In 1965, fire consumed the one-time entertainment jewel of the French River area, as Rioux Lodge burned to the ground. In the Summer of 2018, a massive section of the French River Park was devastated by a fast-spreading forest fire. It seems fitting then that Toyota Canada chose the area to introduce Canadian media to the 2019 TRD-Pro line-up, led by the Tundra pickup, which was absent from the market in 2018.
Now known as The Lodge at Pine Cove, the lodge was originally the two story centrepiece to a fishing camp. With a 200 seat ballroom on the upper floor, Rioux Lodge delighted locals, migrant workers, and visiting stars with an entertainment roster that included the likes of Glenn Miller and Mary Pickford.
Following the fire, the lodge was rebuilt, albeit with less grandeur, but eventually went out of business and sat empty for a number of years. Current owner Alex Strachan found the place while canoeing in the area, fell in love with it and bought the property in 2000. Passionate about Canadian history, the British ex-pat renamed the spot The Lodge at Pine Cove and breathed new life into the property, making it a prime luxury destination for those who truly want to disconnect from their busy lives.
Strachan enthusiastically takes guests on boat tours of the area, excitedly pointing out that if Samuel de Champlain were to return today, some 400 years from when he first visited the area, he would still recognize these waterways.
Likewise, Toyota fans will instantly recognize the TRD-Pro versions of the Tundra, Tacoma and 4Runner as being special. The first thing one notices is the reappearance of a special shade called Voodoo Blue. Originally seen on the 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser, this hue somehow seems more striking on the 2019 models. Possibly the black accents and lack of the white roof the FJ sported, the Voodoo Blue trucks provide a killer visual pop, especially against the colourful Autumn leaves. All three models are also available in Super White or Midnight Black Metallic.
The entire line-up this time around are fitted with 2.5” internal bypass FOX Racing shocks, built to TRD spec, with the rear shocks on each model featuring an external reservoir, just like desert racing trucks. These shocks, along with taller springs, give the entire line a combination of on-road comfort and off-road performance which lives up to Toyota’s desert racing heritage at the hands of the legendary Ivan “Ironman” Stewart.
To that end, the TRD-Pro Tacoma is also fitted with a desert spec external snorkel which not only provides clean air while driving in dusty conditions but also looks pretty awesome. Bear in mind though that this is a desert snorkel, not a water crossing unit, so the vehicle’s deep water fording depth remains the same as before.
Both Tundra and Tacoma are equipped with LED fog lights from Rigid Industries. Tacoma has projector beam headlights with LED daytime running lights, while Tundra sports LED headlights and accent lights. 4Runner also uses projector style headlights with smoked covers and LED fog lights. A variety of blacked out trim compliments all three trucks, adding to the tough modern look.
4Runner and Tacoma ride on 17” and 16” black TRD wheels respectively, while the Tundra is fitted with forged aluminum, satin black five-spoke wheels created specially by BBS. Many factors go into new vehicle tire selection, from ride quality and noise, to fuel economy and tread life, meaning that oftentimes performance vehicles come shod with rubber that might not be the enthusiast’s first choice and this is the case with all three trucks. Tundra is fitted with Michelin all-terrain tires, while Tacoma wears Goodyear Wranglers and the 4Runner has Nitto Terra Grapplers which look almost like a Winter tire. These are all a good compromise, which I’m sure many owners will replace with more aggressive off-road choices.
All three models are adorned with a collection of the expected, suitably sporty TRD-Pro badging including a very functional front skid plate with red TRD lettering. I intended to grab photos of it, but they were all too muddy to be seen within a short period!
The days leading up to our visit to French River had been rainy, meaning that the test course laid out for us was soggy to begin with. Within a couple of loops around the course, the trail surface became deeply rutted and super slick. In each case, the TRD-PRO models proved that they were the real deal in the muck.
Despite being much larger than its two smaller siblings, the Tundra feels right at home on Ontario style trails, which are typically tight and twisty, with a mixture of rocky Canadian Shield and loamy soil. Weighing two and a half tonnes, the pickup should feel out of place in this type of terrain, but the well-sorted suspension, coupled with the long wheelbase give it an unexpected confidence on difficult terrain.
