EcoRun 2019: Alberta Edition

Calgary

We were yahoo’d properly into the spirit of the town, and given big, funny hats befitting our stature by the city’s Director of Business Development, Greg Newton, down at the Stampede grounds as the 2019 edition of EcoRun came to a close.

Stampede didn’t officially start for another week, but around here they take this festival/rodeo seriously, and start the party early. Our hotel downtown was buzzing with people in similar hats to ours, and the atmosphere decidedly celebratory.

However, just as the speechifying was about to begin, with the announcements of who among us had achieved the best fuel economy numbers – and would thus rule over us all with their prize, the coveted ‘Green Jersey’ (similar to an Oscar, except it isn’t rigged, ha ha), that’s when the weather turned on us.

The sky cracked open, and blasted down upon us some truly biblical rain, which is one thing; but it was when the thunder started and the power in our building went out that our group abandoned Stampede Park and ran to the buses back to downtown, sheltered from the monsoon (somewhat) by our big, funny hats.

But wait. I’m formulating this tale poorly – stories aren’t supposed to start at the end. Let’s back it up a couple of days, to the beginning of this 8th installment of AJAC’s EcoRun:

Edmonton

We kicked it off in Edmonton, down by the river at Louise McKinney Park. Mayor Don Iveson joined Minister of Natural Resources Amarjeet Sohi and Suncor VP Dean Wilcox on a stage with several of the vehicles to open the drive.

(And hey, for a complete list of vehicles that were involved in the event, and their fuel scores, scroll down to the bottom of the page).

EcoRun Chair David MIller (left) opens the event along with Mayor Don Iveson, Minister of Natural Resources Amarjeet Sohi and Suncor VP Dean Wilcox Photo courtesy John Walker/AJAC

You don’t need me to run down what the annual EcoRun is all about – in a nutshell it’s a demonstration of vehicles from a number of manufacturers’ most fuel efficient products. Not everything needs to be an EV or a hybrid to enter; we had a diesel-powered Chevy Colorado in the mix along with a couple of gasoline-only Mazda3s (both sedan and hatchback, and one an AWD to boot).

Here’s some links to some past history and overview of the event and its intent.

Getting back to the story: I jumped into a Toyota RAV4 and drove out to our first destination (and charge point for the electric vehicles):

Red Deer

I rolled into the ‘Deer with an average of 5.5L/100km, which is actually .5 under the NRCanada rating for the RAV, and pretty decent for an AWD crossover. It underscores another important point, too; almost every vehicle entered in this year’s run actually beat the projected ‘official’ mileage figures – some by a little and some by a lot. Check out the results for the Hyundai Elantra and the Colorado, for example!

Red Deer isn’t just famous for being the birthplace of Wade Ozeroff, either, there’s a sports museum on the outskirts of the city where we pulled in for a look while the EV’s recharged. The recharging can take a couple of hours, even with 240v power, so the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame is a good place to kill time, and hear a few words from one of the big sponsors of the EcoRun, ATCO’s Francois Blouin.

Drumheller

I switched to a Volvo for the next leg, an XC60 T8 for the drive from Red Deer to Drumheller. Great vehicle, incidentally; I love Volvo’s interiors in any of their current vehicle lineup. I got less-stellar fuel economy on this leg of the run, though, coming in at 6.7L per 100km.

But hey! Drumheller! I haven’t been to the area since I was a little kid, and they’ve got way more stuff at the excellent Royal Tyrrell Museum. I totally recommend it – there’s dozens if not hundreds of dinosaur skeletons (and prehistoric mammals). The facility is awesome, as is the Badlands countryside around it.

 Calgary

It was in Drumheller that I swapped the Volvo for a fully electric vehicle, a Kia Niro. And here’s an important point: EVs have become much better at predicting, accurately, their range. When they unhooked my test car from the charging station, it claimed to have a range of 220 kilometers.

I have been in earlier-generation electric vehicles where this claim meant nothing (which is where the whole ‘range anxiety’ comes in – a car starts off saying it has lots of range and then the estimate plummets when you pull onto the highway in a headwind, and then suddenly you’re worried about not making it home).

Not the case with the Niro, though. The drive to Cowtown was 141 km, and pulled into the hotel downtown with 80 km of range still left in the battery, according to its info display.

