Mountain Wheels: Rough and ready, the renewed Toyota Tacoma offers smaller pleasures (column)
2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD Offroad 4x4 double cab
MSRP: $33,730; as tested, $37,610
Powertrain: 276-HP 3.5-liter V6; six-speed automatic transmission
EPA figures (combined/city/highway): 20/18/23
The American market for full-sized pickup trucks is a great thing for automakers that like to sell their products by the pound, but sometimes we have to remember that we’re just a Super Big Gulp anomaly in a world of more sensible 300-milliliter-sized servings.
However, so volcanic is the U.S. truck business that Ford hasn’t even bothered to localize its smaller global offerings, and Ram is also taking its own sweet time, though a Fiat-based product called the Rampage — looking a lot like that odd old Ford Explorer Sport Trac truck — is said to be on the way.
And as for actual models sold already, the Nissan Frontier, profiled earlier this summer, is old as dirt. So who’s actually paying attention to the compact truck market, besides the not-especially small Chevy Colorado and its GMC Canyon clone?
I finally had a chance to actually drive the Toyota Tacoma — the truck that could rather successfully serve that smaller-sized niche — and I was struck by a few things.
Firstly, while it’s a major reinvention of the rather old model it replaces, drawing heavily from the blocky design of its much larger sibling, the Tundra, just being smaller doesn’t necessarily make it less expensive.
After catching a preview glimpse of the truck a year ago, I got to roll around in a top-of-the-line 4×4 TRD Off-road Tacoma with the double cab, one of six grades of Tacoma available. Complete with the technology package (heated seats, dual zone climate control and parking aids) and a towing package, the truck stickered at nearly $38,000.
I felt a bit of déjà vu with my Chevy Colorado experience, as a result. If a smaller truck, noble as it is to travel in a vehicle that is not a gigantic Destroyer of Worlds in its general proportions, costs almost as much as a full-sized truck, maybe people won’t necessarily see the value proposition.
Admittedly, the TRD Off-road does position the Tacoma with the fullest range of big-truck goodness, including the 276-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 (a base Tacoma is available for $24,120, equipped with the more austere 159-horsepower 2.7-liter four-cylinder); but loaded down, it strays into Tundra territory pretty quickly. The full-blown TRD Pro, outfitted with skid plates, Fox shocks and tuned exhaust, starts at $40,760, very much full-sized truck pricing.
Truck-wise, it also does what it is asked to do. The ride is bumpy, perched on off-road-ready tires, and steering also requires a bit of overcompensation as a result. After an amazing 25,000 miles of journalist testing and abuse, the brakes were also fried on mine; I suspect that an off-the-lot model would have a lot more immediacy in the stopping department.
Similarly, the six-speed automatic transmission was also a bit creaky, though my suspicion was that the truck had been dragged across every boulder, creek bed and exposed tree stump in the Centennial State, suggesting that it had actually survived those ordeals pretty well. The Broncos-worthy Inferno orange paint job might have compelled previous drivers to do their worst, with even a bit of the outside paint job showing up on the dash.
In the TRD lite version, you still do get some pretty fearsome bits to test, including the Crawl Control system. A knob located above the rear-view mirror allows you to automate the speeds when ruthlessly thrashing the truck over heinous terrain, so you can keep your eyes (and hands) on skirting obstacles — it’s also close to that charming built-in GoPro mount, so you can detail your weekend adventures for your insurance agent.
An electronically locking rear differential and a multi-terrain selector knob, not unlike those found in Land Rover, Jeep and Ford products, also allow you to dial in the mix of driving dynamics you would like.
Flat-out power from the V-6, was certainly enjoyable, but it takes a bit of grunt to get the more off-road-oriented version of the truck going.
The Tundra-inspired makeover does indeed give you a lot of ultra-blocky character outside and inside, and an aesthetic overhaul that’s confusing at times (which of the five identical-sized knobs on the dash starts the car, and which one handles the 4×4?).
The double cab’s rear seats are an odd mix, with oversized, view-blocking headrests you can tilt forward, though the entire seats themselves partially disassemble to reveal a hard-shelled utility space that does not seem any larger than the space available with the seats up.
The bedliner, tiedown system and cladding on top of the tailgate — plus a rugged, replaceable plastic guard atop the bumper — do mean you’ll be able to cart a load of big-truck-styled stuff.
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