So far, I’ve had three Toyota Tacomas, a 2nd gen and two 3rd gens. The reason I’ve had two 3rd gens is because I leased the first one. When the 2016 3rd gen was released I wasn’t sure how good it was going to be. Especially with competition from the rereleased Chevy Colorado. My boss bought the GMC Canyon (the Colorado under a different badge) so I was able to get an idea of what it was like. Suffice it to say, I don’t have one of the GM twins.
I’m not going to compare the 2nd gen I owned to the 3rd gens because I had a base model 4×2 SR with a 4cyl engine, and a manual transmission. It was a 2008 so comparing to a 2016+ isn’t fair. It was a nice truck for what it was, but it’s not going to complete with higher end models.
This isn’t a comparison of spec and features between the Sport and Pro because you can find those on Toyota’s website. I’m going to cover my experience with both models and my overall experience with the 3rd gen Tacoma in general. There are differences in features between the Sport and Pro, but I don’t really care about this being a fair comparison between these two because this is how I feel about them after having had both.
Also, I’m mostly (powertrain is the exception) only going to go over features that are different between the two. My current Tacoma has blind side monitoring for example and my previous one didn’t. It’s an option that my last one didn’t have. That doesn’t mean anything other than I didn’t have that option at that time.
The first 3rd gen I had was a 2016 Sport and I currently have a 2017 Pro.
- Model year
- Just under 2 years
- 4 door
- Long bed
- Standard single zone with dials
- No parking sensor or blind spot monitoring
- Tow package
- Model year
- About 6 months
- 4 door
- Short bed
- Dual zone
- Parking sensor and blind spot monitoring
- Tow package
I do 99% of my driving in town. There is a highway along the edge of town and I use it for about 3 miles once or twice a month depending on traffic. The few times I go out of town I’m on back roads because there isn’t a highway where I need to go. About once a year I take a long highway drive so my focus is mainly city driving.
Over the past 2 and a half years with these two truck I’ve been driving the same routes. To and from work are the same. Around town for things like grocery shopping are all the same. Occasional out of town trips are the same. Even my driving style is the same, which it should be over this length of time with very similar vehicles.
Let’s get the powertrain bashing out of the way first. There have been a lot of criticism about the power train in the 3rd gen Tacomas and I 100% agree. They lack power, there is no torque at low rpms, and the transmission is the worst I’ve ever experienced. The lack of power is the fault of the transmission. The engine has enough power for a small truck, it just doesn’t feel that way.
Both trucks have the same powertrain and there is no difference in how they feel. They’re both slow and the transmission forces you to drive slowly. It tries to stay in the highest gear and the truck bogs down. The pedal feel and power delivery feel non-linear because the truck is almost always in the wrong gear. It’s either at very low rpms or shifts too low and puts the rpms very high. Think of it like driving a manual in 6thgear at 40 mph and down shifting into 3rd.
You start pushing down the accelerator pedal and nothing really happens. You must really jam it down then the truck will down shift. It almost feels like a step increase instead of linear. The best I can describe it is, start pushing down linearly and nothing, nothing, nothing, jump, nothing, nothing, nothing, jump. It’s unpleasant and jarring.
Any time you need some level of speed, passing on the highway for example, you basically need to push the pedal all the way down and kill your gas millage. However, even if you’re aggressive with the pedal there is still a hesitation before it shifts, and the power is delivered. It really feels like Toyota didn’t put any effort into the transmission and just used a design from 15 years ago.
This doesn’t just apply to passing, it also applies to hills. If you start going up a hill you need apply more power, so you don’t slow down. Except, you end up having to push the pedal down very far otherwise the truck struggles. It really does not want to shift into a lower gear, period.
One way I’ve found I can deal with these issues, and I pretty much have to use with hills, is to use the manual override on the transmission. You push the selector to the left and downshifts one gear from current and acts as a maximum gear limiter. Start going up a hill, flick it over, goes into 5th, if that’s not good enough, press it down and it goes into 4th. Once I reach the top of the hill put it back to normal and the transmission goes back into 6th. Sounds like a simple and easy solution but the point of having an automatic is not having to worry about or deal with gears at all. If I wanted to pick my own gears I would have gotten a manual transmission.
In addition, the transmission trying to always stay in the highest gear, it will hunt for gears. On a highway with slight rises, it will constantly shift between 6thand 5thgear.
There is an ECT button that gives the truck “more” power and I have and do use it. It changes the throttle response and shift mapping points, so you have more power available and for longer. I use it whenever I’m merging onto a highway and it is helpful. However, it changes response and shift points which doesn’t solve the problem of having a bad transmission. Not to mention you need to manually turn it on every time you start the truck because it turns off when you turn off the truck.