Longview

Photo courtesty AJAC/John Walker

Longview, AB isn’t just the home of country music icon Ian Tyson, it is also the base of one of the finest Jerky stores in our fine province. I picked some up for the rest of the trip, and totally vouch for the quality of their fine product.

That aside, the trip to Longview from Calgary (this is into the second day of the Run) allowed another hybrid from Toyota to stand out – the Corolla Hybrid.

What made it remarkable in particular was that this was only leg of the event where I drove with a passenger in any of the vehicles. A delightful woman named Andrea from NRCan joined me for the trip, which was great timing because the Corolla didn’t a navigation system and I am absolutely terrible at directions.

Indeed, the only thing worse than a car with no nav is a car with a navigation system that gets confused and does stupid things like try to send you the wrong way down a one-way, or keeps making you drive across the bridge over the river unnecessarily. So it was good to have someone to read the map directions, especially since all the highways to Longview seem to be called Hwy 22. Andrea can attest to this.

Anyway, the point is, the Corolla hybrid came in under the official economy estimate with two of us in the car (I got 3.9km/100km versus the stated 4.5 from the company) and that was including me getting lost for a while on the way out of downtown.

Banff/Canmore

Coming into the home stretch, Andrea abandoned me in Longview (perhaps in favor of a more competent media geek, one who doesn’t get lost, I dunno), and I hopped daintily into another Toyota product – one of my favorites: the Prius!

And not just any Prius, either, but the company’s new, all-wheel drive model. It turned in stellar mileage on the drive from Longview to Banff/Canmore yielding 3.7L/100km which is incredible for an AWD car, and full litre below the official economy numbers. Also, this one had a nav system, and a really good one at that.

Calgary Redux

In summation: that was about that, my gentle friends. My last push of the EcoRun was in a Nissan Altima that took me into Calgary (admittedly, it was pretty much a straight run down the highway) with a result almost two km under the official FE number, at 5.8L/100km.

I could have done better, too, but the Altima’s nav system got confused and kept trying to make me drive over to the wrong side of the river and I got mad at it and was perhaps mashing the gas a little hard as I drove ‘round and ‘round in downtown traffic.

Actual photo of David MIller, outgoing EcoRun Chair and a pretty right-on guy.

And now we’re back to the start of this tale, y’all, with a bunch of really good-lookin’ men and women fleeing the Stampede grounds deluge in big funny hats.

Don’t worry, though, we took over the bar at the hotel for the closing ceremonies, conducted under makeshift conditions by longtime EcoRun Chair, David Miller. The poignant touch on the evening is that will be Miller’s last turn as Chair of the event after 8 years – a great guy with absolutely first-rate planning skills who consistently pulls together the wonderful showcase of fuel-efficient and alternative-fuel vehicles. I can’t imagine how much work must go into putting this spectacle on, primarily done by Miller and the event Logistics Manager, the excellent Jim Koufis.

My big funny hat is off to them, and to the Alberta edition of the AJAC EcoRun!

You can check out the results below for the results of all the entries, there really isn’t a loser in the bunch:

 

 

2019 Toyota Tundra SR5

(or, if you enjoy longer, but more technically correct headlines: 2019 4×4 Toyota Tundra SR5 Crewmax 5.7L TRD Pro)

As with a number of Toyota’s vehicles (I’m thinking of the 4Runner), the company’s full-size pickup is nearing the end of its current-generation product life cycle. The 2019 Tundra is pretty close to the ones we’ve seen on the roads for the past few years give or take a few updates and cosmetic and option/packaging changes.

Our tested vehicle this time out is a 4×4 with Crewmax cab (like all pickups from virtually all the major players, there is a bewildering variety of configurations to choose from) and 5.7 litre V8 engine.

This big iForce powerplant brings a competitive 381 horsepower (and 401 lb.-ft. of torque) to the platform and promises a 1,700 lb payload in the bed and 10,000 lb towing capacity. I’ll just mention here that buyers can still select Tundra with a smaller 4.6 litre eight-banger as well, should you not require that kind of power.

Porting the power through a 6-speed automatic transmission and making it easy between four-wheel drive modes (and 4×2) with a simple knob on the dash, the Tundra is easy to get used to and doesn’t bring a big learning curve to jump in and start driving.