Tacoma and 4Runner are a whole different story. After making several passes of the circuit at the wheel of the big brother, I made the switch to the more iconic members of the family. Remember that the Taco is a legend of the desert racing world and the Runner is essentially the party bus version of the pickup.
Smaller in every dimension and a good chunk lighter, one might correctly expect these two trucks to be more nimble on the trail, but that did not prepare me for just how much more fun they would be. I literally giggled like a kid on a carnival ride as I wheeled the Runner through deeply rutted mud and over man-made axle articulation moguls.
Automotive journalists can be a competitive bunch and it wasn’t long before a steep, slick incline used to demonstrate hill descent capabilities turned into a hill climb situation. The approach involved a sharp drop into a gully before turning into a steep and muddy hill. Guys driving a 4Runner were the first ones to successfully make the ascent, followed by a Taco. Another Tundra made an effort, but only made it half way up.
The challenge for the Tundra was that the dip upon entry was too short to allow for much speed in the much longer pickup, as it was likely that the rear overhang would get hung up during the transition. I, with a Toyota Canada exec on board, became the guinea pig to see if the big beast could make it up the hill.
My first two passes were failures, having been more than respectful of the equipment, aka not wanting to be the guy that damaged a truck. Being goaded to attack with a bit more welly, I approached the hill with more fervor. The big truck’s V8 bellowed from the black tipped TRD exhaust as the Michelins grappled for traction at the top of the gooey hill. For a moment, it felt as if the crest was unattainable yet again before the truck found a bit of traction and clambered its way over the top. From inside the truck, we could hear the cheers from down below.
Later, I drove the hill in the 4Runner and it scampered up the hill like a jackrabbit being chased by a fox.To wind down the end of the day, Strachan led the group on a short boat trip to explore the Five Finger Rapids, properly named Zoongininjii in the Anishinabek language. One can easily understand how magical a place like this must have been to people thousands of years ago, as it is still pretty special today. During the ride, our host pointed out how drastically this year’s fire has affected local small businesses, from cafe owners to small retail shops, as local tourists have stayed away from the region. Ironically, most of the fire took places in areas so remote that tourists are unlikely to even see the effects from roads or waterways.
The further north one travels in Ontario, the popularity of traditional domestic trucks seems to fall off a bit, as the Tundra would appear to be the truck of choice. Often, Tundras in the near north are hauling a trailer and often that trailer is loaded with all-terrain vehicles, whether they be for work or play.
Having towed a bunch of catering gear around behind the previous TRD-Pro Tundra, it was pleasing to discover that the newly tweaked suspension was even more comfortable with a load, coping beautifully with a trailer loaded with a pair of Yamaha side-by-sides. The drive began on a super steep section of road, which was mostly Canadian shield, in the pouring rain. Despite the load, the Tundra did not struggle one bit, making the climb in two-wheel drive.
Having work machines that double as fun factories on a trailer naturally meant that some time was spent churning a forest trail into sticky mud. I haven’t spent a lot of time in this type of vehicle and I was blown away at just how nimble the big 4-seater Yamahas were in difficult terrain. It is easy to see how they have become so important to work crews in the north. It is equally easy to see why they make great playthings!
Over the past couple of years, I have heard from several consumers who were disappointed that they weren’t able to get their hands on a Cement Grey TRD-Pro Tundra or Tacoma. While Toyota Canada has not been able to specifically increase the number of TRD-Pro models available in relation to the rest of the line-up, they have been allocated more of the trucks relative to the growth of the company’s truck sales. Toyota truck sales are up by 25 percent in this country, which one might expect that availability of the TRD-Pro segment has grown similarly.
In other words, if you want to get your hands on a 2019 TRD-Pro Tundra, Tacoma, or 4Runner, you had best get your butt into your local Toyota store yesterday if you don’t want to be disappointed. In case you were wondering, I’ll take a Voodoo Blue Tacoma with a manual transmission!