A few lifetimes ago, I decided to bring in the new year by taking a long hike up a well-known trail near Harrison, B.C.
The Clear Creek trailhead is on the road to Port Douglas on Harrison Lake, and makes its way northeast, until it kind of peters out somewhere just west of the Fraser River.
It’s a steep climb, basically following a creek bed up the side of the mountain, culminating at a natural hot springs that feeds into Clear Creek.
Long ago someone built a swimming pool out of logs at the hot springs, where you can enjoy a good soak after the climb. There was also a cabin there until it burned down.
The trail is pretty much inaccessible to off-road vehicles – or so I thought. Apparently, local four-wheel-drive clubs view the Clear Creek trail as a kind of ultimate challenge. If your rig can make it all the way up, you’ve done something special. Lots of vehicles have tried, apparently, and the route was littered with old truck parts, a testament to the difficulty of the climb.
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On the day I made the hike to the hot springs – after several hours of tough slogging – there was actually a four-wheel-drive rig parked beside the pool.
What was it?
A short wheelbase, 1970s vintage Toyota Tundra SR5 pickup, with huge oversize tires and a lift kit. Apparently, many have tried and many have failed, but not the SR5, which has gone on to be something of an icon – renowned for its toughness and mountain goat off-road capability.
These days, the SR5 has been replaced by the Tacoma, which comes in two basic configurations: double cab and access cab, with a short or long bed.
Whatever you choose, power is provided by a 3.5-litre V6 engine, with a six-speed automatic or six-speed manual transmission. All Tacomas seat five adults and have four-wheel drive. You can also choose from a wide range of extras, such as oversize 18-inch wheels and tires, locking differential, “crawl control” mode, Bilstein shocks, leather interior, and on and on.
Officially classed as a mid-size truck, the Tacoma is still pretty large, with a 3,235 or 3,570 mm wheelbase and a gross weight of 2,540 kg (5,600 pounds). It can tow almost 3,000 kg, but doesn’t really fall into the work truck category. This is a toy for weekend warriors and semi-serious off-roaders.
This truck is tricky to get in and out of. Because of its comparatively modest roofline and high road stance, it offers a challenge in terms of simply stepping into the thing. Unless you’re a tall person (I’m not), you need to kind of hoist yourself up into the cab, lower your head to avoid hitting the roof, and then duck in behind the steering wheel. My truck had running boards, but getting in and out is still awkward and annoying.
The automatic transmission seems vague and kind of jumpy. It doesn’t like stop-and-go traffic and is a bit on the hyperactive side.
I love the optional power sliding rear window – not a big thing but welcome.
My test Double Cab Nightshade model was pretty much loaded, with a handy 120-volt cargo-bed power outlet, cool little storage compartments and TRD (Toyota Racing Development) rear suspension. This latter feature makes for a somewhat unforgiving ride and is a little on the harsh side.
Before extras and taxes, you’ll say goodbye to almost $53,000 for the Nightshade version. Starting price is $38,350 for a base access cab model.
But does the Tacoma have the bulletproof, go-anywhere cred of its predecessor?
Hit the hills and find out.
2021 Toyota Tacoma
Engine: 3.5-litre V6
Transmission: six-speed automatic
Drive: rear-wheel, four-wheel
Horsepower: 278 at 6,000 rpm
Base price: $38,350; as tested, $52,750
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 13.0 city and 10.5 highway, with regular fuel
Some alternatives: Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon, Ford Ranger, Honda Ridgeline, Jeep Gladiator
Ted Laturnus has been an automotive journalist since 1976. He was named Canadian Automobile Journalist of the Year twice and is past president of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC). For interview requests, click here.
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