As it happened, our videographer, Elliott owns a 2013 Tundra (also with TRD Pro equipment) so here is a look at the two side-by-side:

For 2019, the TRD package brings extra toughness and off-road equipment – and a few new standard features (like the Rigid Industries fog lamps, and Fox shock absorbers) in addition to a lot of badges all over the vehicle, inside and out.

TRD Pro pumps up the cost of the Tundra by almost eighteen grand ($17,900 to be exact) but brings it to a level suitable as a proper truck for real world use.

The offroad capability is boosted with an underbody skid plate and fuel tank protector plates, all-terrain tires (mounted on TRD-specific 18” wheels and Remote Reservoir suspension kit.

The branding adds to the appearance inside and out, with TRD performance dual exhaust tips and black badging, and the name is now stamped into the bed side; and some pretty good looking stitching on the leather seats in the cabin.

Passenger space is generous throughout the Crewmax cab, as is storage area; but here’s an interesting thing Elliott pointed out when compared to his 2013 model: the rear seats have been changed to a flip-up style, which has eliminated a behind the seat hidden storage area.

Technology standouts in our test Tundra were clearance and backup sensors (and blind spot monitor), AVN navigation system and an auto-dimming rear view mirror with compass in it.

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I won’t pretend I did any serious rough-country driving during my time in the Tundra, but Toyota boasts of the vehicle’s ability on difficult terrain. I did manage to find some snowy trails and a lot of pothole-cratered roads to navigate though (because I live in Edmonton, you see, where our civic flag is just a picture of a pothole swallowing a car) and the truck dealt with urban hazards with ease and a consistently smooth ride.

Even the price isn’t all that off-putting, though frankly I think I may have become somewhat jaded to pickup prices. Sixty-five grand is sixty-five grand, after all, but you can certainly pay more than that for a number of trucks that double as working and family vehicles (like the Ram 1500 we looked at recently).

Detractions I would offer after my time in this one, in addition to the usual stuff that comes with the overall size (the turning circle, the difficulty in any sort of covered parkade due to the overall height) would be:

No smart key. I could open the doors by pushing a button on the fob, but starting the Tundra required the key to be inserted in the ignition. Seems kind of anachronistic in these modern times.

Climbing into the cab was made more difficult by the test truck having no step-in rail or running board.

And of course, fuel economy – the Tundra is rated at a combined mileage of 16.0L/100 km, and I came in closer to eighteen, though in it’s defense, all my driving was done during a week of pretty heavy snow and deep-freeze temps.

Ultimately, it is a decent truck backed by Toyota’s formidable reputation for build quality and long-term value, and despite the age of this current generation continues to offer the best competition to the traditional Big Three options.

Cafe Linnea

Here’s another of Edmonton’s A-list eateries – Cafe Linnea!

Located once again in an area I don’t normally associate with fine dining (much as we found with Range Road) they’re in a strip mall in a fairly industrial-looking district over on 119st and 109ave)

I was there with Toyota Canada a few weeks back, and Linnea brought on a great experience for roughly a dozen of us.

While not as well-known locally as some (they have only been in business a couple of years now), I wish them nothing but good things going forward!

Here’s a link to a fun blog on their website; where the restaurant’s contact info can also be found

2018 Toyota Camry XLE Hybrid

I’ve always felt that if I had to make the choice, I would buy a loaded Camry before I would buy an entry level Lexus, and that is certainly the case with this one.

(Incidentally, here is a link to a brief Youtube video with the XLE Hybrid, holding its own on a frigid day here in Edmonton).

A Camry in XLE trim is practically a luxury car, perhaps lacking the brand cachet of Lexus, but consider that this one still comes in about 6K less than the ES300h, which is pretty much the equivalent of the Camry in size and configuration.

The major points of our test Camry are: it’s powered by a 2.5L four-cylinder gasoline engine, which on its own can produce 176 horsepower (and 163 lb.-ft. of torque), but as a hybrid it also adds an electric motor – branded by Toyota as their Hybrid Synergy Drive system – which brings the combined output to a potential 208 hp.

And of course, one of the things about electric power is that the torque comes on at very low rpm, putting the power to the wheels very quickly, especially when the Sport Mode of the Camry hybrid is activated.

I’m not trying to imply that it’s some sort of sports car here, it isn’t, but the vehicle provides ample power and a driving experience that won’t leave the daily driver feeling let down. It comes up to speed promptly and deals with everyday demands admirably whether on the highway or here on the streets of Edmonton.

