Riding high in the redesigned Tacoma, the little truck makes a case for itself as a single-solution working pickup that brings an urban-friendly size and passenger environment to a compact pickup platform.
(Not that I am doing any actual work in this one, mind you; my lily-white hands remain soft and unblemished – but I saw enough hard testing at the debut of the 2016 that I have confidence in the Tacoma’s ability)
‘Compact’ is a relative term, of course – what are considered small trucks today are roughly the same footprint as the full-size pickups of the past (if you find yourself test driving a Tacoma, pull up beside older model F-150s and Sierras and see what I mean).
My test vehicle is perhaps the best configuration of Toyota’s available powertrain and cab combinations; an access cab model with four wheel drive and the larger of two available engines (and a new engine at that, at least for Tacoma, with a 3.5L six-cylinder replacing the four-litre of the previous generation).
The Atkinson cycle 3.5L powerplant, which Toyota is a segment-first implementation, raises Tacoma’s horsepower to 278 (last year’s V6 was rated at 236 hp)
It’s a torque-y and willing engine – in fact maybe a little too torque-y and willing – one learns pretty quick to keep a hard step on the brake when shifting into reverse or else it will attempt to lurch into motion with its potential 268 lb-ft; but that may be largely because I am driving the truck with no load in it.
This is actually the third time I’ve driven the latest generation Tacoma, and have seen up close the proof of its ability as an off-roader (at the recent Canadian Car of the Year tests at Mosport I drove it back-to-back against GM’s Canyon Diesel pickup, and found I scored the Tacoma’s ride and handling better).
Crawl control is a great option that comes with my current test-truck’s TRD Offroad package (a $2,475 option), the system essentially automates the four-wheel drive for controlled descents on steep and treacherous terrain, and will also dig itself out of sand quite effectively using its computers to control the spin of each individual wheel.
The Offroad Package is the only option on my test vehicle, and is pretty much the only package you need for a fully complete truck. Along with its addition to the drivetrain, it brings upgraded interior upholstery, heated seats, upgraded Bilstein shocks, all-terrain tires and keyless, push-button start.
Of course, it also adds the cool TRD decal to the rear panels, as it does with the Sport package option, but what’s interesting is that with the Sport you get the (purely decorative) hood scoop; whereas my test Tacoma has a proper smooth/uninterrupted hood that I actually like better.
Frankly, the Tacoma is mostly highlights for me; I don’t have a lot of complaints. It brings all the things expected in a light-duty work truck and can also play hard. It rides well on pavement and feels good inside the redesigned cabin. Especially with the TRD package, you’re treated as well as in the passenger compartment of most sedans.
The crushing lows, though, would be pretty straightforward, and most are typical of any truck (mostly owing to issues of size, turning circle, fuel economy), but a particular Tacoma trait is that getting in and out of the vehicle is difficult.
This isn’t limited to Tacoma trucks, mind you, this is a Toyota thing with a few of their vehicles (I have the same problem with the Prius family, for example), but the positioning of the steering column and comparative tight doorway forces me to bend into yoga-shapes to get into the driver’s seat. Now, yes, the steering column is tiltable (and telescoping), and I could just lock it up out of the way when I exited the truck; but nevertheless I don’t like it. You’ll hear me make a similar complaint about the Lexus IS pretty soon, too.
That is about the extent of the downside, though, unless you don’t like the little fold-down seats in the back row of the Access cab, or the price.
This one I’m using though, this magnificent Inferno Orange sculpture, with six-cylinder engine and automatic transmission, and defined on the spec sheet as a Tacoma 4×4 Access Cab V6 TRD comes with a sticker price of $39,761 (and ninety seven cents).