With ECT on, the truck might say in gear A longer before it shifts into B but it’s still going to shift into the wrong gear, it just doesn’t do so as quickly. Also, it still feels like it has non-linear power delivery. It only makes the problems less acute and reduces how often you’re experiencing them. Oh, your gas millage will suffer using ECT. Expect a 2-3 mpg drop driving the same but having it on.
While the power train is just plain bad, I still bought another 3rd gen Tacoma. I knew what I was getting into with the Pro after having the Sport. It’s not so bad that I couldn’t stand the truck. That said, I live in a very flat area and rarely drive on the highway, so I don’t experience the transmission annoyances very often. If I had to do a lot of highway driving or I lived in a less flat area I don’t know if I would have bought the Pro.
These two models have nearly the same seats with the Sport being cloth and the Pro leather. The cloth seats in the Sport are softer and more comfortable than the leather in the Pro. Around town or on a moderate drive they’re both comfortable. On an all-day drive, the cloth is better.
That said, cloth gets warmer than the leather as you sit on it. I live in a hot area, so this does matter to me. Cloth is also harder to clean than leather. This is another thing that’s important to me because I have a dog. That said, with either material I use a seat cover in the back seat where the dog sits.
One thing I’ve noticed is the cloth holds me in place better. Both seats have bolsters but I’m not very big and I don’t touch the bolster on either side. I have about 1-2 inches on either side of me when sitting in the seat. When going around a corner I stay in place with the cloth. Whereas, with the leather I slide into the bolster.
Overall, I like the cloth seats better.
Driving Over Bumps
The Sport has a stiffer suspension and when going over a bump you bounce upward. The truck feels like it’s jumping, and you do hear the bounce. Basically what you expect most road trucks to do when going over bumps in the road.
The Pro has a very soft suspension and going over bumps you are bounced side to side instead of vertically. The motion is far less jarring than the Sport and the tuck handles bumps smoother. That said, the side to side motion of the Pro isn’t ideal for someone who gets motion sick.
While the Pro feels smoother at first over a long stretch of bumpy road the side to side motion gets to be a bit much. I find the vertical movement is less stressful.
Both models have the same brakes, but they have a different brake booster. The Sport brakes feel spongy and the brake pedal has a lot of travel. I’ve had to stop suddenly and basically stood on the pedal to get every ounce out of the brakes.
The brake feel in the Pro is the opposite of the Sport, but not in a good way. The Pro has a very immediate engagement and the pedal has very little travel. This makes it very hard to come to a genital stop. There is so little travel that as soon as you apply the smallest amount of pressure you’re going to stop much quicker than you want. Even trying my hardest there is still a slight jerk when stopping. This coupled with the soft suspension makes you get a rocking motion every time you stop. Another thing that’s not idea for people who get motion sick.
With the soft suspension on the Pro it has a lot more body roll than the stiffer suspension in the Sport. Not that you should take any corner fast in a truck with a high center of gravity, but the Sport doesn’t feel like the truck is going to fall over takin a turn faster than 5 mph. The Pro’s tires will also complain if you try to take a corner at a moderate (for a corner) speed.
The roll, tire squeal, and the leather seats making me slide while turning doesn’t make for a pleasant experience. All of these make the truck feel less planted and like it’s understeering. I don’t think the corning capabilities, what there are, between the two models differs. What’s different is how each of these models feels when turning.
When fast moving vehicles passes another vehicle there will be air that’s pushed into the other vehicle. The amount of force is dependent on the size of the passing vehicle, distance, and speed. The vehicle that’s moving slower and being passed will need to compensate for being pushed to the side. Typically by counter steering toward the opposite direction that are is forcing the vehicle.
You have to compensate more in the Pro than in the Sport due to the Pro’s softer suspension. The suspension allows the Pro to rock side to side more easily than the Sport. Which means situations where traffic is passing, it will unsettle the Pro more than the Sport. Not a little more but a surprisingly a large amount more.
This is especially noticeable when waiting in traffic on a highway off ramp. Take sitting in the right turn lane with a clear left turn lane, about a quarter mile from the intersection. As vehicles pass, the Pro will rock side to side quite a bit. The Sport not so much. This rocking in the Pro gets annoying when sitting there for 20 minutes. It’s also not pleasant for people prone to motion sickness.
The Sport feels more planted and stable on the road because of its firmer suspension.
The Sport wins with noise. The Pro has the TRD exhaust and it drones and drones and drones and drones. If you’re driving at a constant speed, like you would on the highway, it’s a monotone hum that is irritating. It’s not loud so music will easily drown it out, but if I’m trying to be quiet so a passenger can sleep, it gets on my nerves very quickly.
