Mountain Wheels: Tacoma and Crosstrek rule as Colorado’s mountain favorites
Today’s featured vehicles should come as no surprise to any Colorado High Country resident as there’s likely four of each of them parked in front of your house or business. Besides the Ford F-150 family — which we will get to in the near future — the Toyota Tacoma and the Subaru Outback’s little brother, the Crosstrek, anecdotally represent maybe 50% of the vehicles I see on my drives. They’re popular, they’re more affordable than their full-sized kin (well, sorta), and they both deliver a certain Colorado je ne sais quoi, at least differentiating us from the Accords and Camrys that clog the highways in other parts of the country.
The affordable part is true with the Crosstrek, as the higher-horsepower sport model I recently drove was just $29,145, including delivery, a multimedia touchscreen, enhanced safety system and a power moonroof. Sport, in addition to a series of gold-colored highlights in the cabin, becomes a much more practical high-elevation highway traveling vehicle with a 2.5-liter Boxer engine upping the output to 182 horsepower (versus 152 in the standard build). That makes it seem, in a way, like a modernized version of a Baja Bug, but at least it goes uphill without any drama.
The unstoppably popular Tacoma, on the other hand, was not the $26,250 ultra-base, four-cylinder, rear-wheel drive model you can presumably buy somewhere. Mine was the ultra-outfitted 4×4 TRD pro double cab with the 278-horsepower, 3.5-liter, V-6 engine, which clocked in at $47,271, including shipping and a pile of dealer accessories.
So why have these two smallish, purposefully rugged vehicles captured the hearts of Colorado drivers? I guess the answer’s right there. Both have accentuated the idea that chunky, lifted, ski-trip and camping-ready automobiles can provide all of the laughs and capability that come along with the more typical $70,000 and over vehicles plying our highways.
I did not get the chance to super-off-road the Tacoma during my post-holiday drive, but it’s got the performance credentials to rock crawl and trail bash to your heart’s delight all summer long. In full 4×4 mode, you do get some wheel hop and lock-up during tight turns.
Mine had the first six-speed manual transmission I’ve driven in a long, long time, and I appreciated its flexibility but never got the truck going fast enough to get it into sixth gear with the baseball bat-sized shift knob.
That’s partially because the higher-profile ride was susceptible to wind gusts and the oversized off-road tires made it bounce along at anything more than about 65 mph. You sit in a tall and slightly awkward position — the seats are on high pillars — and I totally cannot see how my oversized friends even fit in the cab, but boy, do they love their Tacos.
Tacoma’s top build gives the vehicle glossy snowflake-designed wheels, a full, hard-plastic bed liner with LED lights and what looks to be a good foot of tire clearance in the wheel wells for off-road journeys. The TRD logo exhaust tips, decals and badging — plus a uniquely chunky Rigid Industries grille and lighting surrounds — certainly add to the experience. That experience, by the way, was solidly 17 mpg, just a tad under the EPA’s 18 mpg combined figure.
Crosstrek was also a blessing during a spree of hybrid vehicles with summer tires, as it can still pretty much go anywhere, any time — though maybe some slightly more aggressive, winter-leaning, all-seasons would give you better footing in deep snow than the stock tires.
Like Tacoma, Crosstrek can seem like a buzzy, bonky little buggy compared with Outback or larger vehicles. Its enhanced ride height, short wheelbase and relatively top-heavy demeanor (especially if you load stuff onto those roof rails) always perplexes me when I see a young driver doing 95 mph downhill in one. A WRX STI it is not in terms of ride or precise character of steering.
Additionally, the CVT transmission is still an annoyance while trying to accelerate on a long incline, but in regular traffic, the motor-to-wheels connections are more concise, and you can even fly away at a green light with some gusto. And compared with the early days of Crosstrek, the sport’s total output is comfortably capable.
All-season stability and traction is definitely delivered with the symmetrical all-wheel drive, consistently, and it’s also nearly impossible not to get 30 mpg. Design is bright and engaging, with rugged-looking, oversized, shopping-cart-style bumpers at every corner and pronounced wheel-well and body cladding.
Indoors, it’s a more stripped down version of the increasingly upscale Subaru interiors, with a two-level information display and simple controls. The synthetic seating surfaces are also waterproofed.
Andy Stonehouse’s column “Mountain Wheels” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Stonehouse has worked as an editor and writer in Colorado since 1998, focusing on automotive coverage since 2004. He lives in Golden. Contact him at email@example.com.
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