We spend a week in the refreshed off-road capable midsize pickup truck from Toyota.
2016 Toyota Tacoma
The Toyota Tacoma has been around for nearly 20 years with the larger second generation model introduced in 2004 as a 2005 model. Unveiled at the 2015 North American International Auto Show, Toyota calls the 2016 version all-new, although, like the latest Camry, it represents more of a major refresh than a total re-engineering effort.
The 2016 Tacoma's styling features sharper lines and edgier styling that begins up front with a new, upright, hexagonal grille that protrudes from the rest of the fascia. Equally aggressive-looking is the blacked-out lower valance that's bracketed by a pair of square fog lamp enclosures.
The hood features sharply creased character lines while, along the sides, sharply defined wheel arches that house aggressive Kevlar-belted P265/70R16 Goodyear Wrangler tires wrapped around machined contrast alloy 16-inch wheels.
The suspension remains largely unchanged and consists of a double wishbone independent setup with coilover shocks and a stabilizer bar up front, while the solid rear axle is located by a rigid leaf spring setup. On 4x4 models skid plates for the engine and front suspension are standard. Changes for 2016 include stronger front control arms and stronger shocks all around.
On 4x4 double cab models equipped with the TRD off-road package, additional equipment includes an off-road tuned suspension with Bilstein shocks, electronically-controlled locking rear differential, crawl control, a chrome rear bumper, black overfenders and color-keyed door handles.
A big plus is that the new Tacoma's bed consists of steel outer panels and a fiber-reinforced sheet-molded composite inner bed for a dent-proof, rust-proof user experience (the last especially important to owners in northern climes).
Inside, nearly everything but the steering wheel has been improved. There's a new dashboard layout with a new center stack, console and center arm rest (with storage). Although the upper dash and glove box are still hard plastic, there's a softer material between the C-stack and the outer trim ring, while the door panels are trimmed in fabric.
The gauges and knobs are large, easy to read and intuitive to use. One issue we had with the previous model has also been corrected as the fog light switch has been moved to the light stalk from its former location on the lower dash to the left of the steering wheel.
The 2016 model also comes with Toyota's latest app-based Entune infotainment system that includes a 6.1-inch split screen capable touch-screen and such features as Bluetooth, iPod connectivity, voice recognition and text-to-voice. Once you get used to the way it works – picking navigation or any other feature requires hitting the "app" button first – it's easy to use. There are also redundant buttons for the radio functions as well as a "home" button.
The HVAC controls are located in a module below the touchscreen, while a Qi-compatible wireless charger is positioned on the floor of the storage area in front of the shifter.
As with the previous Tacoma, the latest version features a high floor and comparatively low roofline. This requires you sit with your legs nearly out in front of you. It also means that ingress and egress can be awkward, especially for rear seat passengers. And while front seat occupants have plenty of room with nicely bolstered sport seats, the low cushion height in back means the seating position is a bit awkward with not a lot of leg room.
This Tacoma also has a fairly high beltline and comparatively low roofline, which makes the windows and the windshield shorter. While the view out the windshield is fine, the view out the front passenger side window can be obstructed by the passenger, while much of the rear window's real estate is obstructed by the rear head rests. Fortunately, our tester was equipped with the TRD-standard rear view camera, making maneuvering in tight spots much easier.
Under the hood
On all but double cab 4x4 models the standard engine is a 2.7-liter 4-cylinder producing 159 horsepower and 180 lb.-ft. of torque and mated to either a 5-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission. Optional on all but the base 4x2 model and standard on the double cab 4x4 is a new 3.5-liter V6 with both direct and port injection that produces 278 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 265 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,600 rpm paired with either a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic.
Fuel economy will never be a great selling point when you consider the reality that the Tacoma is a mid-size body-on-frame pickup that, in TRD manual guise, tips the scales at over 4,400 pounds with a brick-like coefficient of drag of 0.386. The EPA rates a manually-equipped V6 at 17/20/18 city/highway/combined mpg, while our own observed fuel economy was 14.9 miles per gallon in city and driving.
On the road
The new Tacoma's cab has been reinforced with more high-strength steel, which should improve its safety numbers, but hasn't done much to improve its on-road handling. So while it ultimately feels secure, helped by its standard stability control, there's still quite a bit of body lean in corners. Although the suspension is able to absorb even the largest potholes (kind of a fun exercise when your natural instinct is to try and dodge them), it tends to feel bouncy at freeway speeds even over the mildest of uneven road surfaces. The steering is also remains numb, offering very little feedback to the driver. On the other hand, clutch engagement is fairly short and, like the slightly longish shifter throws, very smooth.
At high speeds on the expressway the Tacoma tracks fairly well and is unaffected by crosswinds. But though well weighted, the numb steering meant that we found ourselves constantly having to make corrections.
Other than some engine noise on hard acceleration, Toyota has done a good job keeping interior sound levels low around town. Even on the expressway, there was much less wind, road and tire noise entering the cabin.
The brakes were easy to modulate and provided excellent feedback through the brake pedal. But like its predecessor, the latest Tacoma has a tendency to nosedive during hard braking.
Equipment and pricing
2016 Tacoma pricing starts at $22,480, including delivery fees, for an SR 4x2 with a 5-speed manual and can top out at over $43,000 for a fully-accessorized TRD Pro Double Cab 4x4 automatic.
Our 2016 Inferno TRD Offroad 4x4 Double Cab manual tester had a base price of $32,100. The $2,330 Premium & Technology Package (dual zone climate control, heated front seats, rear parking sensor, blind spot monitor with rear traffic alert, auto headlamps and moonroof), a $650 hard tonneau cover plus $650 for the V6 Tow Package (receiver hitch, engine oil cooler, power steering cooler and trailer sway control) and $900 for delivery, processing and handling brought the total MSRP to $36,630.
The Bottom Line
As far as genuine off-road pickups go, the Tacoma TRD 4x4 is the real deal and has a lot going for it including a nicer cabin (replete with standard windshield GoPro mount) and more aggressive exterior styling. There's also decent driver visibility with room for four adults and acceptable fuel economy for a vehicle of this type. It has plenty of ground clearance and everything from skid plates to an electronic locking rear differential to make it a true standout when it leaves the tarmac.
But while its' off-road prowess may be exceptional, its on-road manners for normal, everyday driving leave a bit to be desired including numb steering and a bouncy freeway ride. However, who are we kidding? Buyers looking for this type of vehicle should be more than willing to accept these trade-offs.
That said, the 2016 Tacoma is much more refined than the outgoing model and should please current owners as well as attract many new buyers.