Review: 2012 Toyota Tacoma TRD

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Well, a truck is a truck, as it turns out.  Not much has changed there, I’m afraid.

If you’re looking for the 4-door Tacoma, I reviewed the 2013 model here.

I was looking forward to driving the 2012 Toyota Tacoma, because I’ve always been a fan of them.  In the end, much of what I know and remembered about the one I drove in the past remains true, and many of the compromises of driving a true truck remain solidly stuck in place.  Maybe it turns out that I’ve been a fan of the idea of a Tacoma, rather than the ownership of one.  But that’s my problem, and not yours.  Nor the Tacoma’s.  Lemme ‘splain.

The base for a 4×4 Access Cab V6 Tacoma is CDN $26,900.  Add in all the other goodies, as well as my truck’s automatic transmission and $5,000 TRD Offroad package, and you’re looking at a CDN $34,645.20 truck here.  Which is not expensive in terms of trucks these days.

The Tacoma is Toyota’s smaller truck, but as such, is still built on a real frame, and is as capable in terms of truckishness as it always has been.

Under the hood, you’ll find Toyota’s venerable V-6 – over the years, its displacement has crept up to 4.0 Litres and it’s a seemingly modern DOHC, 24-Valve engine with Toyota’s Variable Valve Timing with Intelligence (VVT-i).  When you hear it, it’s got the same rushing, roaring sound under throttle that this engine’s ancestors made 20 years ago.  Some things never change.

The V-6 makes 236 HP @ 5,200 rpm and more importantly, a fairly accessible 266 lb.ft @ 4,000 rpm.  In terms of trucks, this number sits lower on the totem pole, which ends up not being an issue, because the same can be said for this truck’s curb weight.  It tips the scales at 3,580 lbs, a curb weight that might just be the lowest in class and certainly a huge difference from the typical North American half-tons.  I know this isn’t one of those trucks, but it’s refreshing to drive a truck that doesn’t feel like it weighs a few tons, and to realize that it, in fact, DOESN’T weigh a few tons.  I appreciate that Toyota has kept the Tacoma’s weight within reason, instead of continuing to crank it up with features, and then combating the expanded chubbiness with bigger engines and more fuel-sucking.

That juice is fed through a 5-speed automatic, which didn’t impress nor offend.  It just…. shifted.  Toyota deems this a “Super Electronically Controlled Transmission”.  That’s awesome, because I hate the plain-jane Electronically Controlled Transmissions – it’s the Super ones that get me excited.  It’s “Super”, guys.

The Tacoma has an 80 Litre fuel tank, which is lovely, because it’s rated at a thirsty 7.8 L/100 km (30 mpg) on the highway and a downright parched 10.9 L/100 km (21.6 mpg) in the city, with a combined cycle rating of 9.5 L/100 km (24.7 mpg).  Gulp!  That’s not me making that sound, it’s the Tacoma’s engine.  Sadly, fuel economy ratings seem to be achieved in wind tunnels, with the wind at your back, while you’re in neutral, going downhill – in my week with the Tacoma, I averaged 19 L/100 km (12.4 mpg) and honestly, I wasn’t driving with a very heavy foot.  Yowzers.

I believe it’s part of the optional TRD Offroad package, but my truck had a 6500 lb. towing capacity – which is nothing to sneeze at for a light truck.

 

Exterior

Not a lot has changed over the years – Toyota has continued to refine the Tacoma over the generations, but really, the look has remained relatively static.  And in my opinion, that’s a good thing.  The Tacoma has a great mix of size, shape and utility.  I drove the Access Cab, which is the 1-1/2 doors cab.  This concept has been around for a long time, and nothing much has changed with it.  I’ll delve into that later on, but in terms of the exterior, I feel that it’s the best looking version of this truck.  The 4-door looks quite portly to me, and this shorter cab looks more balanced and proportional.