But where the advantage lies with hybrid vehicles like this is with the increased fuel economy and savings at the pump over the life of the vehicle – Toyota states a combined consumption rating for the Camry Hybrid of 5.2L/100km, although I’ve gone a little over that (this one ended up with 6.0 after about 400 km of mostly city driving, but it has been my observation that cold weather affects the mileage of hybrids by forcing the cars to use the gas engine more).

Inside the 2018 XLE you find comfortable seating and decent headroom, a dash layout where all major controls are easy to find and understand, and a suite of new tech for 2018.

Now, if you watch our Youtube video you may notice that a lot of the apps on my test vehicle come up grayed out, as they aren’t activated for this press car, but regardless, you can see where the apps would be activated through the combination of touch-screen and interface buttons of the Entune 3.0 suite.

Entune is apparently an open source, Linux based system for the communication module – and the 2018 Camry is the first vehicle to get the system.

This Camry XLE also includes a comprehensive set of safety features, my favorites of which are blind-spot monitors and rear cross-traffic detection, and a backup camera that will display an overhead, bird’s eye view of the car.

And while less space-age and futuristic, another feature I like on the Camry XLE is the tire-pressure monitor (which can be displayed as a little graphic on the cluster behind the steering wheel if you cycle through the submenus with the steering-mounted controls) that shows the pressure in each individual tire. I like that so much better than lower-end systems that will only alert you that there is a low tire, but makes you get out and check each one to find it.

So ultimately, there isn’t much to dislike in the all-new Camry Hybrid (and it is ‘all-new’, Toyota says the 2018 shares almost no components with the previous generation).

The Camry is also a top-finalist in the Large Car category for the Canadian Car of the Year, presented by Automobile Journalists Association of Canada

You could pick on the price, I suppose, as the XLE does come in a little higher than competitive hybrids from Korea; and perhaps the appearance – although again, the car looks better in my opinion than the outgoing model.

I wouldn’t call it ugly – it isn’t – but rather what a number of people describe as ‘boring’, but that is of course in the eye of the beholder. (Although, do me a favor and check out that big plastic grille and see what you think).

Our test car here, a pretty complete package as is (there are no options listed for our tester) came with a sticker price of $42,832.50 CDN

2017 RAV4 AWD Platinum

RAV9While it hasn’t changed outwardly in any significant way for 2017, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing for Toyota’s RAV4; wrapped as it is in a sterling reputation for quality and reliability (as the RAV has been pretty much since its introduction).

The body retains the cues established after the last major facelift, and after the removal of the full-size spare tire mounted on the (formerly) side-hinged tailgate of the early models the RAV4 has forgone a lot of its distinctiveness.RAV1

But although it can now be easily mistaken for any number of compact utility vehicles, it does still sport a certain character and flourish, particularly when viewed from the front.

Indeed, check out this test model’s face – doesn’t this seem like it would have been a better tie-in for the Star Wars cross promotion Nissan did earlier this year? C’mon, the RAV just looks more like a stormtrooper helmet; even more so in the ‘Galactic Aqua Mica’ paintjob unique to this package.

This is what is new for 2017: the Platinum package option for the Limited trim.

Platinum adds $1,460 to the price of the RAV4 Limited (all-wheel drive) trim level, and builds on an already pretty good set of features. Power rear lift-gate, atmospheric lighting in the footwells, and the full-body colour treatment that makes my test vehicle look so sinister at the curbside.

And of course, you get interior trim and badging that announces the Platinum-ness of the whole thing. It’s not as ostentatious as, say, the extra labeling strewn around a Dodge PowerWagon, but you won’t forget what edition of RAV you’re driving.

The interior is specific to the Platinum package as well, a black-on-black upholstery and dash surface that looks well executed and feels good under the touch.2017RAV4a

Everything else is what you would get with a plain ol’ Limited model; and that isn’t too shabby.

RAV4 runs a 2.5 litre four-cylinder engine that offers a potential 176 horsepower, paired up with Toyota’s six-speed automatic tranny (there is no manual option in Canada).

Seating for five, and acceptable headroom in the rear (though legroom isn’t great, depending on the size of who you’re putting back there) along with decent cargo space are what made the RAV4 as popular as it is – it would be hard to go wrong with using this for a one-car suburban family.