Road noise is another area the Pro doesn’t do so well because of its tires. The Pro has road biased off road tires whereas the Sport has street ties. You can hear tire noise from the Pro tires while driving.
The Sport is definitely the quieter of the two.
Let me start of by saying Toyota doesn’t sell the Pro in a long bed configuration but they do for the Sport. This isn’t a big deal for me as a I’m obviously not so attached to the long bed that this prevented me from buying the Pro. This isn’t really a comparison of the Sport and Pro but of the two bed lengths.
The log bed makes the truck a lot harder to maneuver. It’s only about a foot longer but it really makes a difference. Going around turns you have to pull forward further before starting the turn. I’ve found tight turns to be more difficult than with the short bed. The long bed is also surprisingly much harder to park when the isle in a parking lot is narrow. The long bed isn’t that much longer but driving it really feels like the you’re driving a much larger truck.
Usability of the long bed is great. I’ve helped two people move with the Sport and being able to put a mattress in the bed sideways and close the tail gate is really nice. In the short bed the mattress would have to be on a diagonal (I think it will fit that way). The extra space just made it that much easier.
For day to day driving I think the short bed is the better option. But if you use the bed a lot, I don’t, the long bed is ideal.
The Sport being 4×2 is rated at 20/23 mpg. I was averaging 21/25 which is fantastic. Anytime you can get above the advertised numbers is great. Especially with a 4 door, long bed configuration.
The Pro on the other hand isn’t doing nearly as well. Being a 4×4 I knew going in the millage wasn’t going to be as good. It’s rated at 18/22 and I can live with that. However, I’m only getting 17/20 in my Pro. That’s below the advertised numbers and frankly, disappointing. Especially when the Sport was doing better.
Remember, I’m driving the same routes and since these two trucks are so similar my driving style is the same between them. I realize the Pro has less miles in 6 months than the sport did in 2 years but I’m comparing the millage at the 6 month mark for each to have a valid(ish) comparison.
Off Road Capability
I’ll be honest, I’ve never taken the Pro off road. Between all three Tacomas I’ve owned I’ve driven down two dirt roads and through one field for parking at an event. I can’t really compare the off roadness of a 4×2 Sport with a 4×4 Pro either. The Sport I had isn’t by any stretch of the imagination an off road vehicle. I like the idea of having a 4×4 and having Crawl Control at my fingertips because I’m not an avid or experienced off road driver. That said, for my use I really don’t need the off road capabilities of the Pro.
Hands down the Pro looks better than the Sport. The Pro has the heritage grill with Toyota written in instead of a chrome cheese grader with the T emblem. The Pro branding is also understated compared to the giant Sport sticker along the side of the bed. I really like the black fender flares on the Pro more than the color matched ones on the Sport too.
The TRD skid plate on the front of the Pro looks good. Really good and much better than the plastic valance on the Sport. The lines on the front of the truck are much smoother when you have a metal plate stamped TRD flowing under the front instead of seeing a strip of plastic.
It’s still a Tacoma and both look like a Tacoma but the touches on the Pro make it look substantially better. While you can make a Sport look like a Pro by replacing parts, I’m looking at this from the standpoint of buying and leaving as is.
The Little Things
The Crawl Control controls are overhead in the Pro. I have no problem with their placement and I think it’s a good place for them. However, the Sport not having Crawl Control uses that space as a sun glass holder. Meaning the Pro doesn’t have a handy place to put your sun glasses. I ended up putting them in the cubby with the Qi charging mat.
Both models have a non-functional, ascetic only, hood scoop. For short people like me it reduces visibility more than you’d expect. It sticks up from the top of an already large and high hood. It doesn’t reduce visibility to the point it’s unsafe to drive but it would be nice to see more of the road.
Another issue with the scoop is it reflects sun light. Due to the lines of the scoop it will reflect the sun when overhead, right into your face. I don’t think Toyota intended to blind drivers when they designed the scoop. That said, the Pro has solved this problem. It has a matte black accent over the scoop which eliminates the glare from the sun. It’s only a stick-on decal but it makes a huge difference.
For what I need and do, the Sport suits my needs better than the Pro. There is a lot to like about the Pro but for daily driving a 4×2 Sport with a short bed will fit my needs. The Pro is fun to have and still does everything I need it to do. It’s not that much less comfortable than the Sport and I don’t really have any problems with the Pro. But for an everyday truck, I think the Sport fulfills that need, at least for me, better than the Pro.
I don’t think buying the Pro was a mistake per say. I bought it because when I went to the dealership I said to myself, “I’ll get the model that has pretty much every option and feature and all the upgrades” and that’s what I did. Having had the Pro for a while, I don’t think some of the upgrades, and they really are upgrades, do what I want better than what the Sport offers. If I could go back in time and could make the choice again, I would have gotten another Sport.