2021 Toyota Tacoma gets new SR5 Trail Edition

By Jim Prueter

(March 28, 2021) The Toyota Tacoma — affectionately known as the Taco by its copious fans — has been the best-selling mid-sized pickup for 16 years running, outselling its nearest two competitors by more than two-to-one last year. Tacoma is available in 33 different configurations and various models to satisfy the needs of a multitude of truck buyers. For 2021, Toyota is offering two limited production models: the Nightshade Edition and Trail Edition model tested here. Just 7,000 will be available. Otherwise, there are no major differences between the 2020 and 2021 models.

The Trail Edition starts out with a base SR5 crew cab offering rear- or four-wheel drive.  Available Trail color choices include Army Green, Super White, Midnight Black, and our tester’s color – Cement.

All Trails feature black exterior badging, plus black seating with tan stitching. In all versions, standard all-weather floor liners help catch the outdoor elements that come in on occupants’ feet. The 2021 Tacoma Trail also features a set of dark gray 16-inch TRD off-road wheels with Kevlar all-terrain tires, and the grille from the Tacoma Limited adds a custom touch. There’s also a 120-volt power outlet in the bed that adds versatility, and the lockable bed storage space on the driver side doubles as a cooler, with insulation and drain plug.|

Our Trail Tacoma was powered by the 278-horsepower engine (we recommend skipping the unimpressive 159-horsepower four-cylinder base engine) and paired with the standard six-speed automatic transmission. A manual six-speed transmission is only offered on TRD trims.

The Trail comes with a five-foot bed with composite inner bed walls, eliminating the need for a bedliner. A bed rail system with adjustable tie downs is standard as is the previously mentioned storage unit. There are only a few in-cabin storage compartments, including hidden storage underneath the rear seats.

The Tacoma’s cabin is well constructed, overall, but it’s easy to see that it is built more for work and ruggedness than comfort and plushness, with an endless amount of hard plastic seemingly everywhere. There’s room for five but cramped quarters is the flavor of the day in all Tacoma models. The rear seat is a tight squeeze at best, and you can forget about legroom. When compared to competitors like the GMC Canyon, Chevrolet Colorado or Honda Ridgeline the Tacoma is clearly antiquated inside and feels years behind.

Touchscreen capability via a seven- or eight-inch display is standard and Tacoma has finally added Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability. There are several USB ports and optional Qi-compatible wireless charging pad but no mobile hotspot as with some rival trucks. Gauges are large and easy to read and all switchgear and controls are straightforward and easy to use. The audio knobs are on the small side but the climate system uses a simple three-knob setup that works perfectly.

On the road, we were mostly pleased with the V-6 engine but there were times when we wished for more power and low-end torque. The transmission isn’t the smoothest operator nor most responsive but was overall sufficient. The four-wheel-drive system is part-time only, which means drivers have to use judgment when to engage or disengage it when driving in and out of slippery conditions. It isn't meant for use on dry, paved roads. Our Trail had a towing capacity up to 6,700 pounds.

The Tacoma doesn’t deliver the most pleasant ride and on all but the smoothest of blacktop pavement the ride felt jittery and amplified any bump, pothole, rut or uneven pavement. Over time the ride becomes annoying at best.  

All Tacoma models come standard with Toyota Safety Sense Plus as standard equipment, which includes forward collision warning with automatic braking and pedestrian detection, and adaptive cruise control.

Blind spot warning and rear cross traffic warning are packaged together as a $600 option. These are nice features and are highly recommended.

Overall, the Tacoma is a good truck, a best-seller in its class and especially appreciated if you’re looking to hit the trails with rugged off-road adventuring. It’s easy to drive, has good visibility and plenty of user-friendly infotainment and operational features and switchgear. However, the chinks in the armor cause the experience to suffer with an uneven ride quality, cramped rear seating, economy look and feel interior quality, and overall lack of refinement when compared to top rated rivals. Still, we expect it will remain a popular choice for Taco’s long-time loyalists.

Vital Stats
Base Price: $37,080
Price as Tested: $41,193
What Makes it go: 278-hp 3.5-liter V-6 paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission and part-time 4-wheel drive.
Fuel Economy: 18/22/20 mpg – City/Highway/Combined
Seats: 5

Where Built: San Antonio, Texas

Crash Test Ratings: Overall rated “Good” other than small overlap front passenger-side crashworthiness that’s rated as Acceptable by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and overall rated four out of a possible five stars by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Competes With:
Chevrolet Colorado
Ford Ranger
GMC Canyon
Honda Ridgeline
Jeep Gladiator
Nissan Frontier

Fab Features:
Great for off-roading
Rugged and reliable with excellent resale values
Loaded with easy to use operational and driver-assistance tech.