Smooth lines continue to grace the Tacoma, and it has muscular, flared-out lower door panels, as well as the ballsy, flared-out fenders.  Ground clearance continues to be exemplary, and it makes up much of this truck’s stance as well.

You’ll find foglights at the front, a shark-fin antenna on the roof, and a traditional whip antenna on the front fender.  WHY can’t they get rid of these?

The wheels were alright, but I’ve seen nicer ones on Tacomas.

 

Interior

Well, there’s no missing the high step up into this truck.  The ingress might be considered difficult for some, and frankly, painful for others.  Hey, it’s part of having a truck this high off the ground.

Once you’re in, you’ll certainly appreciate excellent head and leg room.  Knee room is also good, with a single caveat – a hard plastic pod housing power door lock switches grows out of the driver’s door, and you might find your left knee hitting it.

You’re surrounded by a plethora of highly variable colors and textures in almost exclusively hard plastics.  There is a huge variety of stuff going on here – you’ve got silver/metallicized plastics, texturized black plastics, smooth piano black plastics, faux perforated rubber looking stuff, grey plastics, and more.  Oh, did I mention they’re basically all hard plastics?  Sad Wildsau face.  The only soft touch stuff was the elbow pad on the door panel and the padded armrest lid.  At least Toyota respects our elbows.   I don’t think that’s enough by today’s standards.

Take a seat on a set of quite comfortable fabric seats.  The seating position is quite stretched out – that is, your legs are stretched out in front of you.  More La-Z-Boy than kitchen chair.  The seats are manually adjustable, and had surprisingly decent side and thigh bolstering.

I loved the steering wheel.  It has a very fat rim, and parts of it are covered with perforated leather.  It’s manually adjustable for reach and height, and it was a good wheel to work with.

Behind the steering wheel sits a good-looking, traditional 3-gauge instrument cluster, housing a central speedometer with a small LCD screen at the bottom, a tach on the left and fuel gauge, engine temperature and current gear selection on the right.  The little screen can’t be called a driver information screen, because all it does is toggles between the odometer and 2 trip meters.  Nothing else.  I was going to complain about the lack of a fuel economy read-out, but realistically having that information handy would only serve to sink the truck’s owner into a depressive state.

The center stack starts with a media system on top with an old-school “Hi, I was in Toyotas about 20 years ago” digital clock below it.  Underneath that, you’ll find a simple, manual climate control system, and at the bottom, an indentation above where it meets the center console.

Moving back along the console, you start with some bins and then a very nice shift lever, sticking up out of a very traditional gated slot, with positions for P, R, N, D, 4, 3, 2 and 1.  Seriously.  I haven’t seen that for many years.  No manual shifting options, other than snicking the lever into a specific gear selection.

In front of you is a very short dash, and a couple of “Oh crap!” handles on the A-pillars.

 

Tech/Convenience

After driving other current vehicles, the Tacoma seems quite antiquated in terms of tech.  But let’s have a look at what they hand over for your rubles.

The stereo system is very basic, but it does its job well.  Audio sources are AM, FM, satellite radio, CD, auxiliary, USB and Bluetooth streaming.  The system sounds fine, and actually gives you some bass with work with.  It has nice, chunky knurled knobs and big buttons, which makes it easy to use with gloves, and the display is a nice fine dot-matrix screen.

The rear-view mirror displays some goodies, namely the outside temperature and a compass reading AND it has a small screen for the back-up camera with the typical multi-colored distance markings.  People complain bitterly about these, but in my opinion, I’d much rather have a little screen up there than none at all.  I like it and it’s useful!  The bottom of the rear-view mirror also has buttons for three HomeLink garage door opener settings.

You’ve got power door locks, windows and mirrors, and cruise control.  Lit vanity mirrors made my wife quite happy.

The steering wheel has controls for the stereo, as well as the phone and handsfree voice controls.

There are two 12V plugs and a lidded auxiliary/USB plug in the indentation at the bottom of the center stack.

