On the surface, this isn’t even a viable comparison. These two vehicles, the 2017 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited “Big Bear” Edition and the 2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro are completely different vehicles. One is a pick-up truck, one is an SUV, and $10,000 separates their MSRP. Park them next to each other though, and that becomes irrelevant. Both are 5-seater off-roaders with big black wheels and knobby tires. So Tacoma vs. JK Unlimited is very much a solid comparison; I happen to know at least one friend who traded one for the other recently.
Quick note, this is an on-road test. Sorry, I live in the city, I’m sure lots of other outlets will do dirty versions.
Toyota let me borrow this white double cab Tacoma all kitted out with not only TRD stuff, but TRD Pro stuff. You can start your 2017 Tacoma adventure at just $24,575 for an entry level SR model. From there you can ramp your way up through SR5, TRD Sport, TRD Off-Road, Limited, and our tester, the TRD Pro. MSRP for each truck jumps a few grand to reach the starting price for the Pro, which is $41,520. Although the window sticker on my loaner claims its starting price is $42,760. Whatever.
This super white Tacoma (which sort of sounds like it’s just really bad a dancing) comes with $1,114 in options including some floor mats, a bed mat, a bed extender, paint production, and a TRD air filter. Nothing drastic, but it makes a pricey truck even pricier. All of the more expensive Tacos (all of them without “SR” in the name) come with the same 3.5L V6 with 278 hp and 265 lb.-ft. of torque. The TRD Pro antes up the suspension bits with a TRD-tuned off-road kit including 2.5-in. FOX Internal Bypass coil-overs and rear remote reservoir shocks. That’s an upgrade from the typical “TRD sport-tuned suspension” in the TRD Sport and the same thing, but with Bilsteins, in the TRD Off-Road. Of note, you also get a TRD cat-back exhaust in the Pro, although I can’t say I noticed. Too many years of driving fast cars I guess. Rounding out the “what makes it different from the regular TRDs” is Rigid Industries LED fog lights and a TRD Pro skid plate.
So the Tacoma lineup has a little something for everyone, with a span of over $16,000 in MSRP separating the base SR and the TRD Pro. If you want a basic pickup or a competent off-roader, Toyota has you covered. They have been one of the go-to choices in the non-full size pick-up market for quite some time and sold close to 200,000 Tacomas in 2017. Sales figures have been on the rise pretty much every year.
Wrangler Unlimited Overview
In contrast to the bargain SR Tacoma, the cheapest 2017 Wrangler Unlimited, the Sport, costs significantly more at $27,895. Of note, some of the 2018 Tacoma prices seem to have increased a bit, whereas the new 2018 JL Wranglers seem to be priced about the same. In 2017, Jeep would sell you a lot of Wrangler variants. Thirteen to be specific. The list includes the Sport, Sport S, Willys Wheeler, Big Bear (featured here), Freedom Edition, Willys Wheeler W, Sahara, Rubicon, Smoky Mountain, Chief, Winter, Rubicon Hard Rock, and Rubicon Recon. Whew, my hands are tired after transcribing all of those models. All have the same 285 hp V6 and come with a standard 6-speed manual. They all tow 3500 pounds and get 16/21 city and highway.
The JKU lineup spans $15,000 with the Big Bear from this comparison ringing in at $32,595 starting MSRP. This gets you some cool gloss black aluminum wheels with badass BFGoodrich KO2 Tires, rock rails and a “Trail Rated” kit, premium soft top, black taillamp guards and fuel filler cap, and some beefy all weather “slush mats” and a set of four grab handles to keep your passengers in place. Oh and it has a topographical map of Big Bear Mountain in California emblazoned across the hood. Naturally. Once you add in options like the automatic transmission, hard top and a couple of others, you’re in the $35,000 range. So this is a fair representation of what’s offered squarely in the middle of Wrangler Unlimited lineup.
Oh and it’s mine.
So at this point, you may be wondering if I can be an impartial reviewer, putting my own Wrangler Unlimited up against the TRD Pro? Well, that’s my job, so yes, shove off. Plus, back before we got all these fancy press loaners, we just reviewed our own cars and compared them to our friends cars. That’s how we ended up filming part 1 and part 2 of Josh’s E46 M3 vs. my Focus ST! If you saw the end, spoiler alert, I said his car was better. So I’m good.
One final note, this isn’t the first Tacoma I’ve reviewed. I tested a 2016 Limited and it went on to be one of my most hated videos on YouTube. Seriously, people could not believe that I didn’t love the Tacoma, nor could they believe that I compared it to an F-150. But I did, and stand by that still. But yes, I’m still impartial and gave this 2017 TRD Pro the proper chance to prove itself.
Comparison – Interior
I’ll say it up front, neither of these trucks has a particularly nice interior. I’ll admit, I’ve been crticial of recent Toyota interiors of late, the aforementioend Tacoma Lmited, as well as recent 4-Runner Limited I tested felt incredibly cheap. However, for whatever reason, the TRD Pro felt different. Perhaps it was because it’s not trying to be a luxury truck, it felt purposeful and lacked the tacky metallic highlights across the dash. One of my only gripes from an ergonomic standpoint was the fact that, no matter how I adjusted things, my legs would hit the bottom of the steering wheel every time I entered the damn thing. That was incredibly aggravating, perhaps there is a magical adjustment between the seat and the wheel that I just couldn’t find?
