enough alone and sell every one of these bad boys, but that’s not how they roll.

For 2019, Ford rolled out a trip of new features that makes the F-150 Raptor an even tougher, smarter, more capable trail runner, with upgraded tech including electronically controlled FOX Racing Shox, a new Trail Control system, and all-new Recaro sport seats.

“Raptor’s success is rooted in its incredible suspension, superb vehicle control and confidence the truck instills in its owners,” said Hermann Salenbauch, global director, Ford Performance vehicle programs. “Upgrades to the 2019 F-150 Raptor have improved all three to new levels that the competition will have to benchmark – again.”

2019 Ford F-150 Raptor

The Raptor’s suspension upgrades make it even more capable of clawing away at the terrain. To enhance Raptor’s already proven internal bypass shocks, Ford Performance worked directly with FOX to develop all-new electronically controlled Live Valve technology for the Raptor that continuously adjusts damping in real-time. This setup uses sensors in the suspension and body to maximize comfort, handling and bottom-out resistance.

“By automatically varying compression rates, Raptor can now make the most of its suspension travel of 13 inches at the front and 13.9 inches at the rear,” said Salenbauch. “The 2019 Raptor is not just more capable off-road. It’s smarter.”

2019 Ford F-150 Raptor

Paired with Raptor’s Terrain Management System, FOX’s Live Valve suspension technology can increase the truck’s high-speed off-road capability while also enabling smooth on-road driving performance. “Not many trucks need sensors to detect when you are midair,” said Salenbauch. “Raptor sets the dampers to full stiffness to help smooth shock performance as the truck lands.”

Low-speed performance off-road is also improved. The new Trail Control helps Raptor drivers navigate challenging conditions. Think of it like cruise control for low-speed, rugged terrain, automatically adjusting power and braking to each individual wheel to allow drivers to focus on steering over rugged terrain. Trail Control can be activated at speeds from 1 mph up to 20 mph depending on driveline position.

2019 Ford F-150 Raptor Interior

The system makes everything easier – from driving on a simple two-track trail to traversing a rocky hill climb. Not only can Trail Control automatically draw significant engine torque to overcome steep obstacles, it can individually brake the wheels so the truck comes down smoothly on the other side.

Lastly, Raptor drivers now have enhanced seats to help keep them firmly in place for improved confidence at low and high speeds. All-new Recaro sport seats provide aggressive support with generous bolstering in the seat back and cushion. This available seat features blue Alcantara inserts and accent stitching inspired by the Light Speed interior of the Ford GT supercar.

2019 Ford F-150 Raptor

And of course, the Raptor comes chock full of safety features, including backup sensors, since you really can’t see everything behind you in a truck of this size. Never used one before? Try using a backup sensor and you’ll wonder how you ever lived without one.

Raptor’s aggressive exterior gets even more intense for 2019 with eye-catching new colors including Ford Performance Blue, Velocity Blue and Agate Black. An enhanced rear appliqué and available newly designed beadlock-capable wheels round out the new look.

Of course, if that $50K+ price tag is too rich for your blood, you can always purchase a less expensive F-150 and search for car parts wholesale to give your truck that off-roading look without breaking the bank.

The upgraded 2019 F-150 Raptor goes on sale in late 2018.

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