Operating everything in the cabin is easy and intuitive which is a quality I find in most Toyota vehicles, there is no head-scratching looking for things or queuing up your station list on the stereo. I like the interface on the console better than the one found in the Highlander, frankly. Better, more tactile knobs and buttons.

2017RAV4d

This is cool and everything, but I would rather it showed me the vehicle speed.

The only thing I question in my RAV tester’s array of information options that can be called up between the main dials is the lack of a digital speedometer. While I can choose to look at a graphic display of the vehicle’s eco-performance or an oversimplified diagram of g-force and weight shift, why can’t I get a digital speedo?

Seriously, that is a function I find pretty handy in my city, where speed limits vary wildly (also, they keep changing them. Seemingly hourly). In fact, I’m not sure you can call yourself Platinum if you don’t have a digital speed display, but forcing them to brand it as the ‘Molybdenum Alloy” package would just confuse the public.2017RAV4c

Never mind me, though, if you’ve already made up mind for a RAV, it starts at an MSRP of about twenty-eight grand for a base model with front-wheel drive; but if you want to run out and buy a 2017 Limited AWD with Platinum package, it scampers up to $39,615 before freight and taxes and fees.

RAV2

WARRANTY: Basic-3 Years or 60,000km. Powertrain-5 Years or 100,000km. Corrosion Perforation-5 Years unlimited. Major Emissions- 8 Years or 130,000km.

2017 Toyota Highlander SE

The Highlander needs no introduction, Toyota’s popular crossover took over the roads and grabbed up market share beginning back in 2001, and has developed a reputation for quality and endurance that keeps customers coming back.2017Highlander-9

The shape is still familiar, although the front end has been tweaked for the new model year with the family grille; the wide-mouth trapezoid that is being bestowed on Toyota models of all sizes and types.

Still in its third generation, Highlander is much the same for 2017 as last year’s, but with a new package available – the SE option.2017Highlander-7

To be brief, the SE is a package available on the XLE (V6) trim, which gives the vehicle a sportier grille, second row reclining captain’s chairs (SE is a seven seater, Highlanders can also be bought with room for eight passengers), roof rails, ambient lighting, SE-specific paint options and 19” wheels.

The one you see here is a gasoline-powered (i.e., non hybrid) coaxing a potential 265 horsepower from its 3.5L six-cylinder engine, and sporting a new-for-2017 8-speed automatic transmission.2017Highlander-4

Blind-spot monitors and rear cross-traffic sensors are a useful part of the safety suite, as is intelligent cruise control, lane departure warning (and an active departure-assist system, which will attempt to pull the car back between the lines, presumably in case a driver isn’t paying attention).

It drove well, for a large-ish, though technically still a ‘mid-size’ crossover, with smooth steering and good stopping power from the brakes. The cabin is spacious and cargo-friendly when the third row of seats is folded down, and when the rearmost seats are righted, access to them is helped out by the sliding second row.

Comfortable enough for long drives, thanks to a driver’s seat that will accommodate a wide variety of body types, although I got a few complaints about the ride from second-row passengers.2017Highlander-2

Overall, it is easy to recommend Highlanders in any trim, just based on the vehicle’s rep and record. It is a constant favorite of Consumer Reports and other quality barometers, and yielded good fuel economy during my time in the SE – the ‘city’ portion of which was no doubt helped by the engine’s auto-stop function, which shuts it down when stopped at a light.

There are definitely a few things I would change about it, of course, should I ever become a Toyota engineer:

I don’t especially enjoy the user interface on the console, with flat buttons on either side of the information display that don’t offer a lot of ‘feedback’ when you are using them – sort of like elevator buttons, if you know what I mean. You have to look at them to see if they have responded to your touch.

The vehicle didn’t have a digital speedometer option among the choices of info to display between the dials, and the navigation app wasn’t especially space age, lacking the handy feature whereby speed limits are shown on the street map on the center display.

2017Highlander-6

You see what I mean about the cover, right? Here it is in its mounted position, where it blocks the 3rd row, and also inhibits folding the seats.

Finally, the rollup tonneau cover, which hides your goodies in the back from prying eyes isn’t easy to store when you remove it. Unlike, say, Subaru’s Forester, where a compartment has been built into the rear floor to snap the thing into to have somewhere to keep it when it’s not in use; the one in the Highlander has to sit loose on the floor. And it would have to be removed when using the third row seats, as it locks in place right in front of them.

