The Toyota Tacoma is a mid-size pickup truck that has been a mainstay of the Toyota lineup since 1995. It’s predominantly known for its reliability and rugged design, but if you’re looking for a new truck to take off-roading or one that can handle tough terrain, you might be wondering which Toyota Tacoma model years and/or trims have four-wheel drive.
It is standard for base models and the majority of Toyota Tacoma trims to feature real-wheel drive (RWD) with a part-time four-wheel drive (4WD) switch option offered (usually at additional cost). The only 4×4 trim is the SR5.
In this article, we will explain the difference between a RWD, 4WD, and part-time 4WD, so you know which drivetrain to opt for in your future Toyota Tacoma. As you read, you will also learn which Tacoma trim is best for off-roading conditions.
How Is RWD Different From 4WD?
If this is your first time purchasing a truck, or any vehicle for that matter, you’ll want to know the difference between RWD and 4WD to ensure you choose the drivetrain that best suits your needs.
In rear-wheel drive, the power from the engine is transmitted solely to the back axle. This means that the rear wheels are responsible for propelling the truck, while the front wheels are only used for steering. Comparatively, four-wheel drive (4WD) trucks have power sent to all wheel axels.
This difference makes four-wheel drive more efficient in slick, slippery, or off-road conditions as it helps the vehicle maintain traction and stability; however, it also affects how well the car handles on regular roads.
Four-wheel drive cars tend to be a bit heavier than rear-wheel drives due to carrying an additional set of components. This can cause them to be slower in acceleration and braking, and also require higher fuel consumption.
Additionally, four-wheel drives are more expensive due to their added components – making them ideal for adventurers who will benefit from the extra traction they can provide, while those seeking an economical daily driver might want to opt for rear wheel drive instead.
Here’s a good video examining if you really need four wheel drive:
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What is a Part-Time 4WD System?
As you might have guessed from reading the previous section, part-time 4WD system arguably provides the best of both worlds if you’re the type of person who wants a truck for daily use as well as the occasional excursion.
Part-time rear wheel drive systems are a type of drivetrain system commonly found in trucks, SUVs, and other off-road vehicles. This system utilizes both the front and rear wheels to provide varying levels of traction, depending on the terrain and road conditions.
The system operates via a transfer case, which is responsible for distributing the power to the front and rear wheels.
When engaging the part-time rear wheel drive system, the transfer case sends 100% of the power to the rear wheels. This is ideal for off-road situations, where increased traction and control is needed.
However, when you are driving on ordinary roads, you can stick to the standard RWD for ideal performance, steering, and fuel efficiency.
How Do I Know if My Toyota Tacoma is 2WD or 4WD?
As we stated previously, all Toyota Tacoma model years and trims/packages feature RWD (which is a type of two-wheel drive system), so you can safely assume yours is a 2WD. However, that doesn’t mean it won’t have a part-time 4WD system as well.
To confirm this, check the “Features” section of your Toyota Tacoma’s owner manual. You should find a variety of specs relating to your truck here, including drivetrain. If not, you can search other applicable sections in your owner manual or consult with a Toyota dealership employee.
Which Toyota Tacoma Trim Is Best for Off-roading?
Most people who seek a Toyota Tacoma with 4WD do so with the intention of driving it off-road, over challenging terrain.
Traditionally, this model comes in a variety of trims, including the:
- TRD (Sport)
- TRD Off-Road
- TRD Pro
While the Toyota Tacoma is a highly capable truck on its own, some of these trims are much better-suited to off-roading than others (and we’re sure you can already guess which ones).
That’s right, the TRD Pro and TRD Off-Road models are considered the best trim option for off-roading with a Toyota Tacoma. A viable alternative would be the Tacoma Trail Special Edition if you can find one available.
Each of these are designed specifically for off-roading and come with a variety of features to help tackle any terrain. Below is a chart comparing the two most prevalent options for you to consider.
Tacoma TRD Off-Road
- Goodyear Wrangler All-Terrain Kevlar-lined off-road tires
- Bilstein shock absorbers16-in wheels
- Locking rear differential
- Crawl Control
- Durable black plastic fender flares Multi-Terrain Select
Tacoma TRD Pro (features all qualities in TRD Off-Road in addition to what is listed below)
- Fox Off-Road suspension with front coil overs and remote reservoir rear shock absorbers
- 1-in suspension lift
- TRD cat-back exhaust TRD 1/4-in aluminum front skid plate
- 16-in Black TRD wheels offering a 1-in wider track
- Larger anti-sway bar
- Unique hood with a (non-functioning) hood scoop and “eye-black” decal
As for the other trims, such as the SR and SR5, these are best-suited for everyday use. There are some arguments that the SR5 and TRD Sport trims can hold their own in off-roading conditions, particularly when paired with 4WD, but there’s little debate that the TRD Pro and TRD Off-Road are superior in these conditions. (source: toyota.com)
What About the SR5’s Trail Edition Package?
The performance gap between the SR5 and the TRD Pro/TRD Off-Road reduces significantly in size when you add the trail edition package to the equation.
While the TRD Pro and TRD Off-Road trims are exceptional at overcoming difficult terrain, the features that permit this come at a cost that is far higher than most people want to pay. This leaves them considering the more budget friendly SR5.
In its base forms, it might not be the best choice for off-roading, but everything changes when you opt to install Toyota’s Trail Edition package.
Available only on the 2022 and 2023 Tacoma 4×4 Double Cab, this trim features:
- 6-speed automatic transmission
- 3.5L V6 gas engine
- Four-wheel drive
- 1.1-inch and 0.5-inch rear suspension lift
- Bronze-finished 16-inch wheels fitted with Goodyear Tires
- 34-degree approach angle and 23.6 degree departure angle
These are just some of the improvements and additions acquired through this special edition that makes it a viable contender to its pricier competitors.
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Finding a Toyota Tacoma model year and trim that features a full four-wheel drive system can be challenging, as the SR5 is the only option. However, you can add a part-time four-wheel drive system to nearly any Toyota Tacoma’s rear-wheel drive system for a versatile drivetrain.
If you’re seeking superior 4WD performance for off-roading, we recommend investing in the TRD Pro, TRD Off-Road, or SR5 with the Trail Edition package.