In terms of exterior conveniences, this Tacoma had a tow package with a hitch receiver and a 7-pin plug, and a very cool 120V plug in the box.  It’s sealed off with a spring-loaded lid, and can be switched from 100W to 400W inside the truck.

 

Storage

I thought Toyota did a great job in using all the nooks and crannies to maximize storage space around the cabin.  The door bins are essentially two deep vertical slots – cupholders.

There is a great little tray to the right of the steering wheel that goes into the dash.  It’s deep and covered, and wonderful.  I’m quite passionate about storage bins and this was a gooder.

There is a nice, deep but accessible bin where the center stack meets the console, and right behind it, closer to the shift lever, there are a couple of nice, rubberized cupholders.  These turn out to be removable inserts, and when taken out, they create another deep, squarish bin.

To the right of the shift lever, there is a long, shallow tray, and a single cupholder behind the shift gate.  This cupholder turns out to be a great place to put a smart phone as well.

A nice, wide lidded armrest hides a deep, carpeted center console bin.  The glove compartment is also surprisingly big.

There is significant cargo capacity behind the front seats as well.

Oh, and if you run out of space around the cabin, there is this thing called a truck box that sits conveniently right behind the cabin.  It’s a great size, and will hold a lot.  Toyota has added a couple of small, lidded (but not lockable) bins on the sides of the box for small items.  There are 4 heavy-duty stationary tie-down hooks, and for fantastic flexibility, there are rails along the sides and the front of the box, allowing you to position further tie-down points anywhere you see fit.  I really liked that.

 

Rear Seat

Let’s start with the positive.  When you open the rear, suicide-style doors (you have to open the front doors first), you’ll be taken aback at how much room is actually back there.  Until you try it out, that is.

This is all a visual deception.  The seat bottoms are so short, that they only come half-way to your knees.  So what looks like leg room is actually not.

First of all, getting into the rear seats is no joy and neither is getting out of them, although getting out of them is such a relief that it probably WOULD rate quite high on the joy scale anyway.

Once you’re there, you’ll realize how good you had it, just standing outside.  Frankly, being dragged behind this truck to your destination would probably be less painful than sitting back there for any length of time.

OK, the facts:  there are 2 seats back there, 2 seatbelts, 2 headrests.  Oh, and 2 cupholders at the back of the center console. And a sliding center window.  I’d consider using it as an escape hatch.

I’m not tall at all.  When I left the driver’s seat where I need it to be, I could not get my not-very-tall self in behind that seat.  I had to spread my legs apart to even physically fit there, and with my knees spread out to where I felt I could have been in birthing stirrups, it would have been impossible to close the rear door.  What I’m saying is my short self could not sit behind my short self.  None of this is an exaggeration.

In case you were still considering the rear seat as a possible place to travel, the seat backs are basically the thinnest I’ve ever seen, as are those super-short seat bottoms.

Mercifully, the headrests (that seriously impede the driver’s rearward vision) fold down out of the way, and those terrible seat bottoms fold up out of the way, and this creates a space that isn’t all about cruel and unusual punishment and can be used for anything but transporting people.  Under the folded-up seat bottoms, you’ll find small but useful storage bins, with lids.

With all that said, my kids did fit back there and didn’t complain.  There are 2 sets of LATCH anchors as well.

Wait!  There’s another positive – there are lovely door bins for the rear passengers.

 

The Drive

I have to say that the thirsty V-6 at least rewards you with some goodness, and that is plenty of low-end and mid-range torque.  I never found myself wanting for more jam in everyday driving.  That torque likely bodes well for off-roading as well as towing, although I tested neither of those facets.  As noted earlier, the V-6 makes no excuses about being under the hood – it’s not particularly quiet under load, but it has a throaty sound and it’s a good thing.