And of course the price – Highlander comes at a premium it seems. My test model, with the $1,595 SE Package, bent the sticker all the way to $47,478 including taxes/destination charges.

 

 

 

2017 Tundra and Tacoma

A Tale of Two Toyota Trucks that Start With T

It is a misconception that the people of my bucolic Western province only drive pickup trucks, whether they be hard-workin’ roughnecks on their way to the oil patch or accountants clogging up the streets downtown as they search for a parking spot near the accounting office. A total falsie, I say, though a casual observer could be forgiven for thinking that (the truth, of course, is that many also drive three-row sport utility vehicles. So there).

Anyway, my snide commentary aside, there is of course a reason for this, and I had the chance recently to remind myself that the higher ground clearance and four-wheel drive systems of such vehicles is, on many days out here, a really desirable thing.17Tacoma02

2015 Tacoma TRD Pro

I drove Toyota’s pickup pair, the popular Tacoma midsize and its larger sibling, the Tundra, nearly back-to-back during a couple of weeks of weird weather. Freeze and thaw, accompanied by ridiculous amounts of snow that in turn froze-and-thawed until every day provided exciting new challenges and conditions on the road.

Neither vehicle is especially radically changed for the new model year, You’ve seen the Tundra before, and can find a longer piece here about the Tacoma’s changes back in 2016

The 2017 Tacoma I used distinguished itself with its TRD Pro package – a $12,850 option that adds a number of features to boost the overall robustness, in addition to the many TRD badges you find all over the vehicle, inside and out (and there are a lot of them, on skidplate, mats, doors, tailgate; you won’t forget what you driving).17Tacoma04

The TRD Pro also gets a non-functional hood scoop, from the Sport trim of the Tacoma lineup, Bilstein shocks and TRD tuned front and rear suspension.

Overall, it is a great truck, don’t get me wrong, certainly overkill for my purposes; and it shows off the highlights of the Tacoma platform, and brings the same detractions (my least favorite being the entry-and-exit through the front doors. It is just a weird combination of the door shape and the steering wheel position that makes it awkward to get in and out of, and not just for taller drivers).

Carrying a formidable reputation for reliability and resale value, and with full off-roading bona fides and equipment (I love the Crawl Control system Toyota has made available on the truck) the TRD is a great truck, on paper and on the road; its mostly a question of how much you want those TRD Pro badges, as it comes at a price. My test vehicle, which began life as a Tacoma 4×4 Doublecab (3.5 litre V6) at a starting point of $40,455 was pushed to a steep $55,183 with the TRD Pro package.17Tacoma05

I know if I were shopping for one, I’d consider that the truck already has everything I want (and the same engine and transmission, as well as the aforementioned crawl control and electronic and entertainment features) and opt to save myself the fifteen grand.

2017 Tundra 1794

My time in a Tundra is much the same story; that of a solid truck that has consistently demonstrated reliability and quality, bedecked with some special-label accoutrements that add to the bottom line.IMG_6634

This one was a 1794 edition – which in a nutshell is a Tundra 4×4 CrewMax-cab ‘Platinum’ trim (with 5.7 litre iForce V8 and a six-speed automatic) with a bunch of badges.

The 1794 option group gets you, basically, more wood-grain on the dash and leather on the wheel and seat inserts, a chromed bumper and grille, 1794 badges, and brand-emblazoned floor mats. That aside, what is underneath is basically the Crewmax Platinum.IMG_6635

You know what I found absent, though, is that for all that you still don’t get keyless start.

Now, you tell me if the price is acceptable, but the 1794 is still priced lower than a F150 King Ranch (but just between you and me, gentle reader, I like the interior of the King Ranch more) and the package doesn’t add greatly to the price.

The 1794 edition only ups the price of the regular ol’ Tundra Crewmax Platinum by a couple hundred bucks (unlike the TRD Pro package on the Tacoma). Before taxes and fees, a 2017 Tundra 1794 starts out at $58,790

2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD 4×4

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.2016Tacoma-26

(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).

2016Tacoma-1

The 2016 Tacoma beside one of its ancestors. Note that the hood scoop on Sport trim models is still available.

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.2016Tacoma-23

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.2016Tacoma-21

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.2016Tacoma-25

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).