Toyota Tacoma — An off-road champ

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The bottom line — If you like the previous-generation Toyota Tacoma you will almost certainly like the all-new 2016 edition. All the things that have made the Toyota mid-sized pickup America's favorite over the past decade have been retained in this total remake. Toyota has improved the Tacoma in numerous ways while retaining its unique flavor.

The new Tacoma advances the popular truck — that had not seen a major remake since 2005 — in interior design, ride comfort, engine and gas mileage improvements, and towing with a maximum of 6,800 pounds — but if you are looking for new cutting-edge styling or a truck that feels considerably different on the highway than the outgoing model you might be disappointed.

“Our goal was to build a truck that is badass,” said Tacoma chief engineer Mike Sweers. Sweers notes Toyota has the youngest buyers in the segment, many of whom enjoy pushing their trucks to the extreme. They are loyal to a fault and don't want the new truck to stray too far from the outgoing one. For that reason Toyota worried most about building on the Tacoma's considerable off-road chops.

The Tacoma is available with two cabs — the extended Access Cab (with small rear-hinged back doors) and the Double Cab (a larger crew cab) — and in five trim levels — SR, SR5, TRD Sport, TRD Off-Road and Limited. Access Cab models come exclusively with a 127.8-inch wheelbase and a 73.7-inch long bed. Double Cab models are offered in short- (127.4-inch) and long- (141-inch) wheelbase versions, the former with a 60.5-inch short bed and the latter with the long bed.

At the top of the food chain are the TRD models and specifically the TRD Off-Road, which is the go-anywhere champ, and the Limited with upgraded JBL premium speakers, navigation, dual-zone climate control, and heated front seats all as standard equipment. Prices range from $24,560 including destination charge for a SR Access Cab to $39,080 for the Limited Double Cab. For those people desiring serious off-road credentials, the TRD Off-Road Double Cab begins at $32,025.

Toyota features two engines including an all-new 3.5-liter V-6 engine has been designed for the truck with Atkinson cycle Variable Valve Timing with Intelligent Wider Intake (VVT-iW) making 278 horsepower — 42 more than the outgoing truck — and 265 pound-feet of torque. The engine features both direct and port fuel injection which enables a direct-injector self-cleaning cycle when the port injectors are in use. The bottom line is that performance has been measurably improved, especially in highway driving, and gas mileage has been increased to 19 mpg city, 24-highway, and 21 combined for the 4X2 and 18/23/20 for the 4X4 with the six-speed automatic.

Toyota obviously put less emphasis on the base four-cylinder engine, which remains unchanged with 159 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque.

The interior of the cab has been totally redesigned with a new center stack and touchscreen display that controls entertainment, navigation and smartphone functions. A standard-equipment GoPro camera is mounted to the windshield for documenting off-road adventures. Toyota has also worked on creating a quieter interior environment.

We think that Toyota could have done a better job with the front seats, which feature the same low mounting position with lack of height adjustability as the outgoing generation. At the same time, headroom is limited for taller occupants. And if you plan on carrying more than two people on a regular basis skip the Access Cab, which has meager backseat room. Opt for the Double Cab configuration where the rear seats are more adult friendly.

We drove the TRD Off-Road truck and learned first-hand at specially designed off-road course just how adept the Tacoma is at crawling and climbing. What set the Tacoma TRD Off-Road apart from the other pickups in the lineup are the Multi-terrain Select and Crawl Control. Each has five settings controlled by an overhead knob. The Multi-terrain system allows the driver to choose between different types of terrain such as loose rock, or mud and sand. Each input regulates wheel spin by adjusting throttle and brake pressure to provide maximum traction on almost any terrain.

Engaging Crawl Control allows the driver to select a speed from 1 to 5 mph. The Crawl Control system takes over the acceleration and braking, allowing the driver to focus solely on steering. We used 100 of our concentration! The system worked as advertised on a couple of severe ascents and descents that Toyota had structured into the massive off-road area and the crawl control set to the number two setting pulled our Tacoma over rocks and boulders in a specially built quarry.

Base price: $24,460; as driven, $39,985
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6
Horsepower: 278 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 265 foot-pounds @ 4,600 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: four wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 127.4 inches
Length: 212.3 inches
Curb weight: 4,668 pounds
Turning circle: 40.6 feet
Towing capacity: 6,800 pounds
Fuel capacity: 21.1 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 24 highway, 19 city
0-60: 7.9 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon, Honda Ridgeline

The Good
• Segment leading off-road capability
• Efficient new V-6 engine
• Excellent resale value

The Bad
• A lot of hard plastics in interior

The Ugly
• Tight rear seat quarters in Access Cab