The ride is exactly what you might expect from a truck.  It appears that our ability to make true trucks’ suspension better can only progress so far, and will forever be stuck in the “major compromises” slot.  The ride is firm, and a bit bouncy – as expected, it will soak up any road imperfections with ease.  Speed bump?  I didn’t notice any speed bump.  Of course, if you encounter any kind of crack, or pothole, or other kind of Canadian road enhancement device, the truck will shudder and buck over it, and remind you that it can flex with the best of them.  This isn’t a knock, because every other truck does it, and until we figure out how to get rid of leaf-spring suspensions that essentially date back over 100 years, nothing will change.

The handling, on the other hand, is very competent.  I thought the Tacoma was a confident performer in city driving, and corners are handled with ease – smoothly even and very sure-footed!  The steering is well-weighted, with quite a low effort required – just don’t expect a tight turning circle.

The brakes are very effective, but I found them to be too grabby for me.

Outward visibility is good, especially for the front and sides.  Rear visibility is hampered by the rear headrests, but as noted, unless you’re transporting Tyrion Lannister back there (the only one who might be comfortable), they can be folded down, and out of the way.  The thick side pillars, created by the junction of front and rear doors, do obstruct shoulder checking somewhat, but it’s acceptable.

There is no possibility of manually shifting the automatic via flappy paddles or a slap-stick lever – you have to manually move it to another specific gear selection.  That still seems weird to me.

Being a truck, you expect some wind and road noise.  The tester was equipped with winter tires, so I assume that added a couple of decibels of goodness, but all in all, it was alright.  Even at lower freeway speeds, it was acceptable.

But boy did things ever fall apart on the highway.  The wind noise became very loud, but that wasn’t the worst part.  When I was driving at 100 km/h (about 60 mph), the truck was tracking all over the place, and felt as though it was very wobbly and unsettled.  It actually made me uncomfortable.  It was not a tire balancing issue, but it may be that the truck’s alignment is extraordinarily out of place.  Whatever it was, it wasn’t fun.

 

Off-Road Details

Although I did not have the opportunity to test it’s off-road capabilities, the Tacoma has a reputation for being bomb-proof and able to take a lot of abuse.  The TRD Off-road package includes a ton of things, not all related to off-roading.  But this truck obviously has the ground clearance to make it highly capable.  There’s a massive front skid-plate, in contrasting light metal – so you can see it a mile away.

4×4 modes are accessed with a rotary knob, allowing for quick switch-over to 2-wheel drive, and high or low range 4-wheel drive modes.

In the cabin, you have switches that cater to the off-roader, and likely won’t matter much to the everyday driver.  There is a rear differential lock, which prevents your rear axle from spinning one wheel at a time.  You’ve got A-TRAC (Active Traction Control) – it prevents 4-wheel spin on slippery surfaces – so basically, it’s an extreme form of traction control.  There’s the DAC switch (Downhill Assist Control) – it only works in low-range 4-wheel drive, and it maintains a manageable speed down inclines – basicall a hill-descent mode.  And finally there’s the RSCA switch, which will deactivate the curtain shield airbags, in case of a vehicle roll-over.  Hey, I guess there are people that truly access these trucks’ capabilities and Toyota looks to serve their needs as well.

 

Nitpicks

I’ve got a few.  The first thing I do whenever I get a review vehicle is pair my iPhone with the Bluetooth system, allowing me to avoid a distracted driving ticket.  I’m no techno-whiz, by any stretch, but I can honestly say I’ve never needed a manual to date in order to figure out how to pair my phone.  Sure it takes a try or two sometimes, but it’s always straight forward.  Not here.  I actually did get out the manual, because I couldn’t even figure out what button to START with.  Without exaggerating, I tried, with the manual in hand, for 10 minutes – and was unable to get anywhere.  I finally gave up – and I’ve never done that in any vehicle I’ve ever reviewed before. Way to go with the user-friendliness, Toyota.  On that note, even if it WOULD have worked, the manual made the process seem horribly and unnecessarily complicated.  It takes up 1 full page of owner’s manual, versus one or two lines in other manuals.

