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2012 Toyota Tacoma TRD T/X Baja Series First Drive

Posted in Project Vehicles on July 1, 2012
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Toyota recently let us borrow a 2012 Toyota Tacoma TRD T/X with the new Baja Series package for a few days worth of evaluation. The vehicle we had was a prototype since production has only recently ramped up for release, but the engineers told us the spring rates and shock valving is the same as production. As you might have guessed by the mile-long name, the Tacoma Baja is based on a Tacoma TRD T/X, and that configuration must be in place before adding the unique Baja Series items. The Tacoma must also be a 4x4 with either an Access or Double Cab body style. Finally, you have a choice of a six-speed manual or a five-speed automatic transmission. Cool.

Here’s the Toyota Tacoma TRD T/X Baja Series churning down a desert (and deserted) road. Roads like this are where the Baja shines. Remember, though, that those modifications can also help on the pavement—we found that the ride exhibited decreased harshness yet was still stable through turns. You don’t need to live in the desert Southwest to enjoy a Baja Taco. What a great time to be in the market for a long-travel 4x4—take your pick of the midsize Tacoma Baja or the fullsize bird of prey from Ford. Let the comparisons begin!

Starting with the visual items, the Baja includes another mile-long name, BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO tires in LT265/70R16 size, and what Toyota calls “high-energy” graphics (the big “Baja” bed billboard). The wheels on the Baja are a cast alloy 16-inch, TRD design finished in a unique gunmetal-gray color with a machined beadlock-style rim. If you know your Tacomas, you’ll also eye-spy the fact that the Baja version sits level compared to lesser Tacos—but more on that later. Leaning more toward the auditory is the inclusion of a TRD cat-back exhaust system designed to have a more performance-oriented sound with a side exit to better clear trail obstacles.

The reason the Baja sits and performs at a higher level are the optimized suspension components. The front suspension has 60mm Bilstein shocks and unique coil springs (slightly softer than what comes on standard Tacomas). The Baja’s front travel is increased by 1 inch, and the ride height goes up by 13⁄4 inches. Bumpstop contact has been optimized for reduced harshness at compression limits. In the rear is a leaf spring from the Toyota parts shelf (load-carrying capacity is unchanged) with a 50mm Bilstein remote-reservoir shock. Our prototype had the reservoirs mounted piggyback, but we were told the production trucks will have the reservoirs mounted on the framerail. The rear suspension allows for a 1-inch increase in travel. Again, bumpstops are redesigned for maximum travel and minimum harshness.

A 60mm Bilstein shock absorber up front required the Toyota engineers to dump the standard Tacoma tapered spring for these straight coils with a slightly reduced spring rate. The ride height is increased by 13⁄4 inches, effectively leveling the truck. Regular Tacoma A-arms are used, but the suspension is optimized and gains 1 inch of travel with careful application of the shock and special bumpstops.

Driving the Tacoma Baja on pavement is comfortable and quiet (except for a bit of that TRD exhaust note). Curvy roads were carved like a butcher with a sharp cleaver. The bumps and jumps of a fast dirt road were soaked up and suppressed like the news of a politician’s lovechild.

The existence of a long-travel Tacoma will certainly bring up comparisons to that other long-travel pickup offering from Ford, the Raptor (there, we said it). Performance and driving comparisons will have to wait for production models of the Tacoma Baja, but some observations can be made. Obviously one truck is fullsize while the other is midsize. One has the power and mileage of a great V-8 while the other has the power and mileage of a great V-6. The Raptor has a longer list of modifications than the Baja Taco (wide body kit and wide A-arms, for example). While it is too early for actual pricing, we’d bet the Baja will come in at a lower sticker price than the Raptor. They are both high-performing 4x4s that work well off-road and on. Even if you don’t live next to a desert, a compliant long-travel suspension can ride and perform better than a regular suspension in many situations and terrains.

Out back the Tacoma Baja comes with a special leaf pack sourced from another Toyota application (that’s all they would tell us), yet the load-carrying capacity is unchanged. The 50mm shocks have remote reservoirs that will be mounted on the frame. The prototype we used for this first drive had the reservoirs mounted piggyback, which seemed more straightforward and simple to us. And when will the Tacoma get rear disc brakes, Toyota?

If Toyota gets that price point right it could sell a sack-load of Tacoma TRD T/X Bajas. Unfortunately production the first year will be limited to 750 units. The line forms behind us!

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