The Toyota Tacoma 4×4 Truck Takes On Snowzilla

Toyota’s latest pickup bravely rolls through Winter Storm Jonas.

When Snowzilla rampaged up the East Coast over the weekend, it was only appropriate that I fought back in fitting fashion—with Japanese hardware. While I wasn’t able to battle a rubber-suited monster, the 26 inches of snow dumped by Winter Storm Jonas were sufficiently formidable.

Fortunately, I had the $35,280 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 4×4 Double Cab pickup on my side. In English, that means I test-drove Toyota’s latest mid-size pickup, in four-door crew cab configuration, powered by the company’s 278-horsepower V6 engine putting the power to the ground through all four wheels.

Compared to SUVs like Jeeps, pickup trucks can struggle in snow because they are longer and they have an empty bed over the rear wheels. So while Jeeps have drive wheels gathered beneath the vehicle’s mass, pickups can feel more like they have a pair of wheels out behind them trying to push. With no weight in the empty bed, they can struggle to accomplish that task.

The 26-inch snowfall gave me a head start toward putting some weight in the Tacoma’s bed to give the truck better traction, and I shoveled more in to provide even more ballast. A bit of whacking the snow pile with a shovel packed it down to prevent it blowing out while driving. This mountain of snow blocked my view out the back, so the back-up camera proved to be even more helpful than usual.

That solved the matter of rear-wheel traction. However, even though this is the Toyota Racing Development Sport model, it is equipped with tires meant to keep customers happy when driving on dry pavement. That means they need to be quiet, smooth and durable. Unfortunately, choosing tires for these characteristics leaves them ill-suited for churning through snow that is more than two feet deep.

To drive in unplowed snow, the Tacoma would have needed proper snow tires, and maybe chains, too. To cruise around with tires that you’d rather have every other day of the year, I needed to dig out my driveway and a bit of the street.

Once underway in the still-snowy streets, the Tacoma was tremendous. I used its 4-wheel low drive setting to escape my snow-clogged street, then switched to 4-wheel high for the more cleared roads. 

Unlike some off-roaders, the Tacoma doesn’t provide a range of options such as lockable differentials. Instead, its limited-slip differentials seem to be nearly locked automatically when in low range. 

That’s great for churning through powder because all four wheels turn at the same speed, ensure power reaches wheels that have grip. But the truck resists turning in that mode, which can cause you to drive into that deep, unplowed snow you hoped to stay out of when you need to turn.

Switching to high range makes the truck easier to steer in post-blizzard conditions, but I was surprised to find that this setting is still biased toward providing traction in slippery condition by severely limiting the slippage allowed between the wheels. 

That makes it great for driving in the snow, but less so once you reach dry pavement. The Tacoma’s four-wheel drive system is a part-time design, so on fully plowed surfaces, it needs to be in 2-wheel drive to prevent the differentials from binding up and fighting the steering in tight turns. 

Of course, two-wheel drive is all you need for driving on clear pavement. With Snowzilla defeated, that’s when you can truly appreciate the Tacoma’s street-oriented tires and overall enjoyable ride. 

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