I kind of missed heated seats in this truck.  I couldn’t figure out why, until I realized that every single other vehicle I’ve tested has them.  And in the winter, it’s a good thing.  Vehicles that cost $10,000 less have them.  Just sayin’.

The Tacoma comes with a key.  No, not like the old-school key with remote lock/unlock buttons on it.  I mean, the OLDER-school with nothing on it.  And then a keychain FOB with the remote door lock stuff.  Like actually hanging on a keyring.  Luckily, if you lose it, you should be able to replace this in any local antique store.

I did get annoyed by the rattle from between the front and back doors – it consistently happened when driving over big bumps.

These might seem like trivial issues, and could also be burned-out bulbs, but the power door lock switches, the passenger’s power window switches and the 4×4 mode knob were not lit.  Like I said, it might sound trivial, until you’re trying to unlock the door for a passenger in the dark.  And there are zombies coming.  Not so trivial now, is it?

 

Detail

One weird thing – the sun visors in this vehicle are by far the thickest I have ever seen in a vehicle.  When you reach up to grab the visor to swing it down, you can’t help but be shocked at the thickness of these things.  Honestly, they are about 3 times as thick as any other sun visor I’ve seen.  This is probably a good thing – you can remove them and use them as bullet-proof body armor, or perhaps a spare skidplate when you’re off-roading.

The Verdict

Well, I don’t really know where to start here.  In terms of a light-truck, the Tacoma is a good vehicle.  The ride is comparable, it handles well, it’s a good city vehicle, and apparently a very capable off-roader.

It kind of reminds me of that wrestler I fought in junior-high.  He looked moderately tough, but there was a surprising amount of jam behind his swagger.  And once I threw a few shots at him, he surprised me with his capabilities, toughness and confidence.  The Tacoma has a lot of substance.

But the substance doesn’t obliterate the compromises.  Now these compromises really won’t surprise anyone who is specifically looking at trucks, and typically you don’t find cross-over buyers, who were looking for a nice, normal car or utility vehicle, and ended up buying a truck.  People who want trucks, buy trucks – people who don’t, don’t.  The high step-in height, the truckish ride, the horrifying mileage – these are all trade-offs that most are quite willing to accept in exchange for the ability to clamber up rocks, down hills, over dirt, snow and anything else you might want to throw at this truck, and also being able to tow something down the road.

So, in terms of a light truck, I give the Tacoma TRD a 7.5 out of 10.  It seems well put-together, well-designed and well backed-up.  I don’t think there would be any surprised to anyone who bought this truck, if you did your homework ahead of time.  I was a little concerned about the highway road manners, but I believe that to be an alignment issue, rather than how every Tacoma behaves over 100 km/h.

In terms of an everyday vehicle, for folks who don’t need a truck, this would rate significantly lower, but I don’t want to patronize this storied 4×4 with a pedestrian rating when nobody would buy this to simply commute with.  Or nobody should be buying it for that anyway.

I could berate this thing all day long over the nitpicks, or that I’d rather have liver removed with a spoon than spend any more time in the back seat.  But this truck isn’t the answer to my vehicle needs – it might be nearly perfect for someone else.  And let’s not forget that you can buy a full 4-door model if the back seat is the only issue for you.

WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) was very low.  She didn’t particularly like the ride, nor how high the step-in height was, and the lack of any usable back seat left her out in the cold.  It’s not a truck thing, because my wife loved another truck we had.

This particular truck does away with the niceties, or the luxuries if you will, and strips things down to what Toyota deems to be the essentials.

Take it or leave it, friends.  Winter is coming.

Disclosure:  Vehicle was provided by Toyota.

If you enjoyed this review, feel free to check out my other vehicle reviews under the car reviews tab at the top of my blog.

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Comments

  1. Chris A. says

    We drove one of these before we bought our Honda Ridgeline. No comparison. The Ridgeline is miles ahead in terms of ride and handling and will still pull 5000 pounds.

    I’d like to see you review a Ridgeline, once you get past the unique styling it’s a pretty great truck.

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