Once behind the wheel, the TRD Pro makes you feel like you are sitting super high in the air. The hood scoop, which I’m not entirely sure why it’s there in the first place, makes visibility in front of you a challenge. Which is a bit odd for an off roader, I assume you would want to be able to see all four corners of your vehicle. Like every other Toyota infotainment system I have used lately, I keep hitting the preset buttons at the stereo every time I tried to use the volume knob. I know, I’m supposed to use the controls on the wheel, but I like the knob. The seats were firm but comfortable, the leather a bit slippery if anything. Across the cabin, there is a decent amount of room for your stuff, it’s easily poised to be a solid daily driver. Oh and there is a damn GoPro mount on the window from the factory. I’ll admit, I liked that.
Room in the rear seating area of the double cab is more than adequate, unless you have to take people and stuff with you. More on that in a bit.
The JK is just as utilitarian, perhaps more, built with off-roading in mind. You can actually hose it out if it gets too dirty. The JK’s interior has looked largely the same for years. Big round vents highlight the interior, as does a purposeful grab bar in front of the passenger. Integrated into the top of the center stack is a 6.5” touchscreen with a 40GB hardrive, XM radio, navigation, etc. It’s a bit dated, but works.
On long trips, the fact that FCA has been honing this interior for decades shines through. The seats are surprisingly comfortable and supportive and my only gripe is probably a lack of extra cup holders. You get two in the middle and unlike some vehicles, nothing in the doors but a net. So on a long drive where you’re gulping caffeine, your empties don’t have a place to go once you get a fresh one. A minor gripe, overall the big chunky knobs and switches all work well and are placed where you need them. You may forget where the window switches are occasionally (they’re in the center stack) but you can take the doors off, so it makes up for the slight inconvenience of having to think about it.
Rear seat room is pretty excellent, you could fit three grown adults across the back seat without too much complaining. I’ve had two car seats fitted with room for a third, so the Wrangler is pretty family friendly. And you still have a covered area behind them for stuff. And the damn top comes off, which is the Wrangler’s party piece.
Comparison – Exterior
Park these two next to each other and it’s clear that they are competitors. The TRD looks the part, it sits high and gives you a sense that it’s capable when things get messy. The Tacoma platform has been around for many years, and this particular generation has been relatively unchanged as of late. Still, it’s a great interpretation of the small truck we all grew up around, even if it’s not all that small anymore. One of my biggest gripes about the last Tacoma I tested is that it’s just not that compact anymore, something that can play to your benefit as well.
Toyota actually toned down the whole “TRD” aspect on its most expensive Tacoma. If you’ve seen the “lesser” trucks running around, they all have “TRD Off-Road” stickered to the rear of the bed. This has some more subtle badging around the truck, much more tasteful, if a bit too subdued.
You can spot a Wrangler from a quarter mile away, it’s a shape that’s as eternal as anything else in the motoring industry. It’s a brick with some tires, as aerodynamic as J. Edgar Hoover (with our without women’s clothing). But it’s a shape that makes you smile. I have always said that if I don’t own a vehicle that I can look back at over my shoulder and smile, I’ve chosen poorly. This particular model, in my humble journalistic opinion, looks fantastic. With it’s grayish-blue paint, dark trim, and hardtop, it looks like it could be something a lit more high end, like a Mercedes G-Wagen.
In fact, much of what has been done to the outside by FCA are things that I would have done, like the black wheels, black trim, etc.
You came here to find out which is better to drive though, didn’t you? The answer isn’t all that complicated, they both offer a very reasonable daily driver experience with some sacrifices. Off-road ability almost always compromises on-road ability, in the same way that the a car’s ability to go around corners fast usually means it isn’t as comfortable navigating pothole filled roads. Both of these trucks can, at times, bump you around a bit. If I’m judging purely on ride comfort, the edge goes to the Toyota. It felt a bit more supple on the highway.
I got to spend some time in the snow with the TRD Pro and it handled the ground covered DC roads as well as you would expect. I did get a little slip from the tires here and there, but it did its job and got me where I was going safely.
While I didn’t subject any to any real handling challenges, both were satisfactory through on and off-ramps without feeling like they were going to fall over. The Tacoma feels a bit higher off of the ground in an “I’m going to fall over” sort of way, so your confidence in its ability to handle a rapid lane change or hard cornering maneuver may suffer.
In the end, this comparison comes down to one thing. Unless you are brand loyal to Toyota or Jeep, it will be – do you need a truck with a bed, or do you need more cargo room inside? If you have four people inside of the TRD Pro, you’re not bringing any stuff, unless you’re going to put it back in the bed. Which, during this test, was covered with snow.
Many people like the flexibility of owning a pickup, and for those people who don’t plan on having a bunch of other humans in there with them, it’s probably perfect. You may want to decide whether you need the TRD Pro bits, my friend Jeff recently traded his Wrangler Unlimited for a TRD and then added some of them himself and likely paid much less than the MSRP for the Pro. But, if you’re in the market for a less-than-full-size truck, and don’t mind the TRD Pro’s sticker price, it’s a fantastic truck.
Personally, with three kids I’m going to take the interior cargo room inside the Jeep any day. But this Taco is still a really cool truck.